Discover Nikkei

No. 38 The Florida Emigrants made into a TV movie

Kotaro Sudo in Miami Beach

Writing a non-fiction book and receiving letters from readers with their thoughts and impressions is a great way to discover new things and is a joy. Two years ago, I received a letter through my publisher from a 91-year-old woman who said she had read my 2015 book, " Yamato Colony: The Men Who Left Japan in Florida " (Shunposha).

"Yamato Colony" is a non-fiction book that follows the story of the Japanese colony that was established by Japanese settlers in southern Florida after the Russo-Japanese War, and the life of George Morikami, one of the settlers who remained until the end and donated his vast land to the local area. This land later became the basis for the Morikami Museum and Japanese Garden.

In this article, I touched on not only the Yamato Colony but also other Japanese who immigrated to Florida. One example is the Japanese who were involved in the development of Miami Beach in the south. Miami Beach, a long, narrow sandbar stretching from north to south across Biscayne Bay from Miami, is now a major resort area, but at the beginning of the 20th century it was just wilderness.

Two gardeners worked there: Juzo Tashiro and Kotaro Sudo. Both were from western Kanagawa Prefecture. Tashiro, who was in California at the time, saw an ad in the newspaper looking for workers for the development of Miami Beach, applied, was hired, and began working in Miami Beach in 1916. Sudo, who was in San Francisco at the time, was then invited by Tashiro to come.

I mentioned these two in Yamato Colony, and I also wrote in detail about Mr. Tashiro for Discover Nikkei 10 years ago (first published in JBpress), having visited Mr. Tashiro's second son, Joe Tashiro, and his wife there.

Masa Sudo in Miami Beach, September 1948

The person who wrote me the letter two years ago was Sudo's niece, Toyoko Yamamura. According to the letter, Sudo's wife, Masa, was Yamamura's mother's older sister, making her aunt. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Yamamura happened to search for "Kotaro Sudo" online and came across my book. It seemed that she was so nostalgic that she decided to write. Yamamura wrote that she had corresponded with her uncle and aunt throughout the pre-war and post-war periods, and that she had traveled to Florida in the summer of 1998 to visit the graves of the Sudo couple.

I knew that Mr. Sudo was featured on a page in the " Centennial History of Japanese Americans in the United States ," published in 1961. This is an enormous volume of text that compiles the footsteps of Japanese who came to the American mainland by state.

According to the book, Sudo was involved in landscaping work for the reclamation and development project of Miami Beach, which was being promoted by New York civil engineer Carl Fisher. He later became successful in running a flower garden, and "in the depression of 1932, at the request of Mayor Kadzenczne, he donated flowers to roadsides throughout the city, and the name 'Stowe' became famous overnight."

In 1953, the Sudos decided to end their 50-year-plus life in America and return to Japan, receiving letters of appreciation and commendation from the Governor of Florida, a U.S. Senator, the Vice President, and others. However, when the Sudos visited their hometown, they became disillusioned and returned to Florida.

The news spread throughout the city, and he was given an even warmer welcome than when he left. The story was also picked up by newspapers and magazines, and eventually Mr. Sudo's life up to that point was made into a television movie titled "The Story of Kotaro Sudo" and broadcast across the United States.

I wrote back to Yamamura, enclosing a copy of the article on Mr. Sudo in the 100-Year History of Japanese Americans in the United States. After exchanging letters and phone calls, I decided to visit Yamamura in Toride City, Ibaraki Prefecture, where he lives, and talk to him. Yamamura lives alone and is planning to move to Kumamoto City, where his daughter lives, so we decided to meet before that.

According to Yamamura, Sudo returned to Japan to find a husband and tried to take in Yamamura's aunt Masa, but Masa's parents were initially against the idea. Masa would not leave the family storehouse until her parents gave their approval. Later, when Masa went to America, Yamamura wrote to her when she was young, saying, "I want to go to America after I graduate from school." In response, Masa said, "You can come if you want, but if you do come, come with the intention of succeeding."

In the end, Yamamura never went to Florida, and when Masa returned to Japan in 1953, they met at Yokohama Port to pick up and drop off his aunt, which was the last time they saw each other. "Why did my aunt decide to go to America? I regret that I never got to ask her," Yamamura says, still thinking that today.

Teru Shimada plays Kotaro Sudo

Yamamura-san was very interested in what his uncle and aunt who had gone to the U.S. were thinking at the time, and was also interested in how the TV movie was portrayed. I also wanted to know what the TV movie was like, so I looked it up again before meeting him, and found out that it was on YouTube .

It all started with a website called "Densho," an archive of Japanese American history. In the database of people, Kotaro Suto was mentioned in the description of Japanese actor Teru Shimada. Shimada Teru was born in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, in 1905. He was interested in movies from an early age and moved to the United States in 1924 to become an actor. One of his most well-known works is "You Only Live Twice" (1967), a part of the 007 series featuring James Bond, in which he plays one of Bond's enemies.

In 1956, Shimada Teru appeared in the role of Sudo in a TV movie that dramatized the life of Sudo Kotaro. Densho explains the story as follows:

One significant role came in 1956 as the lead in a Du Pont Cavalcade Theatre program, "Call Home the Heart." The program told the real-life story of Kotaro Suto, an Issei gardener in Florida who did much of the planting and planning for Miami Beach.

([Shimada] had a prominent lead role in the 1956 DuPont Cavalcade Theatre production of Call Home the Heart, a show based on the true story of Sudo Kotaro, an Issei gardener who did much of the planting and planning of Miami Beach, Florida.)

This program is part of the Du Pont Cavalcade Theatre program, a series sponsored by DuPont, and when Sudo was the main character, the title was "Call Home the Heart." The story posted on YouTube is about 30 minutes long, and tells the story of how Sudo is hired by Carl Fischer in Miami Beach, eventually earning his trust and making his business a success. He marries Masa and becomes completely integrated into American society. In his later years, he returns to Japan, but is eventually welcomed back to America.

The portrayal of Mr. Sudo is humble, honest and submissive to his American employer, which is exactly the image of a Japanese person that Americans value and which may seem a little strange today. However, when I met Mr. Yamamura and showed him the YouTube video on the laptop I had brought with me, he paid particular attention to how Masa was portrayed.

Yamamura had kept an article that may have been the source of this story. It was a translation of the August 1954 issue of the Japanese edition of Reader's Digest, titled "The Japanese Gardener Who Returned to Florida," and it contains detailed information about Sudo.

Yamamura-san still keeps the photos and letters that her aunt Masa sent her from America, and she showed them to me. Most of the photos were taken in Miami Beach shortly after the war, and show Masa in a smart dress. Yamamura-san was still in her teens at the time, and I wonder if seeing these photos made her want to go to America as well.

© 2023 Ryusuke Kawai

Florida immigrants immigration Kotaro Sudo Miami Beach migration United States Yamato Colony (Florida)
About this series

What is Nikkei? Ryusuke Kawai, a non-fiction writer who translated "No-No Boy," covers a variety of topics related to Nikkei, including people, history, books, movies, and music, focusing on his own involvement with Nikkei.

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About the Author

Journalist and non-fiction writer. Born in Kanagawa Prefecture. Graduated from the Faculty of Law at Keio University, he worked as a reporter for the Mainichi Shimbun before going independent. His books include "Yamato Colony: The Men Who Left Japan in Florida" (Shunpousha). He translated the monumental work of Japanese American literature, "No-No Boy" (Shunpousha). The English version of "Yamato Colony," won the 2021 Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Award for the best book on ethnic groups or social issues from the Florida Historical Society.

(Updated November 2021)

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