Illinois Japanese Unknown Heroes

Before World War II, there were far fewer Japanese in Chicago than after the war. As a result, more attention has been paid to postwar Chicago Japanese, many of whom chose Chicago as a place to resettle after enduring the humiliation of incarceration camps in the western US. But although they were a small minority in the bustling metropolis of Chicago, the prewar Japanese were in fact unique, colorful, and independent people, perfectly matched to the cosmopolitanism of Chicago, and enjoyed their lives in Chicago. This series would focus on lives of regular Japanese in pre-war Chicago. 

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Chapter 2 (Part 1): Japanese Acrobats and Entertainers in Chicago—Introduction

According to The Encyclopedia of Chicago, “Chicago’s position as the prime city of the Midwest has made it both a necessary stopover on the itinerary of any touring production and a home for a thriving resident theater community.”1 This explains exactly what Chicago represented for Japanese entertainers and why they lived there. In fact, the first Japanese who set foot in Chicago were members of acrobatic troupes who came here even before the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869.

In the mid-1860s, stories of various Japanese entertainment troupes filled the newspapers. For example, in 1867, Crosby’s Opera House …

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Chapter 1 (Part 7): Japanese Garden Designers, Domestic Workers, and their “Japanophile” Employers—Japanese Gardener, Susumu Kobayashi, and Cook Junji George Matsumoto at Riverbank

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After Taro Otsuka left Riverbank, another Japanese gardener named Oscar Susumu Kobayashi took over maintaining the garden Otsuka had built for George Fabyan around 1910. Kobayashi had met Otsuka at the Japanese YMCA in Chicago around 1917,1 when he was there looking for a job. In the years that followed, Otsuka and Kobayashi were close enough that Kobayashi let Otsuka stay at his place in Florida for several weeks in the winter of 1923-24, when Otsuka did not have much to do in Chicago.2

Kobayashi was born in Shimane in March 1892 …

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Chapter 1 (Part 6): Japanese Garden Designers, Domestic Workers, and their “Japanophile” Employers—Taro Otsuka from Chicago to New York City

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In 1921, Otsuka moved to 216 North Michigan Avenue1 following Maruyama’s next business move,2 although the new location was “a less desirable location (than 300 S Michigan Avenue.)”3 In addition, Maruyama changed his business name to the Toyo Importing Company because, according to Beth Cody, “the Toyo Art Shop no longer carried just high-end art, but also included common decorative and household items.”4

When Maruyama’s business began declining, Otsuka had to think of another means for survival and had found possibilities in Florida. Using Post Office Box 101 in the …

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Chapter 1 (Part 5): Japanese Garden Designers, Domestic Workers, and their “Japanophile” Employers—Taro Otsuka, Japanese Garden Designer

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Taro Otsuka was born in 1868 in Kochi, Japan and rumored to be an activist and a comrade of Taisuke Itagaki, a liberal politician who advocated for liberty and civil rights in the 1880s in Japan.1 At age 30, he arrived in Seattle on December 21, 18972, leaving his wife in Japan. He listed his profession as “mineral works” and his contact in the U.S. as “T. Kataoka” in Tacoma, Washington.3

This “T. Kataoka” was Tsunejiro Kataoka from Kochi, who had come to Seattle in 1888 to help with a land …

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Chapter 1 (Part 4): Japanese Garden Designers, Domestic Workers, and their “Japanophile” Employers—“Honorary Japanese Consul” George Fabyan in Geneva, IL

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In the early 20th century, there was another “prominent capitalist”1 in Geneva, a town along the Fox River, forty miles west of Chicago, who enjoyed employing Japanese domestic workers at his villa. His name was George Fabyan, and, according to some accounts, was considered to be an “Honorary Japanese Consul”2 before the Japanese Consulate was established in Chicago in 1897.

Fabyan was well-known for entertaining Japanese celebrities and was rumored to be a friend of Baron Jutaro Komura,3 and of Toshiro Fujita and Seizaburo Shimizu,4 who were Japanese consuls in Chicago, …

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acrobats Chicago cook Florida Yamato colony gardener gardens Geneva George Fabyan honorable Japanese Consul Illinois illinois Japanese entertainment troupes Japanese garden Junji George Matsumoto New York Riverbank Susumu Kobayashi Taro Otsuka Tomihei Maruyama Toyo & Company Ushinosuke Narahara