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History of Seattle Nikkei Immigrants from The North American Times

Chapter 18 (Part 1) — The Rise of Judo among Nisei

In my previous chapter, I reported on the Nisei women's tour of Japan. In this chapter, I would like to talk about the prosperity of judo around 1938 and 1939, when many Nisei men were engaged in this sport in Seattle.

Establishment of Judo Dojo

According to some literature, the Seattle Dojo was established in February 1908 in the city of Seattle for the training of youth in judo. At the time of its establishment, there were only about 20 members, but by 1928, the number of Nisei men learning judo had increased to 85 adults and 125 children, for a total of 256 members. The dojo was located at 824 Jackson Street at this time.

In 1932, Kodokan President Jigoro Kano visited Seattle and formed the Seattle Judo Yudansha Kai. In Seattle, another dojo, Tentokukan, was also founded. With Seattle Dojo as the headquarters, dojos were built in 18 locations in the surrounding areas, including Oregon and Canada. Around 1940, membership reached about 1,000.

Judo Tournaments

Around 1938, there were three major judo tournaments in Seattle. These were the Seattle Yudansha Kai Judo Tournament, the Tentokukai Judo Tournament, and the North-South Judo Match between the judo teams selected from the Seattle area and the teams from the Los Angeles area. I would like to present some articles1 about these competitions.

1. Seattle Yudansha Kai Judo Tournament

The Seattle Yudansha Kai Judo Tournament was held in Seattle. Other dojo members in the Seattle area also participated in it. Here is an article about the tournament.

“The Second Judo Tournament Sponsored by the Seattle Yudansha Kai” (January 22, 1938 issue)

The 2nd Judo Tournament sponsored by the Seattle Yudansha Kai will be held tomorrow Sunday at noon in the Nippon-kan Hall. There eleven dojos—Bellevue, Bainbridge, Green Lake, Kent, Tacoma, Fife, Seattle, Sunnydale, Tentokukan, Wabado, and Shirakawa—will participate. There will be the championship flag match, the individual championship, and the junior championship, in which more than 100 selected contestants will compete in heated battles.

“The 4th Judo Tournament Sponsored by the Yudansha Kai” (November 30, 1939 issue)

The 4th Judo Tournament, sponsored by the Seattle Judo Yudansha Kai, has 12 participating dojos (Bainbridge, Bellevue, Fife, Green Lake, Eatonville, Kent, Seattle, Tentokukan, Sunnydale, Tacoma, Wabado). There will be around 310 plus contestants. The competition will be divided into four major divisions: Youth Champion Flag Match, Junior Championship, Individual Championship, and Age-Specific Championship Match. The first day starts from 6 pm; the second day starts from 12 noon.

On the first day, Mr. Yasutaro Miyazawa will be the moderator, and the age-specific championship games will be held. The contestants are as shown on the left (the names of the contestants aged 9 to 18 are listed). On the second day, there will be the junior championship (the contestants are listed by district), a championship flag match (contestants listed), and the individual championship at the end.

North American Times, November 30, 1939

“Judo Tournament Starts Tomorrow Evening” (December 1, 1939 issue)

The judo tournament hosted by the holders of the rank will start in a spectacular way from Saturday morning. On the second day, the individual championship match, which will conclude the tournament, will be held after the big match for the championship flag donated by Nissho. The contestants are as shown on the left (names were listed by the third-, second-, and first-degree black belt).

The name, Yoshida, appears among nidan, the second-degree holders. I speculate that this man is the main character of the book titled, The Two Worlds of Jim Yoshida. According to this book, Jim Yoshida was born on July 28, 1921. When he competed at the tournament, he must have been about 18 years old.

“Results of Yudan Kai Judo Tournament” (December 4, 1939 issue)

The Seattle Dojo won the championship flag match with 31 points. In addition, Sakagami who holds sandan (the third degree), won the individual championship in this judo tournament so that he advanced both the Washington and Oregon States championships.


2. Judo Tournament Sponsored by Tentokukan

“Board Members of the Tentokukan Parents Association” (February 7, 1938 issue)

This year’s board members of the Tentokukan Parents Association are as shown on the left: Chairman - Junosuke Yorita; Vice Chairman - Bunshiro Tazuma; Secretaries - Kazuo Kawafune, Taro Aritake, and Eishiro Iwai; Treasurer - Ryusaburo Momota; Councilors, Ryunosuke Yoshida, and 26 others.

The councilor, Ryunosuke Yoshida, is Jim Yoshida’s father.

“Judo Tournament Hosted by Tentokukan on Sunday” (February 26, 1938 issue)

The Tenth Anniversary Judo Tournament of Tentokukan will be held tomorrow at noon at the Nippon-kan Hall. Twelve dojos—Seattle, Tacoma, Fife, Shirakawa, Bainbridge Island, Portland Obukan, Green Lake, Wabato, Kent, Bellevue, Sunnydale, and Tentoku—will participate.

Mr. Hama served as an emcee. After the congratulatory speeches by Mr. Maeno and Mr. Arima (Mr. Arima was unable to attend due to another commitment), Mr. Sakata gave a speech, followed by an ippon shobu match and a red-and-white (kohaku) match for the junior group, an ippon shobu matches for the youth group and the group of blackbelt holders, and a kohaku match. Since some recently promoted to the shodan, the first degree blackbelt, the combination of the ippon match among the blackbelt holder group has been changed as shown on the left (the names of contestants in ippon match are listed).

North American Times, February 26, 1938

In this contestant’s list, I found a name of Yoshida (Jim Yoshida), who holds shodan, the first degree.

The article title, “Tentokukan Judo Tournament” in February 28, 1938 issue, reoirted the results of the judo tournament sponsored by Tentokukan in detail. Tentokukan's Yoshida shodan competed in the ippon match among the blackbelt holder, but he was defeated by Kato shodan of the Seattle Dojo.

3. North-South Judo Tournament

According to literature, the match between the North and the South attracted the attention of the judo world as the largest match in the United States. It had a great effect to promote judo.

“Judo Athletes in the Northwest will Depart on the 26th” (February 13, 1939 issue)

The 3rd North-South Judo Tournament will be held in Los Angeles on March 4 and 5. The 26 black belt holders from the Northwest will depart from here on Feb. 26 in six cars. The group will pass through Portland, and spend one night in Medford, and another night in Sacramento, before arriving in Los Angeles on the evening of the 28th. On the way back, they plan to stop by the Golden Gate Bridge, so all the members are eagerly awaiting the day of departure and train hard every day.

“One Win and One Loss Was Recorded in the North-South Judo Match” (March 6, 1939 issue)

The 3rd North-South Judo Tournament was held grandly on the 4th and 5th in Los Angeles where the temperatures are mild all year around. All athletes engaged in a heated competition. On the first day, the North team lost with 7 wins and 12 losses, but on the 2nd day, they won a great victory. The results of the first day are as shown on the left. (Names of contestants and results are listed.)

North American Times, March 6, 1939

Among the contestants was Jim Yoshida, who participated in the tournament with the Japanese name, Katsumi Yoshida. It seems that he lost the first day but won the second day.

“Judo Athletes Returns to Seattle Tonight” (March 11, 1939 issue)

The judo athletes who performed well against the best in Los Angeles will return home from Southern California. They visited the San Francisco Exposition, where they were welcomed by judo officials. The group is scheduled to return to Seattle at 9 p.m. this evening, and a dismissal ceremony of the team will be held at Nikkoro, immediately after their arrival. The public is welcome to attend the ceremony. 

“Consolation Party” (March 22, 1939 issue)

The Seattle dojo will be holding a consolation party for the athletes who competed at the North-South Judo Tournament at the dojo on the 24th at 9:00 pm. Parents and dojo members are expected to attend.

Thus, the North-South Judo Tournament attracted a great attention among the Japanese residents in Seattle. They cheered on the representative players and praised their good fight.

To be continued ... >>


1. All article excerpts are from The North American Times unless noted otherwise. 


*The English version of this series is a collaboration between Discover Nikkei and The North American Post, Seattle’s bilingual community newspaper. This article was originally publishd in Japanese on September 27, 2022 in The North American Post


© 2022 Ikuo Shinmasu

community judo North American Times Seattle sports

About this series

This series explores the history of pre-war Seattle Nikkei immigrants by researching old articles from the online archives of The North American Times, a joint project between the Hokubei Hochi [North American Post] Foundation and the University of Washington (UW) Suzzallo Library.

*The English version of this series is a collaboration between Discover Nikkei and The North American Post, Seattle’s bilingual community newspaper.

Read from Chapter 1 >>

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The North American Times

The newspaper was first printed in Seattle on September 1, 1902, by publisher Kiyoshi Kumamoto from Kagoshima, Kyushu. At its peak, it had correspondents in Portland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Spokane, Vancouver, and Tokyo, with a daily circulation of about 9,000 copies. Following the start of World War II, Sumio Arima, the publisher at the time, was arrested by the FBI. The paper was discontinued on March 14, 1942, when the incarceration of Japanese American families began. After the war, the North American Times was revived as The North American Post.