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Yoemon Shinmasu – My Grandfather’s Life in Seattle


June 26, 2019 - May 27, 2020

This is a series on the life of Yoemon Shinmasu, an Issei immigrant from a small fishing village in Yamaguchi Prefecture who made his barbershop business quite a success in Seattle, yet lost his life in an accident in his 40s. Yoemon’s grandson Ikuo was born and raised in Japan and has been always interested in Yoemon’s life in Seattle. He shares what he discovered through his research.

*This series is a collaboration between Discover Nikkei and The North American Post, Seattle’s bilingual community newspaper. It is an excerpt from “Studies on Immigrants in Seattle – Thoughts on Yoemon Shinmasu’s Success of Barbershop Business,” the writer’s graduation thesis submitted at the Distance Learning Division at the Nihon University as a history major and has been edited for this publication.

Read Part 1


Stories from this series

Thumbnail for Final Part: Atae’s re-entry into the U.S. and the family’s life afterwards
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Final Part: Atae’s re-entry into the U.S. and the family’s life afterwards

May 27, 2020 • Ikuo Shinmasu

In the previous part, I wrote about Aki’s challenge and her two daughters’ re-entry into the U.S. after Yoemon’s death. This is the final part of the series in which I share the eldest son Atae’s re-entry into the U.S. and the family’s life afterwards. Atae’s re-entry into America Due to his father Yoemon’s death, Atae returned to Japan with his mother, Aki, in February 1929. He lived in Kamai and went to Japanese school. For Atae, who was bilingual …

Thumbnail for Part 11 – Aki’s challenge and re-entry of her two daughters into the U.S.
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Part 11 – Aki’s challenge and re-entry of her two daughters into the U.S.

April 22, 2020 • Ikuo Shinmasu

In the last part, I wrote about Yoemon’s death from an unexpected accident and the family’s sorrowful return from Seattle to Kamai. In this part, I will write about how Aki recovered from sorrow, headed to Seattle again, and had her daughters come to the U.S. Re-opening of Aki’s barbershop business After Yoemon’s death, Aki lived desolate days in sorrow. Gradually she started to think that continuing to live and farm in Kamai would not do any good for her. …

Thumbnail for Part 10 – Unfortunate death and sorrowful return home
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Part 10 – Unfortunate death and sorrowful return home

March 25, 2020 • Ikuo Shinmasu

In Part 9, I wrote about the Japanese Association that provided support for Yoemon and the days leading up to the opening of his hotel. In this part, I will write about how Yoemon came to his unfortunate end. An unforeseen accident It was Sunday morning, December 2, 1928. Yoemon left his home in New Central Hotel (map lower right) for a walk and to go and inspect his hotel in Occidental Street (map left). There were still a number …

Thumbnail for Part 9 – The Japanese Association and Yoemon’s final days
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Part 9 – The Japanese Association and Yoemon’s final days

Feb. 26, 2020 • Ikuo Shinmasu

In Part 8, I wrote about the immigrants from Yamaguchi Prefecture, the process of sending money back to Japan, and the construction of Yoemon’s new house in Kamai. This time, I will write about the Japanese association (Nihonjinkai) that supported Yoemon in Seattle and the final days of his life. Yoemon’s Support: The Japanese Association In the background of Yoemon’s successful barber shop and his ability to jumpstart his hotel business in the foreign land of Seattle was the presence …

Thumbnail for Part 8 – Sending money home and a new house
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Part 8 – Sending money home and a new house

Jan. 22, 2020 • Ikuo Shinmasu

In Part 7, I wrote about Yoemon Shinmasu’s venture into the hotel business. This time, I will write about Yoemon’s birthplace, Yamaguchi Prefecture, him sending money back home, and the construction of his new house in Kamai. An Immigrant from Yamaguchi Prefecture Yoemon’s home prefecture of Yamaguchi had one of the highest numbers of emigrants in Japan. According to the immigration statistics by prefecture in the Japanese Overseas Migration Museum’s archives, between 1885 and 1894 and between 1899 and 1972, …

Thumbnail for Part 7 - Leap to the hotel business
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Part 7 - Leap to the hotel business

Dec. 25, 2019 • Ikuo Shinmasu

In Part 6, I wrote about how Yoemon educated his eldest son, Atae, in Seattle. This part will focus on how Yoemon’s barbershop business led him to make a big leap forward in starting a hotel business. From barbershop business to hotel business After moving from Kamai, Yamaguchi Prefecture, to Seattle, Yoemon moved to Walla Walla and made his barbershop business a big success. For an even bigger leap, Yoemon was thinking about going back to Seattle and starting a …

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Author in This Series

Ikuo Shinmasu is from Kaminoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan. In 1974, he started working at Teikoku Sanso Ltd (currently AIR LIQUIDE Japan GK) in Kobe and retired in 2015. Later, he studied history at Nihon University Distance Learning Division and researched his grandfather who migrated to Seattle. He shared a part of his thesis about his grandfather through the series, “Yoemon Shinmasu – My Grandfather’s Life in Seattle,” in the North American Post and Discover Nikkei in both English and Japanese. He presently lives in the city of Zushi, Kanagawa, with his wife and eldest son. 

Updated August 2021

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