Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Frank Miyamoto Interview IV
Narrator: Frank Miyamoto
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary), Tatsuya Fukunaga (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: July 7, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-mfrank-04-0002

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AI: Thank you. Well, that explains a little bit about your beginnings in the cannery work, and perhaps, at this point, you'd like to shift in discussion to give us a background picture of the industry itself.

FM: Yes, I would like to give you more of a background of the industry and of the role of the Japanese immigrant in this kind of business. As you know, the Japanese immigrants to the Seattle area, or the United States, but also, particularly the Seattle area, started to come around 1890 or so, particularly about that time. And about by 1900 they were becoming a very steady flow into this country. And most of them were coming as, what we call sojourners, birds of passage, people who were interested in coming to the United States, not to become part of America so much as people who would make their mint of money and return to Japan, hopefully as persons of advanced status, which they aspired to very much. And in order to do this, the immigrants, coming as they did, with, as they said, no more than a backpack and twenty-five dollars in the pocket, had to find work that was easily available and suitable to them. There were four kinds of work that they especially went into as immigrants: sawmills, one of the dominant industries of the Pacific Northwest; railroad work, which would take them to, especially, the Northern Pacific and Great Northern would take them into Montana and as far east as the Dakotas; the farm labor, which, of course, was the background basis on which the Issei farmers ultimately established themselves; and, finally, fishing and cannery work, into which a certain number of Issei were able to, got into and made a saving.

The reason they were, in particular, the reason these Issei were interested in these jobs were not so much to, as to become laborers in those industries, but of saving enough to, so as to establish themselves in some kind of independent entrepreneur, entrepreneurial industry and this, these kinds of jobs then were, for them, mostly, kind of temporary means of making enough savings so that they could establish themselves independently. The Japanese immigrants, thus, were very strongly independently-minded, entrepreneurially-minded. And I would say that they were, therefore, a very different kind of immigrant population than many others coming to the United States in that same period. It is said that the immigrants from Europe, for example, were largely proletarian-oriented in the sense that they could not establish themselves as independent entrepreneurs in the fashion that the Japanese did, but would go into various kinds of labor industries such as the coal mining or the steel industry and so on and work as laborers continuously in those fields. Whereas in the case of the Japanese, as I say, the interest was very much more towards establishing themselves independently and not continuing as laborers.

Now, in this type of background, the fishing industry was -- and the cannery work -- was the least satisfactory because it's a seasonal job lasting at most, only four or five months out of the year. And for people like me, we would go only two months during the peak salmon season. But it was also, on the other hand, a means of saving money because the pay would come at the end of the season and you would save every -- they would, since the contractors were covering all the costs of food, lodging, and transportation, you could save everything that was earned unless you happened to gamble away all these savings beforehand. Some of the Issei, unfortunately, were gamblers and people who, for one reason or another, were unable to keep what they were making. But, for others, why, it was a basis for accumulating savings by which you could establish yourself in whatever other career you might desire.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.