Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Jim Akutsu Interview
Narrator: Jim Akutsu
Interviewer: Art Hansen
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: June 9 and 12, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-ajim-01-0003

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AH: Where did he get this money from? He was, we've been talking about him as a janitor but he made a favorable impression, you had said earlier. Did he then have his fortunes change to the point where he started to make a fairly sizable income?

JA: Yes. Now, because that just like what the Frederick & Nelson... I don't know whether it Mr. Nelson or Frederick, whoever, said that, "You should get involved in new shoes." So when he got involved, yes, he was very successful. And then beyond that, he went into repairing shoes. So he set up many Issei shoe shops at different locations. He set up Norwegian, up in Ballard he used to set up some, Green Lake, all over, University, in Central Area. So he had probably a half a dozen or more repair shops going.

AH: These people worked for him, sort of like franchises?

JA: No, no, what he did, he'd set 'em up.

AH: Oh, and them sell it to them?

JA: Yes, okay, that's where, one of the downfalls. Well anyway, he had that going and another thing he had going at Second and James Street was for deformed foot. And he was already involved in making loggers' shoes, or heavy, what do you call, shoes -- work shoes. Well, anyway, he had a place out in Westlake, or rather Eastlake, where they were making that, and they called it something like Rainier Boots. And then later on when he had this group of people that absconded money. And another thing was he got talked into, by some Jewish people, to set up a shoe finding company. That's where you wholesale leather, nails, rubber heel, so forth. And that's where he was supplying, at a cut rate, to the Japanese shoe repair people. He also set up Italian, about two or three of 'em down and around Jackson Street. So he was quite an entrepreneur that that's where he was making his money, new shoes, selling shoe findings, and he was doing very good.


JA: So, he got involved in the shoe business and did very well. Now, after getting involved in new shoe sales, he also got involved in deformed foot and that's a special shop that he had down on Second and James Street. And he also set up all these Japanese in shoe repair shops because, you know, in those times you have to use your shoes more than once. So he was set up together with some Jewish people, shoe finding, and he put up the money. Well, anyway, to make it short, they set the place on fire, and they tried to collect on insurance and they found out it was a fire that was set.

AH: His Jewish partners did this?

JA: Yeah, to collect the insurance. They took off and he was left there and he had to pay for everything, make up for, and that was the big downfall. After that, our family moved from the shoes and opened up a new place called New Golden, down on Sixth Avenue between Jackson and King Street on the Eastside. And there's a, the post office is there now. But that's where he started all over again, New Golden. This time, he wasn't selling new shoes, as such. He was making boots and he hired Norwegians or people from Ballard to make those boots. And then at the same time he was in Depression and there was lots of unclaimed shoes. So what he used to do is to take smaller unclaimed shoes to send out to the Japanese in the valley and in turn they would send in produce, and he'd take it home and everybody will get some of it. Then later on what he did, he'd run out of small shoes so he had to teach these people take the big shoes apart and then he'd make a [inaudible] for them, their foot size, and then how to put it back together.

AH: And this was out in the outlying rural areas like Kent or Auburn and these places?

JA: Yes, Auburn, all of that. But they had to come in to my dad's, New Golden to learn how to rebuild the shoes.

AH: So he was involved in both the cash economy and also a barter economy, because he was bartering these shoes for produce and things.

JA: Okay, no, not as such. Because he had so much and it was taking up all the room, he'd just give it away. But in turn, they didn't want to just take so they'd turn around and brought him produce -- chicken, eggs, boxes of daikon, nappa.

AH: So it was an informal barter system?

JA: Yeah, it's very informal.

AH: Now you were, what ages? You were born in 1920. So when this is happening, give me some kind of sense of the timeline. You mentioned the Depression, so I'm thinking you're talking about the '30s at some point.

JA: Coming, right between the late '20s and into the '30s, yes. And whatever he tried to do was to give these unclaimed shoes. After so many days he'd just give 'em away to the farmers, and in return they'll just bring in... and then whatever produce they had. And then pretty soon when they, when he ran out of them, he'd teach 'em how to redo big shoes into little shoes. And another thing, he used to take me was to Hoovertown. During Depression they had Shantytown, and he used to take me. He said, "You gotta see this side, the bad, I mean, the poor side." So he used to take me, and at that time he'd take big boxes of unclaimed shoes and, "Here, take 'em."

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.