Densho Digital Archive
Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection
Title: Homer Yasui Interview II
Narrator: Homer Yasui
Interviewer: Margaret Barton Ross
Location: Portland, Oregon
Date: October 10, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-yhomer-02-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

HY: Well, the first Japanese sojourners to the Northwest Territory which in those days is Oregon Territory comprising Oregon and the state of Washington came to the Cape Flattery... not Cape Flattery, I'm sorry. I forgot the name of the place where it was, but it was in Washington on the Olympic Peninsula. And this was a cargo vessel, Japanese cargo vessel, that drifted for fourteen months across the sea on the Japanese current, and they washed up on the shore on what is presently the Makah Indian reservation at Neah Bay. And the fourteen original survivors, sailors did not all survive. Only three of them did, and specifically, they were named Otokichi, Kawakichi, and Iwakichi. So I told my daughters about these Kichi guys. "Kichi guys" in Japanese means "crazy," but of course, that's a pun off those whose last names were Kichi, so I called them Kichi guys. But anyway, the word got somehow to the chief factor at the Fort Vancouver which was John McLaughlin. This is 1843, and so he sent a ship's captain to pick up or rescue these stranded Japanese sailors who were being held captive as slaves by the Makah tribe. And so he ransomed them, and he, this captain from the British ship Llama brought them back up the Columbia River and deposited them at Fort Vancouver, and they were the first three Japanese who came to the Oregon Territory. They were at Fort Vancouver, and they went to school there for a little while to try to learn English because Otokichi I think was something like fourteen. He was a young boy.

But there's an interesting story that goes along with this that at this fort at that particular time, there was a man named Ranald McDonald, and Ranald McDonald was a son of a white trader, Andrew McDonald. Anyway, his father was a white trader, and his mother was a Chinookian princess. Her name was Princess Raven, and she was a princess of Chief Connelly who was a Tillamook chief. And Ranald McDonald met these men at Fort Vancouver, and he was so impressed with them that he found out these guys came fourteen months' journey across the sea, thousands of miles away. So Ranald McDonald had an ambition to go to Japan, and he did. He went to Japan and became the first teacher of English to the Japanese people. This was in, I forgot when it was, eighteen, mid 1800s, and he did go to Japan, and that's when he met these Japanese. Now, let's fast forward a little bit more. There's not too much known about these except that eventually these three Kichi guys were returned to Japan or they tried to. They tried to land on Macao, but Japan was a closed country at that time, so the Japanese authorities would not allow them to land in Japan. So two of them stayed in Macao, and one of them, or two of them, I think, helped Cammer or somebody, some German physician, translate the Bible into Japanese. But one of them, Otokichi, he somehow ended up in Singapore; and to this day, I think some of Otokichi's descendants still live in Singapore. Eventually, some of his descendants did come back to Japan, so there's quite a story on that.

But let's fast forward now to the, what would you say, the modern history of the Oregon Japanese, and that would begin with the person named Miyo Iwakoshi. Now, we don't know for sure the background of Miwo Iwakoshi, but she was supposed to have been from a good family, and she came over this country with a man, a white man named Andrew McKinnon who was said variously to be an animal husbandry, you know. He was a farmer, I guess, when they call him husbandry man, a stock raiser I suppose. But they also called him Captain McKinnon too, so I don't know whether that was an honorific name like Colonel Sanders, for example, I don't know. But anyway, he goes by two names. And anyway, Miyo Iwakoshi comes over with this Captain Andrew McKinnon and an adopted daughter. Adopted daughter was nine years old. Her name was Tamani Tobe. And nobody seems to know whose kid this really was, but everybody has their own suspicions, and this is probably Miyo Iwakoshi's real natural child, but nobody really knows that. Anyway, she came over with Captain McKinnon and Tama Nitobe in 1890, and they settled just a little bit outside of Gresham in a little town called Orient, and Orient supposedly got its name because it's the furthest east in Multnomah County. That's one story. The other story, which is the one I prefer, I choose, is that it was Captain McKinnon named that in honor of his Japanese paramour. Nobody ever said that they were married, but nobody ever said they weren't married either, so we don't know that story. But I like the story that he named it after his Japanese bride, Miwo Iwakoshi. That's why he named it Orient Sawmill. Orient still exists, but there's no sawmill there anymore.

Well, Tama grew up, and around 1895 or so when she was fifteen or sixteen, a young, ambitious young peddler, back peddler, comes up walking up from California through the forest trails of -- this is the story -- through the forest trails and all that peddling his little bags of incense and tea and so on, and he comes through the little town of Orient. And here he meets this nice young lady, fifteen, sixteen-year-old Tama Nitobe, so he wants to marry her. His name is Shintaro Takaki, so he hung around a little bit. Now remember, this is the first Japanese family from 1890. This is Tama Nitobe and her mother, adopted mother, Miyo Iwakoshi. So here comes this young sojourner from California. He asks for Tama's hand in marriage, and they get married, and they said, set up the first family in Oregon around 1895, and they had a flock of kids. And their family is kind of star crossed because there's several tragedies in their family. For example, one of the youngest sons, well, they had two sons. Tama Nitobe and Shintaro Takaki had five children, two boys and three girls. One of the girls was murdered by another Japanese farmer. He wanted to marry her. She was only fourteen. He wanted to marry her. But since, she was too young, her mother wouldn't let her. He shot and killed her, and then he cut his own throat with a razor, and he died. Robert Takaki, who I got to correspond with, I never knew him personally, he was shot and killed in an argument in Cour d'Alene, Idaho, by a ninety-year old neighbor. Robert Takaki was seventy-five, so unfortunate. But we have good records of this family. We still have some original photographs, and I returned the photographic albums to the descendants of Robert Takaki. But this is really when the Japanese started coming into the Portland area particularly.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.