Coming to America

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-- Inscription on the Statue of Liberty


Seattle, July 27, 1918

After two weeks at sea, the Yone Masu approached Seattle. It was still 3 miles from port. Crew that was not actively working looked out to the east. The sun was just beginning to set behind them, towards the land they hand come from. Ahead, they still saw nothing. After first, a feint line on the horizon appeared. Gradually, the outline of the city grew in size and the port became readily visible. It was a magnificent sight after seeing nothing but large waves, gray skies, and the ocean blue.

Kanekichi had been contemplating his disembarkment for a few days. It was unclear what was in store for him at the point of entry. Would there be customs and/or immigration officials? What would enable him to enter the country? Wads of cash overflowed his pockets into his suitcase. If there were difficulty, maybe money would be the appropriate lubricant to enable his entry.

Yamamoto decided he would not take a chance – he would abandon ship and swim or wade ashore. It was now early evening, and the sun was rapidly sinking towards the horizon. As sunlight glimmered across the surface of water in Elliott Bay, the Yone Masu approached port. At a few hundred yards, the ship was still moving quite quickly (perhaps 5 knots). When it was within 100 feet, the ship slowed with the engines in reverse at full throttle, churning up large waves of foamy backwash. The ship shuttered as the engines groaned while applying power in the opposite direction of the momentum of the massive ship. Lines were tossed ashore to dock, the engines were cut and the ship drifted at a snails pace before gently stopping at the port’s edge.

Kanekichi had found his moment. Three quarters of the sun was now behind the horizon. With the alternating shadows and reflections on the water obfuscating visibility, Kanekichi plunged into the water. It was mere feet to the dock. My father tells me that as he while waded to land, he hid underneath a basket to conceal himself from any eyes that may have been watching. (I do not know if this was actually true). There were no suspecting eyes as he emerged from the water to land. I’m not sure how a man in sopping wet clothes escaped notice – but somehow he did.

He was free. He had managed to enter the United States without fanfare. The ships manifest was a careful record of all employees on the ship. On landing, it reflected that he had “DESERTED.” However, apparently this was not uncommon as many other people’s status was also reported as “DESERTED.” Perhaps this was not such a big deal.


On long journey across the Pacific Ocean with only your own thoughts, one cannot help but to contemplate one’s own life. When you are 17 years old, traveling alone, leaving a land you expect not to return, this was especially true. Aided by only the writings of Saigo from his father, clarity had come to Kanekichi. His world was larger than just Japan. And, Japan’s future lived outside of Japan and Asia – to a land called America. America was his future too.

A confluence of forces was at work. The Meiji Restoration and the “Opening of Japan” by the United States propelled Japan forward. Japan had no choice. With “second nation” status, Japan had no choice but to modernize and advance. Its previous insular world would no longer suffice. Failure to progress would be an existential threat.

“Opening of Japan” was of course a euphemism. Millard Fillmore authorized Matthew Perry to use “gunboat diplomacy” to force trade, and ultimately Western values, on (the “backward people” of) Japan. “Manifest Destiny” was the hidden battle cry – it no longer applied just to America but the world.

America Had Awoken a Sleeping Giant.
Now that he was on land, Kanekichi realized America was his future too.

And Japan’s destiny was his own.

Toyo Club

The Original Toyo Club, Now Bush Garden. 
Darkness had fallen. It was now late into the night. Kanekichi pulled the envelope from Toyama from his jacket pocket to read the backside of the second picture:

Tayokichi Yamada Toyo Club 614 Maynard Seattle Washington

Kanekichi made his way to the Toyo Club. It was less than a mile away. When he arrived, he was in the heart of Seattle’s Chinatown. He double-checked the address – 614 Maynard St. It was a nondescript building with a familiar entrance. A gambling club. He entered the front door, and took a quick look around. To his surprise – no gambling. As a recent immigrant, he was unaware that Prohibition was sweeping its way across America. While the 18th Amendment had not yet been ratified or implemented, local ordinances had all ready prohibited alcohol. He made his way past the cigarette stand and encountered a man servicing it. He was a burly man that had the double duty to control whoever entered the club and to ring the silent alarm if the police came to raid the place. Kanekichi gave the man a confident but quick stare and made his way into the room; it opened up to a restaurant. At this late hour, it was closed. To the left however, he saw stairs that went up to the second floor, where sounds of live Japanese music emanated – sounds of the samisen. He took the stairs up and took note. There were three large rooms. The first was fairly empty – a theater stage, where tonight was occupied only by a single woman playing the samisen.

The second housed a few dozen people gambling around 5 tables. High-Low-Jack, Black Jack, and a Chinese game Kanekichi did not recognize. While crowded, it was a subdued group, politely playing. At least for tonight. The third room was occupied by even a smaller number. It was a bar, with a half dozen tables. It too was a subdued scene where one could enjoy the music from the other room and observe the gaming in the main room. At a large table discretely located at the back of the room, Kanekichi saw two people of seeming important stature, and he recognized them immediately – Tayokichi Yamada and Fuku Nakatani. It was obvious Tayokichi Yamada was the boss of the Toyo Club. He was intimidating with dark beady eyes that seemingly could kill with just a glance. He was not just the owner of the club but also the head of a syndicate organization or diverse activities, mostly illegal. Nakatani was young, poised, and beautiful. She was the only woman at the Toyo club – a place where women were not allowed but she was somehow above such protocol. She had a gravitas of her own unchallenged by both men and women alike. The two were there together, but it was obviously business not social.

Kanekichi walked near the bar at first, not approaching Yamada. He had not yet formulated what he would say let alone his approach. What did he have to ask or offer?

So, he stepped up to the bar and ordered a sake. It quickly arrives. However, before he could even raise the masu (a small wooden cup) to his lips to take a sip in the new land, pandemonium broke out. Men with guns drawn had forced their way to the second floor.

Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam!

Six shots were fired toward Yamada and Nakatani. The crowd dove for cover. More shots were fired. Kanekichi, standing between the approaching men and Yamada, instinctively drew his gun from his holster. Yamada and Nakatani were pushed to the ground by bodyguards for their protection. They are then whisked away through a back entrance. More shots were fired. Kanekichi were now in the path of harms away, and he fired back. His expert shooting from years of practice paid off. Several assailants were downed. He too was now whisked away to the back exit and escorted upstairs to the safe room of the Toyo Club. There, he encountered an injured but alive Yamada and Nakatani, uninjured. Kanekichi was calm and composed. He had downed 2 of the 7 men shooting at Yamada. He did what he had to do. He spoke no words. He glanced at Yamada to make eye contact and then looked to Nakatani. Realizing trouble was on its way, Kanekichi slipped out the back door and down two flights of stairs, and exited the Toyo Club into the darkness of the night.

Welcome to America.

Welcome to the Family

Panama Hotel
After his encountered at the Toyo Club, Kanekichi found his way to the Panama Hotel, a few blocks away. He checked in with the night clerk in an uneventful encounter and made his way to his room. He was exhausted from both the long journey and the excitement from the shootout at the Toyo Club. However, he was on his guard, knowing that he had left a chaotic scene as he slipped away into the night. He was suspicious of every person and every sound out side of the hotel. He was concerned the police, the uninjured gunmen, or both were on their way to find him. He slipped into bed, but not without keeping his .38 S&W in the clutches of his left hand.

The night passed quickly though. It was uneventful. He was up at 7. He examined himself. He was filthy and sweaty from the long journey, the swim in Elliott Bay, and the brawl.

There was a knock at his door. Who could it be? Kanekichi instinctively reached for his gun. However, it was just the bellhop. He has two packages for Kanekichi. He returns his gun to his holster and opened the door to accept the packages. He was unclear what they are. "Frederick & Nelson" was the labeling on the first box, “Byrnie Utz” was on the second . Opening the box, he found clothes -- working shirts, a suit, shoes, and toiletries. The second box was clearly a hatbox. Inside it was a grey Stetson. Kanekichi was not certain who delivered this or why -- he suspected a collaboration of his father, Toyama, and Mrs. Nakatani had arranged it.

After a shower and shave down the hallway, Kanekichi dressed and examined himself. The single breasted black suit with wide peaked lapels, uncuffed trousers, and patent leather shoes were a perfect fit. The Stetson completed the look. At first, he appeared too young and boyish for such attire but he adjusted quickly. It was a serious look for a young man. If there was any doubt, the leather holster discretely and purposefully holding his .38, gave him confidence, authority, and respect. He looked into the room mirror, squinted slightly and stared into his own eyes. The blackness of his irises hide the darkness of his pupils. It weas a menacing, confident, and intimidating stare. It was a look much older than Kanekichi's 17 years.

He checked out of his hotel and walked a few blocks to 1441 S Main St. It was a few door up from the Seattle Buddhist Church. It appeared to be a small house with a large monkey tree in the front yard. Three children play in the front yard, a boy and girl both about 9 years old and a younger girl, probably around 3. Offspring of Mrs. Nakatani, Kanekichi reasoned.

Kanekichi walked up 6 steps to the front porch and knocked on the door. To his surprise, the burly doorman from the previous night was there to answer it. He was pulled into the house and door was quickly shut behind him. The man "

“patted him down” to find Kanekichi's gun in the holster, but Kanekichi quickly got a hold of the gun before he can take it. The two men stared each other down, neither one willing to relinquish the gun. The burly man relented, and allowed him to keep it.

The front of the house entered into the living room and lead directly to the dining room, in a single expansive space. Behind the dining room was a kitchen. Rooms immediately adjacent to the left of living room were followed by staircase that lead upstairs. It seemed to be a relatively large house, where multiple generations of people live.

Kanekichi walked to the dining room table and sat for not more than a moment. Sounds of the samisen drift from the distance -- beyond and beneath the kitchen at the back of the house. Then silence. The sound of young feet scampering up a staircase in the distance from behind the kitchen could be heard. A group of 4 girls emerged, and they quickly shuffle past Kanekichi, bowing slightly, and made their way out the front door. They are dressed in traditional Japanese dance dress. Then, Fuku Nakatani emerged. She had just finished a dance and music lesson with the children.

Fuku was 30 years old. She was thin and elegant. Her beauty was understated -- masked by her seriousness, and deliberateness. Kanekichi rose from his chair as she entered the dining room.

Kanekichi introduced himself. He explained: He was from Yatsuo but had lived in Yokosuka for most of his life. He had just come to America. Nakatani offered Kanekichi tea, and used the break to acknowledge – yes, I know who you are and have been expecting you. I know your father – and Toyama-san. Words were not spoken about the previous night. Nakatani was appreciative but did not acknowledge what had happen. All know what transpired – no need to discuss it.

The front door opened and slammed. The three children came bouncing into the dining room where Kanekichi and Nakatani were sitting.

“These are my children – Kenny, Kinuko, and Helen.” All were polite and say hello. “Go back to the front yard and play,” Nakatani told her children. They scurried away, but Kinuko also turned back to give a second deliberate glance to Kanekichi, all most in a flirting kind of way. She had taken after her mother --- poised and beautiful, even for a girl aged nine. Kanekichi thought little of it but made a mental note of her.

Before they could resume their conversation, Kenny shouted from the front room, “Mama! We have a visitor” as he skipped passed the guard and waited at the front door. His sisters pushed their way past Kenny, exited the door, and descended to the front yard. A large black car pulled to the curb, and three men got out. They were in black suits (did everyone were black suits?) and walked up the steps. They rang the doorbell, as Kenny peered out through the screen door.

“Is your mother here?” one of the men asked. Kenny let them into the house, and Nakatani and Kanekichi approached the front room. The last of the three men entered and he emerged to greet Nakatani.

It’s Tayokichi Yamada.

His arm was bandaged, but he seemed in good shape. Pleasantries were exchanged, though they were quite formal. Fuku examined Yamada’s injuries but said nothing. Yamada said nothing either. Fuku knew Yamada was coming – coming to speak to Kanekichi. Fuku directed them to the dining room table. All took seats, and tea was offered. After a few moments of silence, which seemed like minutes, attention was directed to Kanekichi. Yamada’s subordinate spoke to Kanekichi, “Thank you for your service. We’ve been expecting you but not under such circumstances.”

Kanekichi said nothing.

“Your father and Mr. Toyama had communicated your arrival to us. We can offer you work at the club. However, your gun skills are quite impressive. Maybe there are other ways you can assist. We will come for you.”

All men stood up. Yamada put his hat on, and gave a barely noticeable tip to Kanekichi. Acknowledgement of gratitude was unspoken but the nonverbal language was clear. The men depart as quickly as they came; the burly man at the door left with them.

An Opportunity You Cannot Refuse

A few hours have passed.

In many ways, Kanekichi was like all other immigrants that have come from Japan – He was an uneducated man that had taken a dangerous journey by boat in search of a new, better life. That said, he was also quite different. In accounts of his life in retrospect, many had noted, “When brains were being passed out, Kanekichi certainly got more than his fair share.” And, he wondered, how did his past connect him to his future? In particular, what would come of his mysterious connection to Mitsuru Toyama?

Other immigrants had found difficult work – in farms, on fishing boats, at wood mills, at canneries (in Alaska). For women, sewing in sweatshops, hostesses at restaurants, and, sadly, prostitution, were common fare. This was indeed hard a life, with the promise of possible reward in the future. Many men (and women) have taken this road – a road well traveled. It was a path taken not just by Japanese immigrants but also by immigrants in general. Indeed it was the “American Dream.” While the work and life in general was grueling, it was the way all boot strapped themselves from nothing to something. Kanekichi could follow this path.

That said, work and a place to get footing at the Toyo Club was an opportunity.

An opportunity he could not refuse.

Kanekichi walked back to the Toyo Club. A new man was at the watchbox at the cigarette stand. He was waiting for Kanekichi. He waved him in and signaled for him to go upstairs. He ascended the two flights of steps. He found a queue of assorted men outside the office of Yamada. He sized up each man – the walks of life that have led them to Yamada seemed quite varied. Most were quite nervous; some seemed to be practicing what they are going to say when they got their meeting with Yamada.

The door opened, and a man exited, and scurried past. He was both frightened and relieved. Yamada saw Kanekichi from the crack of the open door. He signaled to Kawahara, one his associates that had accompanied him to the Nakatani house, to fetch Kanekichi – by-passing the queue of people in front of him. As Kanekichi waited in front of the door waiting to be invited in, Yamada was finishing up the business of the previous meeting. “Who should take care of this?” Yamada asked to no one in specific, but possibly to a man appearing to be his consigliore. It was a question that needed no answer. “Have Taniguchi take care of it. Off course it will be a tragic accident, yes?” He then turned to Kanekichi.

“Come in. Come in,” said Yamada, waving him in with his hands. “We are pleased to have you join us.” Kanekichi looked around the room. Kawahara, the other man that came to the house earlier, and the burly guard were also present.

“Kawahara will help you get situated,” said Yamada. Yamada turned to Kawahara, “Card table, yes?” It was a statement more than a question. Kawahara nodded. “But I think you can be helpful in other ways too,” said Yamada. “Your help last night was much appreciated. Can you help Kawahara with some collections this afternoon?”

Yamamoto gave a slight nod to indicate he could.

“Good. You can go now,” said Yamada.

“In fact take Shimoura with you,” Yamada continued, first looking at the burly man (who was now obviously Shimoura) and then to Kawahara. Kawahara also gave Yamada a slight nod to acknowledge, as well as Shimoura. Shimoura however was obviously disturbed. He was sweating profusely, his hands shook, and he stammered, “Yes, Yamada-san.”

Yamamoto, Kawahara, and Shimoura left through the back of the office, took three flights of steps to the ground floor, and exited into the same alley where Kanekichi escaped the night before.

The door closed behind them and lockd with a definitive click. Just as they take their first steps into the alley, an armed assailant stepped into their path. Two shots are fired.

Blam! Blam!
Shimoura was hit in the chest and between the eyes. Kawahara calmly kept walking. Kanekichi was startled and frightened but keeps pace with Kawahara. He looked back to see Shimoura dragged away behind a dumpster.

“Your efforts last night are commended.” Kawahara said. “And you are rewarded.” He reached out to shake Kanekichi’s hand, and passed a wad of bills into his palm with that gesture. “On the other hand, this should have never happened. Shimoura failed at the door and thus was dangerously unreliable. “

Welcome to the Toyo Club.

I guess it’s a membership for life, Kanekichi reflected.

Protecting the Neighborhood

Kanekichi walked the streets of Chinatown with Kawahara.

“We’re going visit our clients on Jackson Street,” asserted Kawahara.

At each storefront between 7th and 2nd, they made a stop. Most were a quick check in with a proprietor who nervously hands over an envelope of money, if money was due. No words were spoken and Kawahara and Kanekichi left as quickly as they enter. Such storekeepers were happy to see them leave without incident.

However, there was an increased level of confrontation based on the amount of money owed or the lateness of payment.

“Why so sad?” was sometimes the words spoken when a storeowner was a bit angry at the protection money that was being collected. Usually they know not to respond, for their own safety. “We’re here to protect you and help you.” Sometimes a pistol, still in its holster was revealed behind a suit jacket.

On one stop to a small grocery, the owner meets Kawahara and Kanekichi at the cash register. “I can’t pay you today,” he says. Kawahara can’t tell if he’s being honest, deceitful, or just ornery. It really doesn’t matter. He was late on payment.

“That’s unfortunate. I’d hate for there to be problems if we can’t help you. How about we come back tomorrow and after you figure things out?” He has the butt of his pistol positioned directly above the fingernail of the proprietor’s left middle finger, and pins it to the counter. Kawahara then slams the butt against his finger, and increasing pressure was applied. A cracking sound was heard from his finger, and blood trickles from beneath the nail. The owner grimaces in pain. He’s also frightened because he was looking at the receiving end of the barrel of the pistol.

Kawahara and Kanekichi leave the store. It was a small gesture. Proportionate with the problem. Tomorrow, if they can’t collect the money, with interest, the problem will escalate. It was scene right out of a gangster movie.

They continued their walk down to 2nd Avenue. It was a surprisingly “uneventful,” repeated pattern. Collect some money, threaten customers that were a little late or short, and apply violence to those that were significantly or repeatedly late, and take note of the real problems to be dealt with later. It was a bit shocking if you are saw the threats or violence for the first time, but easy to accept the normalcy after seeing it a few times.

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