Japanese American Issei Pioneer Museum
In Honor of the Struggle and Sacrifice of First Generation Japanese in America

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Minoru & Haruko Kobuki - Yoshiaki G. Takemura


Minoru Frank Kobuki and Haruko (Ichiyama) Kobuki

Minoru Frank Kobuki was born on July 10, 1908 (Meiji 41) in Christopher, Washington, an outskirt of town of Auburn. His father, Kotaro Kobuki was from Shimo Mugitani, Yuki-mura, Saeki-gun, Hiroshima-ken. Kotaro came to America around 1900. When Minoru was born, he was 34 years old and was working at a nursery in Kent, Washington operated by a Caucasian family.

Christopher is located in the White River Valley between Auburn and Kent. Many Japanese immigrants have lived in this region since 1905 while working on farms raising vegetables, strawberries, and stock raising¸ etc, contributing to the growth of the area.

Minoru's mother, Yoshino Kobuki (maiden name: Maeda), was from Kunomura, Asa-gun, Hiroshima-ken. She came to America around 1907 as a picture-bride to join her husband in Seattle. Minoru was their first child. Dr. J. Sato was an attending physician. Life in America was not easy for them.

In 1910, when Minoru was 2 years old, Kotaro and Yoshino decided to send Minoru to Japan and asked their friend to take him to Yokohama. It was a hard decision to make, but they thought this was the best way for Minoru to receive a Japanese education. Yoshino’s sister, Kuma, came to Yokohama to receive Minoru and she misunderstood the word “mama” for food. What Minoru wanted was his mother, and not food.

While Minoru was living in Hiroshima, 3 siblings (Yoneo, Matsuko, and Satoru) were born in America. Time passed and Minoru enrolled in grammer school.

Sad news of mother’s death came in 1918 when he was 10 years old. His mother, Yoshino passed away at the Kent Hospital after 50 days of hospitalization. Right after the birth of a son, Yoshio got Spanish flu that spread all over the world like an epidemic. There were so many patients that some had beds in the hallway at the hospital in Kent. She was only in her mid 30’s. Minoru’s hope of meeting his mother someday in the future became futile.

Unable to raise his children in America by himself, Kotaro came to Japan with his 4 children and asked his elder brother, Hikotaro and his wife, Kuma to raise them for him. As an infant baby, Yoshio found an adoption. Unfortunately, Yoneo, Matsuo and Satoru died soon after within few years. Besides attending school, Minoru was helping his uncle on the farm, but the time came for him to return to America.

In 1927, Minoru was now 19 years old and the army draft physical exam was approaching. He decided to return to America with the advice of his father. Bidding farewell to Hiroshima and Japan, he got on board thr SS Iyo-Maru from Yokohama and landed in Seattle after 17 years spent in Japan. He was a baby when he left for Japan and this was as if his first visit to America. He met his father for the first time in 9 years.

Minoru went to Cle Elum to live with his father. His father’s boss owned a nice large hotel near Lake Kachess in the Cascade Mountains and a huge mansion on 40 acres of property in Cle Elum. The Boss’s hobby was raising dogs. He had expensive dogs and his wife loved flowers and she had a big flower garden. Minoru was helping his father and at that time, and Mrs. May Canrun gave Minoru the American name of Frank. About 3 months later, Minoru moved to Thomas in White River Valley to work on a farm owned by Mr. Kamekuro Tanaka. In order to learn English, he enrolled in an elementary school nearby with children who were at least 10 years younger then him. There were 4 or 5 Kibeis like him in the class. Minoru attended White River Buddhist Church in Thomas. For many years, he kept an ojuzu received from Rev. Giryo Takemura when they went fishing. Later, Minoru found a new job in South Park, Seattle and worked at Hamamoto Farm (pigs and vegetables).

Mr. Canrun (Minoru's father’s boss) died suddenly from an accident while he was thawing snow and Mrs. Canrun moved to a new home in Kent. Minoru’s father moved to Fujii Hotel in Seattle's Japan Town, and once in a while he went to visit Minoru in South Park.

Haruko Kobuki (Maiden Name: Ichiyama)

Haruko was born on January 31, 1919 (Taisho 8) in Reedley, California. Her father, Yujiro Ichiyama was from Mitsuishi, kake-cho, Yamagata-gun, Hiroshima-ken. After arriving in San Francisco, he worked in the vineyards in Fresno and Reedley.

In 1912, he married Okishi Ichiyama, who lived in a neighboring village in Japan, through Shashin Kekkon (picture marriage). Okishi lived with in-laws until her visa arrived. In America, both Yujiro and Okishi worked diligently on the farm. Their first baby (boy) died soon after birth.

In 1920 (Taisho 9), the whole family returned to Japan when Haruko was 1 year old. Her father lived in America for over 20 years, and her mother, 8 years. The Ichiyamas were happy with the addition of 2 boys, but when Haruko was 13 years old, her father, Yujiro passed away.

When Haruko was 16 years old, relatives of the Ichiyamas and Kobukis were talking about the possibility of a shashin kekkon (picture marriage) between Haruko and Minoru, both of whom had never met before. As US-Japan relations were cold and tense, only those who had US citizenship were allowed to enter the US, and there were not many people like Haruko. They found Haruko's birth certificate, and all necessary papers had been assembled. In May of 1935, Haruko was ready to go on board the SS Heian-Maru. She stayed at the hotel, Kumamoto-ya, in Yokohama.

She was anxious to come to America. However, her mother was against sending her daughter, probably remembering the hardship she had experienced in America. One of her uncles who successfully operated a lace factory was in favor saying, “You should go to America, even alone, when you have a chance.” Haruko was only 16 years old.

Right after taking pictures with traditional bridal costumes in the garden in front of the Kobuki home, she left for Yokohama with mothers from Kobuki and Ichiyama. After 2 weeks of voyage, she arrived safely in Seattle. However, she had to stay at the immigration office for 6 full days for checking all papers and documents. There was a Japanese immigration officer, Mr.Yasutake.

Haruko and Minoru’s married life started at Hamamoto Farm. They stayed there for about a year. In 1936, they started working at the farm in South Park owned by Patch Marles, an Italian. Haruko was paid by an hourly rate and Minoru received a monthly salary.

A chance of leasing land came on November 10, 1936. Mr. Yoneyama, a previous renter passed away and Mr. Marles asked Minoru for the lease of 6 acres of farmland. It was a cold winter with lots of snowfall. Lettuce was their main produce. Soil was fertile and they leased the land until 1942 when they had to be evacuated.

Minoru had written to Haruko, “There are no trees in America that bear money. Come here if you are willing to work with me.” Haruko says, “We both were young and we worked really hard. And because of that, we were blessed with good health.”

Twin sons, Kunio Frank and Masao Jimmy were born on January 1, 1938 with the attendance of midwife, Mrs. Uyeno. Much care was necessary since Jimmy needed much attention.

December 7, 1941 - War broke out between United States and Japan. It was a big surprise.

February, 1942 - President’s executive order #9066 was issued and we new that the day would come for us to be evacuated.

May 1, 1942 - Kobuki family entered Puyallup Assembly Center in Puyallup, Washington.

Lettuce was ready to be harvested and to be sent to the market, but the government did not care about our losses and did not wait for the harvesting. The owner must have felt guilty and gave us $1,000 cash (only) just before we left the farm.

Minoru drove our truck and our family entered Barrack A in the Puyallup Center. We sold our truck to the City or the county for $40.

Following the announcement of the evacuation order, we thought about how our household items and personal belongings should be handled. We asked the chicken farmer in Tukwila from whom Minoru had purchased Keifun (chicken droppings) as fertilizer on the lettuce farm to keep them for the duration of the war. The answer was yes with no reservation. A washing machine, a radio, a sewing machine, etc.. Later, when we asked him to send some of the items to the Tule Lake Relocation Center, he sent them to us right away. We were really fortunate. There were many people who had to short sale their furniture and belongings with unbelievable prices or found their items missing when they returned.

June 26, 1942, Minoru's father, Kotaro Kobuki died at the Puyallup Assembly Center from a heart attack. He was 68 years old. A funeral home from Tacoma handled the funeral service at the Assembly Center with Rev. Eiyu Terao officiating. At first, he was in a separate unit, but with the request of Minoru, he was allowed to move in with Minoru and his family. Even though Minoru lost his father, he treasured the 50 days he was able to live with his father, as he missed his father most of his life.

Most of the friends of the Kobukis in the Auburn and White River area were sent to Pinedale Assembly Center in California. Soon after, they were transferred to Tule Lake Relocation Center. People in the Seattle South Park area were sent to Puyallup Assembly Center, and when they were about to be moved to Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho, the Kobuki family requested the RWA authority for them to be moved to Tule Lake since their White River friends were there. Kobukis were among the 50 or so people to do so, and they went to the Tule Lake by train.

The Kobuki family was given one big room in a barrack. Tule Lake Relocation Center was hastily created in the desert of northern California to house more than 10,000 persons of Japanese ancestry. The center was surrounded by barbed wire fence and military guards with rifles stationed on watchtowers. However, they were not there to hurt the evacuees and Kobuki family never experienced threat of their safety, not even once. Besides the central administration office and police station, there were schools (nursery, kindergarten, elementary, junior and senior high schools), a hospital, a fire station, a post office, co-op stores, baseball fields, churches, swimming pools, vegetable farms, etc. in the Center. There were over 40 blocks in the center and each block had a dining hall, public baths and toilets, and recreation halls. It was very comfortable place for the Kobukis.

On November 19, 1942, Roy Masaru was born, and on April 22, 1944, their fourth son, Johnny Hiroshi was born. Doctors and nurses at the hospital were all Japanese.

It was wrong and unjust to evacuate not only those who had Japanese citizenship, but also of those who possesed U.S. citizenship. But, everyone received satisfactory living quarters and enough food free of charge, and the Kobukis lived a comfortable and happy life during their 3 and half years in Tule Lake. The War Relocation Authority gave $3.00 per month to each person for clothing. As the Kobukis had some cash upon arrival, they were able to buy various everyday items at the co-op.

Haruko was always busy taking care of children. But, she found time and took a knitting class. Minoru worked at the mess hall as a dishwasher. Each block prepared 3 meals a day and he received $16 a month. He was a baby sitter after he returned home.

Disorders happened often in Tule Lake as anti-American evacuees marched every morning with white headbands on their foreheads while shouting, “wasshoi, wasshoi”. Some had to be moved to Bismark's army detention facility in North Dakota. Minoru did not participate in any of those activities even though he was Kibei and received a Japanese education while he was in Japan.

Comedic Episodes in Tule Lake:

1. After ordering size 13 shoes for their son from a Sears Robuck store in Chicago through the post office, big size 13 adult shoes arrived. Mistake by Kobuki or Sears?

2. Minoru went to watch a baseball game with his third son, Roy in a baby buggy. Someone told him, “Your baby fell and is crying.” Minoru was crazy about the ball game and he had forgotten all about his baby. Luckily, no harm to Roy.

3. Big wheat field outside of the Center. German immigrants owned it. Lots of geese come to the field during the spring. One wounded goose from gun shots fell to the ground insde the Center. Kobukis and their neighbor had delicious baked yakitori for dinner that evening.

After the war:

August 14, 1945 WW2 ended, and Minoru wrote a letter to a relative in Japan through International Red Cross asking whether or not he should go back to Japan to take responsibility over the family in Japan. A letter from Japan said, “Not at this time.” The Decision was made to stay in the U.S., and on February 19,1946, they left Tule Lake and headed to Seattle by train. Accepting their kindness, the Kobuki family stayed with Minoru’s cousin, Hatsumi Ishii, in South Park, Seattle for 3 months.

July, 1946, farm work became available. A farm house was provided by Italian farmer, DeLorenzo. Minoru received monthly salary and Haruko 75 cents an hour. Both endured hardships. A woman came to our home and arranged a school for Jimmy. We were so grateful for a yellow taxi providing daily transportation for Jimmy until he was 18 years old.

After the war, we sent relief packages to our relatives in Japan. Letters from Japan said neighbors envied them.

November 20, 1952, Mr. Patch Marles offered us 6 acres of land. We could not afford to buy it all, so we bought 3 acres with cash. Our friend, Mr. Hirano bought the other half. Minoru grew spinach there. Haruko began to work at Buffalo Wabin Company in 1954 and remained employed for the next 28 years until she reached 62 years old. The company employees joined the Teamsters Union and even though the pay was low, the retirement benefit was as it had promised. Haruko is receiving a good benefit.

In 1957, a portion of the property was sold to the state for a new Pacific Highway. Their house had to be moved and the Kobukis added a basement for the new home. Paul Imanishi was a contractor.

In 1957, Haruko visited Japan for the first time in 22 years. She arrived at Haneda Airport via Honolulu, and reunited with her mother, 2 brothers, and 5 cousins in Tokyo.

Minoru Frank Kobuki

He did not care for wine or cigarettes. On December 24, 1957, Frank’s friend told him to apply for a job at the Olympic Hotel in Seattle. He got the job, and he worked there for the next 17 years. He worked earnestly saying his English was not good enough to work elsewhere.

He was a trusted employee for Mrs. Thompson, and he received a recognition award when he retired in 1974 as the most dependable trusted employee. Previous to that, in 1971, all expense paid vacations to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and the Grand Canyon were provided by the Olympic Hotel for Jimmy, Haruko, and Frank.

1964 Visit to Japan. Japan hosted the summer Olympics.

1973 Haruko and Frank visit Japan.

1974 Trip to New York by the two. Met Frank’s cousin, Midori Sasaki of Toronto, Canada.

1977 Caribbean tour by the two. (Mary Fujita Tour)

1979 Hawaiian Tour with Gojikai by the two. Frank’s brother came to LA, and went after him to Seattle.

1980 Mexico Tour to Yucatan with Mary Fujita's tour group. Splendid ruins. Haruko’s mother passed away this year in Japan. She was 88 years old.

1981 World Buddhist Women’s Conference in San Francisco. Haruko had a picture taken with Mrs. Hisako Sasaki from Hiroshima. She was a guest speaker from her mother’s neighborhood.

Haruko and Frank toured many places with Kinomoto Tours and Mary Fujita Tours including Glacier National Park, a Canadian Rocky tour, Russia, and Japan. Altogether more than 10.

Frank had a Gallstone operation on May 27, 1985. Celebrated their Golden wedding anniversary (kinkonshiki) at Bush Garden on July 15, 1985.

On July 26, 1987, purchased a condominium at 1312 So. Massachusetts St. #103, Seattle, and moved. Furniture had been purchased at Bon Marche when there was a sale in February of that year.

The property in South Park was sold in 1989. On December 29, 1992, relatives from Hiroshima (Masato and Yayoe Ichiyama, Kuniaki Tatsumi, Hiroko and Toshiyuki Kawamoto) came to Seattle and they stayed at the condo. Had steak dinner at the restaurant, and seven of us went to Los Angeles to spend a new year. We stayed at Tokyo Hotel and enjoyed Hollywood and Disney Land, etc. with our special guide. They returned to Japan on January 5 from Seattle. Roy and Jimmy had visited Hiroshima and met their uncles and aunts, but this was the first time that members of the Ichiyamas came to America.

Up until July of 1994, Frank was able to drive to South Center to have luncheon at Nordstrom with Haruko. But, he began losing his health since. He suffered a light stroke in November of that year and 8 months later in 1995 he had second stroke and had to be hospitalized at the Swedish Hospital. And he was on a wheelchair when the 60th wedding anniversary was celebrated at Horseshoe Restaurant in 1995. He was sent to the Seattle Keiro room # 310 May 15 thru September. And he passed away on September 7, 1995 at the age of 87, leaving his wife, 4 sons, 5 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. The funeral service was held at the Seattle Buddhist Church. Mrs. Kobuki says, “My husband was a serious man and liked by many people. And he had been good to me and my children.”


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Other Notable Memories * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

On December 29, 1992, five relatives from Japan (Masato Ichiyama, Megumi Yashito, Kuniaki Tatsumi, Toshiyuki and Yoko Kawamoto visited Seattle and they stayed at the condo. We had a welcome dinner at a restaurant with delicious steaks. We made a reservation at Tokyo Hotel and seven of us spent the new year in Los Angeles. A tour guide took us to Hollywood and Disney Land and we all had a wonderful time. The relatives left Seattle on January 5 and returned to Japan.

In 2003, Haruko was in an Olympic Mountains tour group and boarded a ferry at Edmonds. However, she missed the steps on the ferry going toward Kingston and fell. Her blood pressure was above 200 and the boat turned back to Edmonds and she was taken to the hospital by an ambulance car waiting for her at the pier. Roy took his mother home around 10 p.m. after her blood pressure had come down. Mary Fujita had stayed with Haruko throughout and she missed the tour.

On March 20, 2004, Haruko began experiencing sharp pain in her upper leg joint and the pain persisted despite various treatments. On July 14, a shot was given by the specialist at the ninth floor of Swedish Hospital. The pain disappeared unbelievably next day, but the reaction from the pain killer medicine made her itchy all over her body and it was troublesome. Vaseline was helpful.

On August 12, 2004, Haruko lost her consciousness as she stepped on the #36 metro bus after going to the hair parlor and shopping on Jackson street. Calling 911, a bus driver asked Haruko which She hospital she would go as an emergency patient and she replied, “Swedish”. She did not remember anything after that. As she regained consciousness, she was at the hospital and her blood pressure was down. She thought that she would have died if this had happened at home. A doctor recommended a pace maker for her and she has been examined every 6 month since then.

April 5, 2005, Haruko and Sumie visited Hiroshima and received cordial hospitality from the relatives. Returned to Seattle on April 19.

In 2007, Haruko visited Japan with Roy, Marsha, and Brian. Relatives were so kind and treated us good. The Ichiyamas built a beautiful new house.

Haruko says, ”My sons and their families are so good to me and I am very happy. 3 grandchildren: Hiroko’s son, Tulio, daughter, Kayo and Marsha’s son, Braden. They are all lovely. I am 91 years old now, but I take a walk for about 40 minutes everyday for exercise and I am in good health. I am living everyday with gratitude.”


The end

by Yoshiaki G. Takemura
Information provided by Haruko Kobuki
June 2010



Japanese American Issei Pioneer Museum - isseipioneermuseum.com - 2010