Tokyo on the Hudson: Inwood’s Early Japanese Community

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Original caption: 6/2/1917-
Original caption: 6/2/1917-"Somewhere in New York City," just a few blocks from the upper boundary, to be exact, the Inwood Community Garden Association is cultivating a stretch of ground, composed of 60 lots, each 20 by 40 feet, in persuance of President Wilson's recent call to the people to raise their own food. This photo shows Japanese people working on one of the plots. The man is Dr. Minosuke Yamaguchi and the rest are Mrs. H. Muroyama and her family. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
Original caption: 6/2/1917-"Somewhere in New York City," just a few blocks from the upper boundary, to be exact, the Inwood Community Garden Association is cultivating a stretch of ground, composed of 60 lots, each 20 by 40 feet, in persuance of President Wilson's recent call to the people to raise their own food.  This photo shows Japanese people working on one of the plots.  The man is Dr. Minosuke Yamaguchi and the rest are Mrs. H. Muroyama and her family. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
Original caption: 6/2/1917-“Somewhere in New York City,” just a few blocks from the upper boundary, to be exact, the Inwood Community Garden Association is cultivating a stretch of ground, composed of 60 lots, each 20 by 40 feet, in persuance of President Wilson’s recent call to the people to raise their own food. This photo shows Japanese people working on one of the plots. The man is Dr. Minosuke Yamaguchi and the rest are Mrs. H. Muroyama and her family. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

From early Dutch settlers, to eastern Europeans, Irish and Dominicans, the story of Inwood has always been an immigrant’s tale—and so it was with a “colony” of Japanese who settled the region in the years surrounding World War I.

These early arrivals consisted of some thirty-five families and were led by Dr. Minosuke Yamaguchi.

suke Yamaguchi (highlighted), National Advocate, vol. 54, May 1919, official publication of the National Temperance Society.
Minosuke Yamaguchi (highlighted), National Advocate, vol. 54, May 1919, official publication of the National Temperance Society.

Yamaguchi, a leader of the National Temperance League of Japan, was a well-known speaker on the anti-Saloon League circuit.  He also ran an art supply shop on Dyckman Street.

While not allowed serve in the military the Japanese of early Inwood proudly tended to “War Gardens” throughout the neighborhood.

Toshi Shimizu, Japanese Engineers' Bridge Construction in Malaya
Toshi Shimizu, Japanese Engineers’ Bridge Construction in Malaya.

Japanese artist Toshi Shimizu, later renowned for his battlefield paintings during World War II, lived at 38 Post Avenue.  His early works had familiar neighborhood titles that included Road to the Ferryboat, Impression of Dyckman Street, Summer Evening on Sherman Avenue and Hill Along the Hudson.

What follows is a 1917 description of Inwood’s Japanese “colony” printed in the New York Herald:

New York Herald, August 9, 1917.
New York Herald, August 9, 1917.

New York Herald
August 9, 1917

Japanese Win Commendation for Model West Side Colony
Thirty-Five Families in Settlement, Many Converts to Christianity, Are Well-Behaved and Prosperous—Take Steps to Erect Church

To New York’s numerous “colonies” of foreigners, a new one has recently been added, far uptown on the west side.  It is a “colony” of Japanese, and residents in the Inwood section affirm that there could be no better neighbors.

There are thirty-five families in the settlement.  All of them are well to do, the men being prosperous businessmen and members of various professions.  Among them are enough converts to Christianity to warrant the erection of a church, and a campaign for that purpose is already under way.  At the present time the members of the “colony” worship in the Mount Washington Presbyterian Church at Broadway and Dyckman Street.

The recognized leader of the “colony” is Dr. Minosuke Yamaguchi, who lives at No. 38 Post Avenue.  He came to this country twenty years ago, after having preached the Methodist faith in his native land.  He owns an art store at Dyckman Street and Sherman Avenue, but is interested in medicine and has his medical degree.

02 Jun 1917 --- Original caption: "Somewhere in New York City," just a few blocks from the upper boundary, to be exact, the Inwood Community Garden Association is cultivating a stretch of ground, composed of 60 lots, each 20 by 40 feet, in pursuance of president Wilson's recent call to the people to raise their own food.  The ground is situated amid tall apartment houses and the surface cars family in the association cultivate one lot. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
02 Jun 1917 — Original caption: “Somewhere in New York City,” just a few blocks from the upper boundary, to be exact, the Inwood Community Garden Association is cultivating a stretch of ground, composed of 60 lots, each 20 by 40 feet, in pursuance of president Wilson’s recent call to the people to raise their own food. The ground is situated amid tall apartment houses and the surface cars family in the association cultivate one lot. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Several of the families have taken up “war gardening,” and may be seen every afternoon toiling on their plots and thus “doing their bit,” though they are aliens and exempt.

1920 Federal Census, Yamaguchi family highlighted (click on image to enlarge)
1920 Federal Census, Yamaguchi family highlighted (click on image to enlarge).
The Sun, February 17, 1918
The Sun, February 17, 1918.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I believe the year might have been 1945 or 1946. I was very young 7 or 8. A very old lady in the next building at 128 Post Ave. would ask me to go to the store for her. In her nice very neat apt. there was a large photo on the wall of an Asian man dressed in what would be the early 1900s in a bowler hat etc. and a lovely Caucasian women in a gown. It was taken somewhere outdoors. I remember it because as young as I was I wondered if he was her husband which would be unusual in those days. Could that man be Mr. Yamaguichi? Boy, I wish I could have recorded so many things in those long ago days in Inwood. Happy Easter Cole.

  2. My father, George Weitz, worked in Belford’s, a grocery store on Dyckman, for many years. After Pearl Harbor a Japanese customer asked him, if things got bad, to deliver groceries to her–to deliver them himself (he was the manager and many thought he was “Mr. Belford”), not send a boy. At the time he thought she was worrying unnecessarily–this is America!

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