Nichibei Shimbun (newspaper)


Established in San Francisco in 1899, the Nichibei Shimbun was one of the most prominent ethnic newspapers in the continental United States. Reflective of its founder Kyutaro Abiko's vision, the newspaper called for assimilation and permanent settlement among [Issei]], as well as biculturalism and American patriotism among Nisei. Among Japanese American vernacular newspapers, it pioneered the publication of a regular English section in 1925. Often in conflict with its rival, the Shin Sekai, the polemics between the two papers underscored—and contributed to—the formation of complex identities, ideas, and community practices in prewar Japanese America.

Origins

Published in San Francisco, the Nichibei Shimbun, or Japanese American News, had its official beginning on April 4, 1899, after the merger of two earlier vernacular papers, the Hokubei Shimpo (founded in 1898) and the Soko Nihon Shinbun (1897). Organized by a group of immigrant students ("school boys") and writers, the Soko Nihon Shinbun eventually came into the hands of Kyutaro Abiko, a Christian entrepreneur who had come to the United States as an indigent student. The Hokubei Shimpo was a product of ongoing disputes between Christian converts and other factions of the early Japanese immigrant community in San Francisco. Whereas non-Christians seized editorial control of the preexisting Shin Sekai Shimbun (1894), some Christian Issei broke off to form the Hokubei Shimpo. While the Shin Sekai increased its readership rapidly with the backing of nationalist-minded students and working-class newcomers, the Soko Nihon Shinbun and Hokubei Shimpo, which shared similar political orientations based on Christian persuasions, were compelled to join forces to start a new paper called the Nichibei Shimbun.[1] Within a few years, Abiko became the sole proprietor of this paper, as other partners returned to Japan or moved onto other ventures.

Throughout the prewar years, the Nichibei Shimbun remained one of the most important Japanese vernaculars in California, if not in the entire western United States. During the 1920s, its daily circulation peaked at over 25,000, which included the San Francisco and Los Angeles editions. Due to the Depression and the demise of the Los Angeles branch, the circulation hovered in the range of 10,000 to 15,000 during the 1930s. In 1941, it further decreased to 9,400. Still, the Nichibei Shimbun did as well as its rival dailies; the circulation of the Shin Sekai registered at 13,500 in 1930, and was just 900 issues higher than the Nichibei in 1940. The Rafu Shimpo (Los Angeles Japanese Daily) only reported an average circulation of 8,000 between the mid-1920s and 1941.[2] The Nichibei's editorial staff and writers included: Chuji Yamanaka, Toyoji Chiba, Bunzo Washizu (Shakuma), Hajime Nagai, Hachiro Shishimoto, and Shichinosuke Asano.[3] These Issei were also prominent leaders in various aspects of community activities in the San Francisco Bay area. Veteran Nisei journalists Larry Tajiri and Kay Nishida worked as heads of the English-language editorial staff.[4]

Ideology and Conflict

In the earlier years, the politico-ideological conflict between the Nichibei Shimbun and Shin Sekai resurfaced time and time again, which often reflected deep-seated religious divides in the ethnic community. The Nichibei Shimbun represented aspects of Japanese immigrant political thinking and practice that sought harmony with white America, valorized social assimilation and permanent settlement over immigrant sojourning, and aspired to adapt to white America's Christian traditions. For that reason, the newspaper sometimes found itself under severe criticism by more nationalistic segments of prewar Japanese America that had close ties to the Shin Sekai and Buddhist churches, as well as some leftist elements. In 1911–12, for example, the Nichibei Shimbun was accused of being traitorous to the Japanese Emperor, for it refused to condemn an Issei Christian minister in Bakersfield, who had displayed "disrespect" for the throne.[5]

Some eight years later, the Nichibei Shimbun came under fire by the Shin Sekai again, when the former supported the Japanese government's decision to suspend the issuance of passports to "picture brides" bound for the United States. Given the Nichibei Shimbun's pro-assimilation stance, it made perfect sense that the newspaper embraced Tokyo's policy, because white exclusionists had singled out the picture-marriage practice as an example of Issei's "un-American" character. But the Shin Sekai was upset with the Nichibei's support for Tokyo's decision to make it impossible for ordinary Issei to get married without having to go to Japan. In this way, the rivalry between the two San Francisco vernaculars illuminated a major political fault line within early Japanese America. As historian Yuji Ichioka argues, it is important to note that Abiko's advocacy for permanent settlement contributed to the emergence of stable settlement communities during the 1910s.[6] And Abiko's desire to reform (or "enlighten") Japanese immigrant society through the Nichibei Shimbun compelled him to extend its reach to southern California. In 1922, he purchased a bankrupt local vernacular and renamed it as the Rafu Nichibei (Los Angeles Japanese American).[7]

Abiko's quest for interracial harmony unfolded in tandem with his belief in the intermediary role of second-generation Japanese Americans (Nisei) in U.S.-Japan relations. The concept of Nisei as a bridge of understanding formed a significant underpinning of Nichibei Shimbun's editorial policy, especially after the completion of racial exclusion of Issei by the mid-1920s. His dream of inclusion into white America was untenable as far as the immigrant generation was concerned due to their status as aliens ineligible for citizenship. But Nisei U.S. citizens were not subject to key aspects of legalized racism even when they, too, were faced with various forms of social discrimination. While Abiko optimistically predicted that Nisei would be able to blend into white America on account of their outstanding racial/cultural character, he also believed that the youngsters were saddled with the mission to improve bilateral relations between the country of their birth and their ancestral country by dispelling white American misunderstanding about the Japanese—both Issei and people of Japan. Abiko used the Nichibei Shimbun to disseminate this idea, stressing the importance of teaching Nisei about Japan with an eye to enabling them to serve as a bridge of understanding between the United States and Japan. In 1925 and 1926, the newspaper sponsored "kengakudan," or "study tours" of selected Nisei to Japan. In the ensuing years, many other community organizations dispatched similar Nisei study-tour groups to Japan on the basis of the bridge ideal espoused by Abiko.[8] The Nichibei Shimbun also pioneered in the publication of English sections for Nisei readers from 1925—the practice that most other Japanese American vernaculars subsequently adopted from business and educational standpoints.[9]

The War Years and Beyond

During the early 1930s, the Nichibei Shimbun was engulfed in serious financial problems and labor strife. In 1931, a dispute over editorial policy and unpaid wages led to an all-out strike by Nichibei Shimbun staff, which resulted in the liquidation of the Rafu Nichibei, the dismissal of many workers and reporters, and the establishment of the Hokubei Asahi by the fired Nichibei employees. That newspaper and the Shin Sekai merged in 1935. The rivalry between the Nichibei Shimbun and Shin Sekai continued until the outbreak of the Pacific War. In the same decade, the Nichibei Shimbun underwent other significant changes as well. The death of Kyutaro Abiko in 1936 resulted in the transfer of the business operation to his wife Yonako. Three years later, the Nichibei Shimbun suffered a devastating fire. Although a new building and equipments were acquired by 1940, Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor caused the newspaper to permanently cease its operation in April 1942. After the wartime removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans, former employees of the Nichibei Shimbun established the Nichibei Jiji (Nichi Bei Times) under the control of Yasuo William Abiko, the Nisei son of Kyutaro and Yonako. A loyal staff writer from the prewar years, Shichinosuke Asano, served as the Japanese editor-in-chief and president of the company. The newspaper is still in operation out of San Francisco as an English weekly and online-based news outlet.

Authored by Eiichiro Azuma, University of Pennsylvania

For More Information

Ichioka, Yuji. The Issei: The World of the First Generation Japanese Immigrants, 1885-1924. New York: Free Press, 1988.

Nichi Bei Weekly website. http://nichibei.org/.

Footnotes

  1. Yuji Ichioka, The Issei: The World of the First Generation Japanese Immigrants, 1885-1924 (New York: Free Press, 1988), 19-21.
  2. David K. Yoo, Growing Up Nisei: Race, Generation, and Culture among Japanese Americans of California 1924-49 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 72; and Kevin Allen Leonard, The Battle for Los Angeles: Racial Ideology and World War II (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006), 14.
  3. Ebihara Hachiro, Kaigai Hojin Shinbun Zasshishi (Tokyo: Gakuji Shoin, 1936), 164.
  4. Yoo, Growing Up Nisei, 131.
  5. Ichioka, The Issei, 180-185.
  6. Ichioka, The Issei, 173-175.
  7. Nanka Nikkeijin Shoko Kaigisho, ed., Minami Kashu Nihonjin Nanajunenshi (Los Angeles, Nanka Nikkeijin Shoko Kaigisho, 1960), 268.
  8. Yuji Ichioka (Gordon H. Chang and Eiichiro Azuma, eds.), Before Internment: Essays in Prewar Japanese American History (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), 53-74.
  9. Yoo, Growing Up Nisei, 70-73.