|Birth Location||Suibara, Niigata Prefecture, Japan|
Kyutaro Abiko (1865-1936) was a newspaper editor and community leader in the pre-World War II Japanese American San Francisco community.
Born in 1865 in Suibara, Niigata Prefecture, Abiko was raised by his maternal grandparents. He moved to Tokyo at the age of seventeen, in part to study English, and while there, converted to Christianity. He immigrated to the United States in 1885 through the sponsorship of the Fukuinkai (Gospel Society), settling in San Francisco. While working several menial jobs Abiko pursued an English-language education, graduating from Lincoln Grammar School and Boys High School. He then attended the University of California, Berkeley. By this time he had already emerged as a leader within the San Francisco Japanese Christian community. In addition to serving as a member of the group that established the first independent Japanese Methodist Episcopal (later United Methodist) church in San Francisco, he was also appointed president of the Fukuinkai. He was also a founding member of the San Francisco Christian Federation, the first Japanese American ecumenical Christian organization. Following the San Francisco earthquake he, along with other leading members of the Christian community, organized a relief organization to assist Japanese immigrants recover from losses they suffered as a result of the earthquake.
Abiko was best known for his role as the owner of the Nichibei Shinbun (Japanese American News), the leading Japanese American vernacular newspaper in the pre-World War II period. After briefly attempting to operate a restaurant and laundry, Abiko ventured into the burgeoning newspaper business by taking over one of the many fledgling vernacular newspapers, the Sōkō Nihon Shinbun (San Francisco Japanese News), in 1897. In 1899, the Sōkō Nihon Shinbun and the Hokubei Nippō (North American Daily), affiliated with the Haight YMCA, merged, forming the Nichibei Shinbun . While the Nichibei had a limited print run at its inception, it became the leading Japanese vernacular newspaper by 1910, and by the 1920s, the Nichibei had both San Francisco and Los Angeles editions, and a readership that encompassed Japanese American communities in California, the Pacific Northwest, and the intermountain west, with a readership of approximately 25,000.
Advocate of Permanent Settlement
In addition to publishing news concerning the Japanese immigrant community, Abiko also used his role as an influential community leader and leveraged the advertising potential of the newspaper to sponsor morality education campaigns. Convinced that the reluctance of Japanese laborers to establish permanent roots in American society not only led them to engage in "immoral" behavior like gambling and soliciting prostitutes, but also that such behavior tarnished the reputation of the Japanese community as a whole, Abiko used the editorial space of the Nichibei Shinbun to exhort his readers to commit to permanent settlement and to do so by establishing stable and moral families. He also organized more elaborate efforts to "educate" lower-class immigrants about the error of their ways and to transform them into more worthy members of the community. The 1915 "Keihatsu undō" (moral education campaign), the most prominent of these efforts, was a major endeavor: Abiko invited three prominent Japanese Christian ministers for lengthy speaking tours intended to inspire in Japanese immigrants a sense of responsibility for the moral reputation of their community, and to exhort them to dedicate themselves to establishing their roots in the United States despite the hardships created by discriminatory laws and hostile anti-Japanese activities.
Abiko's influence also extended to providing Japanese immigrant laborers to companies across the American West. In 1902 Abiko helped found the Japanese American Industrial Corporation of San Francisco. Through this organization, Abiko provided Japanese immigrant laborers to the sugar, mining, and railroad industries in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Nevada. In keeping with his dedication to encouraging laborers to make a commitment to permanently settling in the U.S., Abiko also used his profits from the newspaper business to purchase undeveloped land to sell to immigrants seeking to establish themselves as farmers. In 1906, he founded the American Land and Produce Company and through it, purchased undeveloped land in Livingston, California, in order to facilitate the permanent settlement of immigrant farmers. He subdivided the land into forty-acre plots, and encouraged Japanese farmers to settle. Known as the Yamato Colony, this settlement of Japanese farmers represented Abiko's most direct attempt to use his influence and financial resources towards creating the type of Japanese immigrant community he believed best represented the possibilities available to Japanese in the American West.
Looking to the Future
Following the passage of the 1924 Immigration Act, Abiko changed the focus of the Nichibei from the concerns and challenges faced by the immigrant community to emphasizing the position of Nisei and their future as critical to ensuring the prosperity and long-term sustainability of the Japanese American community. In addition to adding an English-language section to the Nichibei , Abiko also began encouraging and sponsoring Nisei tours to Japan —known as kengakudan —so that they could gain an in-depth understanding of the culture, uniqueness, and advances of their ancestral homeland. Abiko believed that Nisei possessed both a unique potential and particular obligation to foster good will between Americans (whites) and Japanese, and that by educating others about Japanese people and culture, they would be able to convince hostile whites that Japanese Americans were worthy of equal treatment in the U.S.
In addition to his key role as the owner of the leading vernacular newspaper, Abiko also played important roles in a number of Japanese immigrant associations that attempted to mediate between the larger immigrant community and the Japanese consulate when local anti-Japanese agitation led to tense conflict. In 1900 when the city of San Francisco ordered the inoculation of immigrants—including Japanese—following a plague outbreak, Abiko helped to found the Japanese Deliberative Council of America which mediated on behalf of the Japanese immigrant community and objected to Japanese being treated like other immigrants—particularly Chinese—whom they believed to be less civilized and deserving of respect. Following the Gentlemen's Agreement between the U.S. and Japanese governments, Abiko and other Issei leaders issued protests with the consulate because they believed that the Japanese government's decision to limit the issuance of passports to laborers and women would significantly hinder more upper-class Issei's business interests.
Abiko passed away in 1936. Following his death, his widow Yona took over the Nichibei ; it continued to be the leading Japanese vernacular newspaper until it was forced to close in 1942 due to the government's forced removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast.
For More Information
Azuma, Eiichiro. Between Two Empires: Race, History, and Transnationalism in Japanese America . New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Doshisha Daigaku Jinbunkagaku Kenkyujo, ed. Hokubei Nihonjin Kirisutokyo Undoshi . Tokyo: PMC Shuppan, 1991.
Doshisha Daigaku Jinbunkagaku Kenkyujo, ed. Zaibei Nihonjin shakai no Reimeiki: "Fukuinkai Enkaku Shiryo" wo Tegakari Ni . Tokyo: Gendai Shiryo Shuppan, 1997.
Ichioka, Yuji. The Issei: The World of the First Generation Japanese Immigrants 1885-1924 . New York: The Free Press, 1988.
Last updated Nov. 28, 2023, 6:14 p.m..