Tamaki Fukuda: A Hidden Figure
By Cameron Ansley and Erica Guddat
Tamaki Fukuda was a Japanese immigrant who moved to Portland, Oregon in 1910. By the 1920s, Fukuda was eighteen, a young adult who was starting her life in a world that was complicated, especially for people with Japanese heritage. Japanese Americans faced obstacles throughout their lives in the United States as did other immigrants. Understanding some of these challenges and circumstances will help contextualize Fukuda’s life and shed light on her ability to thrive and succeed. In the early twentieth century, there were many legal restrictions regarding immigration to the United States.
The Gentleman’s Agreement between Japan and the United States in 1907 limited Japanese immigration to the U.S., only allowing family members of people who had already immigrated; later on, however, all immigration from Asia was banned with the 1924 Immigration Act, as stated in an article by the Office of the Historian of the U.S. Department of State. George Katagiri outlines other legal restrictions Japanese Americans faced in his Oregon Encyclopedia article. Federal immigration laws included the Expatriation Law of 1907, which even when modified by the Cable Act of 1922 stripped the citizenship of any female U.S. citizen who married a man who was a non-citizen ineligible for U.S. citizenship. Oregon’s 1923 Alien Land Act prohibited immigrants ineligible for citizenship from owning and leasing land. Despite these restrictions, Japanese culture began to take root in Oregon in the 1920s as numbers grew with the birth of second-generation Nisei. This resulted in the establishment of Japantown, or Nihonmachi, in Portland, described by the Oregon Nikkei Endowment. Starting as a staging ground for Japanese laborers, Nihonmachi transformed into a flourishing “community hub” with successful Japanese-owned businesses, offices, schools, newspapers, and housing. Nihonmachi preserved Japanese culture in the midst of a country that tried to oppress and exclude it.
This was the context for Tamaki Fukuda’s life in the United States. According to the 1920 Census, Tamaki’s father immigrated to the United States in 1904 and was later joined by Tamaki and her mother in 1910. The Census and Portland City Directories also reveal that her father owned Sanyo Sauce Company on 539 Delay Court in Portland. By 1920, Tamaki was eighteen and starting adulthood as a student at Reed College. At Reed, Tamaki gained a reputation for her intellectual dreaming and philosophizing, and even more so for her ability to share her thoughts through writing. According to her profile in the Griffin, Reed’s yearbook, Tamaki started out her freshman year by sharing her views on current events, such as the League of Nations, and continued to do so throughout her college career, writing about immigrant literature her senior year in 1924. She became an associate editor of the Griffin her senior year, and according to a Reed Magazine article by Kate Pelletier, it is thought that her involvement and influence in this position resulted in a notable change in format: there were no longer any racist advertisements like there had been previously. Based on the information available about Fukuda, it is evident that Fukuda was a confident young woman. Her pictures throughout the Griffin depict her as a self-assured, modern woman in the 1920s, and she was obviously unafraid to share her opinions regarding the world around her.
The main way in which she shared her thoughts and opinions was through her poetry. Tamaki Fukuda wrote poetry throughout her time at Reed College, and her poems were published in the Griffin. Fukuda’s poetry reveals a lot about herself and how she experienced life in Oregon after immigrating from Japan. Her poetry is a blend of traditional Japanese styles with Western influences. Henry Hughes, Professor of Literature and Writing in the English Studies Department of Western Oregon University, gave insight to the thoughts and opinions Fukuda voiced through her poetry. The poem “Why blow away the petals” uses the motif of the cherry blossoms (a traditionally Japanese symbol) to lament the brevity of life. Japanese culture celebrates and appreciates the beauty of the cherry blossoms through the Hanami festival, and since the blooms do not last long, they plan for and savor every moment that they last. Another of her poems, “Above the grass roof,” uses the haiku structure, also a Japanese style, to depict the beauty of nature and a simple life. Fukuda ultimately conveys that nature does not discriminate between social classes. Social classes seem to be a topic Fukuda was passionate about, as she writes another poem, “A Doll’s Festival,” to critique the upper classes (both in Japan and the United States). Using a Western style and a Japanese symbol of the doll, Fukuda argues that the upper class is stylized, but ultimately not real.
Fukuda was very knowledgeable about Japanese poetry styles and techniques, which is evident through her poetry, but she also appeared to have Western influences on her poetry as well. Professor Hughes recognized that her poems “The Face of the Man Standing on the Street Corner” and “The old man I saw yesterday is here again” are written in a style that is more Western, with an expository approach that is different from traditional Japanese styles. However, there are still Japanese themes within these poems, notably themes of existentialism and an appreciation for elders. Linda Tamura, Professor Emeritus of Education at Willamette University and a scholar of Japanese American History in Oregon, recognized the respect and appreciation Fukuda had for elders in her poems, a sentiment that is prevalent among the Japanese. Overall, Fukuda’s poems are an embodiment of both her Japanese heritage and experiences within the U.S., resulting in beautiful and significant poetry. These poems reveal that Fukuda was unafraid to share her critiques or praise about the world in the 1920s and highlighted the things that Fukuda found to be important.
According to Washington State Marriage Records and the Reed College Alumnus of 1936, following her graduation from Reed in 1924, Tamaki Fukuda moved to Seattle and married Sumiyoshi Arima the same year. At the time, Sumiyoshi Arima was the editor-in-chief of a Japanese newspaper called the North American Times, formerly managed by his father, Sumikiyo (Pacific Northwest Newspapers, University of Washington, n.d.). In 1925, Tamaki gave birth to her daughter, Kiyoko, and, in 1928, gave birth to her son, Sumisato, according to the 1930 Census for Seattle. Taking into account the context of Tamaki’s interest in journalism, it can be said that Tamaki most likely assisted Sumiyoshi in his running of the North American Times. As reported by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, from 1930 to 1935, the Arima family lived in a house at the current address of 1510 31st Avenue in Seattle. Their presence in the Mount Baker neighborhood was significant because they were the only Asian family living in this predominantly Anglo neighborhood that was known to exclude non-Anglo residents (Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, n.d.). In 1932, Sumiyoshi was elected the chair of the Japanese Association, making him an important person in the Japanese community, especially in the midst of anti-Japanese hate (Shinmasu, 2022). As outspoken and true-to-herself as Tamaki was, it can be said that Tamaki played a strong supportive role through Sumiyoshi’s time as chair. According to the University of Washington and Ikuo Shinmasu, in November of 1941, Tamaki, Sumiyoshi, and their two children moved back to Japan and stayed in Kumamoto to visit Sumikiyo, who was ill at the time. It is unclear how long the Arima family remained there, but eventually, the family settled in Tokyo, as affirmed by family histories located on Ancestry.com. In 1953, Sumiyoshi passed, but Tamaki went on to live in Tokyo until her death in 1980.
About the Authors
Cameron Ansley participated in Professor Kimberly Jensen’s Spring 2023 Oregon Women’s History course as a student in the Honors Program at Western Oregon University. Cameron is a Japanese American Criminal Justice major who is deeply passionate about her Japanese heritage and the Japanese community.
Erica Guddat participated in Professor Kimberly Jensen’s Spring 2023 Oregon Women’s History course as a student in the Honors Program at Western Oregon University. She is an Early Childhood Education/Middle Education major (with a focus in social studies) and also has a minor in History. She loves exploring and learning about history and hopes to share that joy with her future students.
1920 United States Federal Census for Tamaki Fukuda, Oregon, Multnomah, Portland District, 0147 Sheet 16B.
Hughes, Henry. Interview with Authors. Western Oregon University, Monmouth, Oregon. May 22, 2023.
“Griffin Yearbook 1924.” Reed College. 1924, https://rdc.reed.edu/i/ef7f36d6-603c-4fd8-bb7e-ef01c29bb154.
Portland City Directory 1920, p. 530; 1923, p. 622; 1924, p. 693.
“Reed College Alumnus.” Reed College. 1936, https://rdc.reed.edu/i/d41b3866-c917-4fac-b00a-ffb30cded379.
Tamura, Linda. Email Communication with Authors. May 20, 2023.
“The Immigration Act of 1924 (The Johnson-Reed Act).” Office of the Historian, accessed May 15, 2023 https://history.state.gov/milestones/1921-1936/immigration-act.
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