Commerce & Community

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Japanese immigrants traveling by ship to American, ca. 1907. Courtesy of the Tamura Family

Some came over with work contracts in hand. Many followed friends and relatives who had already resettled. A few came over as wealthy entrepreneurs. Most were young men, and most were prepared to take on the jobs that others were unwilling to do. They worked in the canneries, railroads, lumber camps and farms that dotted the region’s landscape. The hope for many was to put together some money and return to Japan as wealthy men.

In 1890 there were only 25 people of Japanese descent living in Portland. Two decades later, almost 1,200 lived in the city, with as many more living in the rest of the state. Nihonmachi, or Japantown, served as the hub of the growing Japanese American community.

A Center for Commerce & Community

Teikoku Store, 1902. Courtesy of Yoji Matsushima

The Teikoku store, at N.W. Third and Davis, like other dry goods stores in Japantown, offered imported canned goods from Japan as well as the clothing and supplies needed by the men working in the area’s logging camps, railroads, canneries and farms. Items were stacked high in this general merchandise store with no inch of usable space ignored. Calk boots with big spikes embedded in their soles for log work were sold alongside judo outfits and Stetson hats. Rice, bamboo shoots, sake and soy sauce were imported from Japan.

Gift of M. Nakadate.As the Japanese American community grew, so did the businesses serving it. Japantown merchants sent trucks out to far-flung rural communities to take orders and deliver goods. Some stores sent vehicles as far as Spokane and Baker City. These trucks not only delivered items like soy sauce, rice and sake—they helped to cement cultural ties between rural communities and the Japantown hub.