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Top>Education>Seeing the Japanese community through Kinmon Gakuen in San Francisco


Wakako Murakami

Wakako Murakami [Profile]

Seeing the Japanese community through Kinmon Gakuen in San Francisco

Wakako Murakami
Professor of Applied Linguistics, English Education and US Language Policy, Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University

This article is an extraction of a paper introducing part of my course, American Society and Culture, in Faculty of Policy Studies. In this course, while touching upon historical and recent issues confronted by the three ethnic groups of African, Japanese and Hispanic ancestry, I proceed by talking from a linguistic and cultural viewpoint. In my lectures I always strive to have the students encounter real America through elaborate talks including my own experiences, and have them increase their interest in America even more by learning things they didn't know. For that purpose, I have been continuously conducting research surveys in America. This article is part of my paper summarizing the results of a fact-finding survey held at Kinmon Gakuen, the Japanese language school, in the Japanese community of San Francisco in March 2010.


Migration to the United States of America began when, in order to create a modern state, Japan was exposed to a string of revolutionary storms in the Meiji Restoration (1868), and especially after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Japanese moved to America to take over the roles burdened by Chinese migrant workers. After that, through the 1907 Japanese-American Gentlemen's Agreement, both governments set restrictions on migrant workers moving to the US, but because entry was permitted for family members of residents, families centered on women migrated stateside. Japanese who settled in America from that time until the enactment of the racially discriminate National Origins Act were defined as first generation, their American born children the second generation, children of the second generation became the third generation, and their children were the fourth generation. All these people were generally labeled as being of Japanese ancestry. However, as an example, if a Japanese came to America about 20 years ago in 1990 and gained US citizenship afterwards, that Japanese would become a so-called first generation, but in that case would be distinguished by being called the new-first generation.

For the large-scale Japanese community, San Francisco's Japantown is as famous as Little Tokyo in Los Angeles. An area running east-west from Laguna Street to Fillmore Street, and north-south from California Street to Geary Street, the so-called Japantown has been formed with street names labeled in English and Japanese, and important facilities such as supermarkets, bookstores, restaurants, banks, hotels, church, temple, Japanese language schools, elderly home and community center are all situated within walking distance of each other. Japantown was a place supplying Japanese goods indispensible to daily life and, at the same time, a spiritual place where people can receive important information and confirm their bonds as Japanese. The first generation, with limited English ability, couldn't assimilate with Anglo American society. They were hindered in gaining citizenship, excluded from labor unions, and couldn't work in high-paying professions. They placed priority on education for their children so they wouldn't be disadvantaged in the same way. They hoped that their children would raise their results at school and not cause any trouble, and as a result, the fact was it wasn't a rare sight to see Japanese as valedictorian at graduation. The first generation also sent their children to the Japanese language school, not only to maintain their Japanese language skills, but also as an effort to have them acquire knowledge relating to the history and geography of Japan. Why? Because they were Japanese and they thought it was important to instill Japanese traditions and values such as devotion to one's parents, tolerance, humiliation, duty, obedience, honesty, and diligence.

2.The initial stages of Japanese language education

In 1902, six years after a Japanese language school was opened in Hawaii, Seattle Language School opened in Washington State as the first language school on the mainland. In the same year, Yoshizo Sano and his wife, who were from Kanagawa Prefecture, rented a house near San Francisco Japantown and began teaching, and on January 12, 1903, they opened Japan Elementary School. Following that on April 19, Honpa Honganji Mission of San Francisco Buddhist Organization opened Meiji Elementary School, and in November, the Sacramento Buddhist Organization established Sakura Gakuen. At the time, religion and education held a close relationship, and it wasn't rare to have schools opened as affiliated facilities of those organizations. There were few married Japanese men residing in America at the time, and due to a low number of children, school management was difficult. And because there was a tendency to exclude Oriental children at public schools, there were also opinions fearing that the establishment of Japanese schools would further encourage the exclusion trend, placing operators of the schools in a difficult situation.

In 1893, an anti-Japanese movement appeared and Japanese schoolchildren became the targets of exclusion. On May 14, the San Francisco Board of Education barred Japanese from entering the public school system. In response to this, consular at the time, Sutemi Chinda (appointed in 1890), along with prominent resident Japanese, sent a petition requesting a stay of execution, but, even though the Board of Education backtracked on the proposal of refusing Japanese children, the anti-Japanese sentiment continued to smolder. On October 11, 1905, the city assembly suddenly voted to refuse Japanese children from attending public schools, and from the 15th onwards, attempted to transfer them to Oriental schools. This was a humiliating discrimination to the parents who dismissed it as a violation of the Japan-US Treaty, and Consular Kisaburo Ueno (appointed in 1901), as well as protesting to municipal authorities, took the plight up with the state governor to no avail. In response to this, President Roosevelt ordered San Francisco to rescind the act, but the attitude of the city didn't change. The Japanese Government insisted it was a breach of most favored nation status set in the commercial treaty, and while the American Government shared the same view, the city countered by claiming that educational administration was an autonomous right of the state.

As the anti-Japanese movement escalated, resident Japanese strongly felt the need to form the Japanese Association in each area, and in March 1905, established an Alliance Committee in San Francisco. After that, the Resident Regional Japanese Association was developed, opening up a lively campaign for resident Japanese. Activities were wide-ranging and extremely hectic, but they also involved the educational issues concerning children of Japanese ancestry. In September 1911, House of Representatives member Saburo Shimada invited Doctor of Laws Inazo Nitobe, a leading figure in educational circles of the day, to speak at universities and the American Club. Also, the Japanese language institutes that had been established in each area had no mutual cooperation amongst each other, each with differing educational policies varying from Japan-centered education to American-centered education. This being the case, in April 1912, in order to bring them together, the Resident Japanese Association hosted an epoch-making rally in the history of resident Japanese language education.

From 1912 to around 1922, there were a total of over 40 Japan institutes in California alone, but with the break out of the First World War and America's subsequent entry in 1917, there was undisguised oppression towards foreign language schools such as German schools, Italian schools, Chinese schools and Japanese schools under the Americanization movement sweeping the country. In the California state senate in 1923, both houses of the California state legislature passed a bill regulating foreign language schools, with pressure continuing for the ten years until the lifting of the crackdown in 1927. At its peak, there were 248 Japanese schools in California, 17,834 students, and 545 teachers with annual management expenses of 397,990 dollars.

3.Establishment and development of the Golden Gate Institute

On May 2, 1910, concerned parties calling for the necessity of a Japanese language education organization for children in the resident Japanese society, gathered under the auspices of the San Francisco Resident Japanese Association, and held a meeting regarding the establishment of Kinmon Gakuen. At the meeting, Michitsugu Aoki, Yonoshin Domoto, Kiichi Ishimaru, Itsuji Okubo and Hisatsugu Terasawa were elected as investigators related to this matter. On June 7, a consensus on establishment of the institute could be seen so an executive committee was set up, and a management plan for 50 kindergarteners, 50 elementary school students, one teacher and principal, two kindergarten teachers, and a monthly working budget of 350-400 dollars was drawn up.

On January 18, 1911, it was decided to requisition a building as a schoolhouse at the institute's current location of 2031 Bush Street, and on the recommendation of Dr. Inazo Nitobe, Seirei Kamata was invited to serve as the first principal. Also, Takashi Suzuki came from Toyoake Elementary School in San Francisco as a teacher, and Setsuko Sudo as a kindergarten teacher in preparation for the inauguration ceremony. At 1pm on April 15 of the same year, the inauguration ceremony was held. The aim of Kinmon Gakuen was to provide supplementary Japanese lessons to children attending public schools, and give English instruction for children preparing to enter public schools through the establishment of the kindergarten course. At the time, there were 12 children in the kindergarten class, 12 in the preparatory class and 21 in the supplementary class. Furthermore, in October, the school merged with Toyoake Elementary School and officially took the name of Kinmon Gakuen. In 1916 there were close to 150 students enrolled with that number steadily increasing every year. From 1927 until the closure of the school during the Second World War in 1941, student numbers were estimated to be around 500.


It is clear how seriously and enthusiastically the first generation tried to pass on Japanese values and the Japanese language as part of their identities to the second and third generations, and as a concrete example, it is clear how heavy a responsibility Japanese language education at Kinmon Gakuen shouldered in language education of Japanese children. The first generation put their children's education ahead of everything else in the hope that the children would be able to find high paying employment. Today, it is a fact that those of Japanese descent have overcome the language barriers faced by the first generation, achieving high education and receiving high incomes, with a rapidly growing number of Japanese entering relationships with people from other backgrounds. They, on one hand, share the same values as Japanese while assimilating American identities and have become active in every walk of life in society. For many of the third and fourth generation, English is the language of communication within the home, with Japanese being, in a sense, a foreign language. 100 years have passed since the founding of Kinmon Gakuen in 1911, and Japantown, which actually played a central role in the lives of Japanese, has now become merely symbolic. The role played by Kinmon Gakuen has changed, and it may be natural that there will be new expectations for the next 100 years. In Kinmon Gakuen no Ayumi [The History of Kinmon Gakuen] (1991), commemorating the 80th anniversary, Kinmon Gakuen Chairman Kanji Kuramoto wrote, "This Japanese community has changed from the first, second, third and fourth generations and Japan has changed from being seen as Japan the homeland to Japan the foreign country. The long-held belief that because you have Japanese blood running through your veins you use the Japanese language and know Japanese culture has, unfortunately, become weak. We are seriously contemplating and endeavoring on how to pass the educational and cultural legacy of this Japanese community on to future generations. From the Japanese language education centered around children of Japanese descendants, we want to be useful to an increasingly complicated Japanese-American relations as a Japanese language and culture center that holds an even higher standing in Japanese language education in America."

Note:This article is part of Japanese Language Education of Kinmon Gakuen in Japantown of San Francisco which was published in Humanities Research Bulletin No.70, Chuo University Press, 2010. References of quotes have been omitted so please refer to the paper.

Wakako Murakami
Professor of Applied Linguistics, English Education and US Language Policy, Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University
Born in Tokyo. Graduated from the Department of English Literature, School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I, Waseda University in 1975. Completed the Master's Program of the School of Education, University of San Francisco, and earned a Master's Degree in Education in 1982. In 1987, completed the Doctoral Program of the School of Linguistics and Languages, Georgetown University, and earned a Ph. D. in Linguistics. Started current position in 1996 after working as an assistant professor at the Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University. Current research topics are cultural and linguistic issues in Japanese-American society and English education in Japan.
Major publications include Nihonron: Guroobaruka Suru Nihon [Japan Theory: Globalizing Japan] (edited by Tsutomu Tanaka), Chuo University Press, 2007