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Claiming the Oriental Gateway: Prewar Seattle and Japanese America

Shelley Sang-Hee Lee

Publication Year: 2011

In Claiming the Oriental Gateway, Shelley Sang-Hee Lee explores the various intersections of urbanization, ethnic identity, and internationalism in the experience of Japanese Americans in early twentieth-century Seattle. She examines the development and self-image of the city by documenting how U.S. expansion, Asian trans-Pacific migration, and internationalism were manifested locally—and how these forces affected residents’ relationships with one another and their surroundings.

Lee details the significant role Japanese Americans—both immigrants and U.S. born citizens—played in the social and civic life of the city as a means of becoming American. Seattle embraced the idea of cosmopolitanism and boosted its role as a cultural and commercial "Gateway to the Orient" at the same time as it limited the ways in which Asian Americans could participate in the public schools, local art production, civic celebrations, and sports. She also looks at how Japan encouraged the notion of the "gateway" in its participation in the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition and International Potlach.

Claiming the Oriental Gateway thus offers an illuminating study of the "Pacific Era" and trans-Pacific relations in the first four decades of the twentieth century.

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix

Many people played a role in the process of turning my doctoral dissertation into this book. Their input and influence have improved the final product, and any errors that remain are mine alone. From my days as an uncertain graduate student at Stanford University...

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pp. 1-18

In the opening scene of John Okada’s 1957 novel, No-No Boy, the main character, Ichiro Yamada, descends from a bus that has pulled into his hometown of Seattle, Washington. World War II has recently ended, and along with nearly 120,000 other Japanese Americans,...

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1. Multiethnic Seattle

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pp. 19-45

In two well-known works of Asian American literature—one autobiographical and the other fictional—that offer descriptions of life in pre– World War II Seattle, the bustling tempo and multiethnic character of urban life immediately strike the reader. In her 1953 memoir, Nisei Daughter, Monica Sone recalls an idyllic childhood preceding and contrasting starkly ...

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2. Making Seattle "Cosmopolitan"

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pp. 46-75

In September 1936, the Seattle cultural journal, the Town Crier, began publication of a series called “Cosmopolitan Seattle.” Written by Lancaster Pollard, a local historian and also the journal’s publisher, the series consisted of installments respectively profiling the city’s German, Chinese, and Japanese communities. Pollard was impressed by the findings of the 1930 ...

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3. Making Local Images for International Eyes: Race, Nationality, and the Seattle Camera Club, 1924-1929

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pp. 76-104

In July 1927, following the Twenty-first Paris Salon, an exhibition of international photographic art, a French reviewer named Jean Chantavoine commented on the entries from a group of American artists whose work he found to be the most intriguing on display. He stated, “It is to America that we are indebted again for one of the most interestingly lighted landscapes ...

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4. "Problems of the Pacific" in "the Great Crucible of America" : Public Schools in the 1920s and the 1930s

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pp. 105-141

In February 1924, auditions were held at Harrison Elementary School for the role of George Washington in the school’s annual Presidents’ Day reenactment of the famous cherry tree incident.1 Following the tryouts, teachers and administrators selected second-grader Fred Kosaka, the sevenyear- old son of a local Japanese tailor. Reaction to this news came quickly....

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5. "That Splendid Medium of Free Play" : Japanese American Sports during the Interwar Years

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pp. 142-177

One evening in March 1934, George Okada, the president of the Seattle Taiyo Athletic Club, gave an address during the Courier Broadcast on radio station KXA. Looking to boost the club’s membership and to impress upon listeners the importance of physical fitness, he extolled the many personal and professional benefits that accrued from ...

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6. The Eve of War

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pp. 178-202

The United States formally entered World War II following an attack on Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor by the empire of Japan on December 7, 1941, an event that would leave Japanese Americans on the West Coast vulnerable to rabid calls for revenge and, consequently, an excruciating crisis of identity. This situation was a dramatic turnaround...

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pp. 203-214

In surveying conditions in the United States over the twentieth century, it has become all too trite to say that World War II changed everything. The wartime economic boom and postwar prosperity fostered improved standards of living and greater opportunities for mobility, availing an ...


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pp. 215-242

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 243-252


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pp. 253-256

E-ISBN-13: 9781439902158

Publication Year: 2011