Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dee Goto, Author, Business Owner & JCCCW Founders Group

Dee Goto is an author who also kept working (with many others) over many years to make the Japanese Cultural & Community Center in the Central Area a reality.

Photo: Madeline Crowley

In Japanese Culture we have the Daruma Principle, when life knocks
 you down seven times, you get up eight.

Dee on the Central Area:

When did you live in the Central Area?

In 1960, I had been accepted in the University of Washington nursing program in public health. I worked nine months full time at King County Hospital before I started school and then worked part time at Swedish Hospital.  I came to school here from Oregon because my grandfather wanted me to go to school in Seattle; his roots in America were here.

When I got here and started looking for an apartment, my housemates and I were turned away from three different buildings before we could find one that would rent to Japanese.

In 1960? It’s interesting to learn that even in the Central Area with redlining there were further restrictions on renting to Japanese-Americans.

We ended up living at the Monticello Apartments.

At that time I was studying at the Japanese Language School. My future husband’s younger sister was a classmate. I didn’t have a car and she offered to drive me home so that’s how I developed a relationship with my husband. We married on Christmas Eve in 1961.

Baby Dee. 1939. Collection Dee Goto

Once you got married where did you and your husband live?

On 23rd Ave, near Holy Names. That house is still there right as you turn downhill towards the University, if you didn’t turn you’d run right into the house. 

23rd Street Home. 1968. Collection Dee Goto

Did you have your daughters in that house?

We did.

What was that neighborhood like in 1968?

When we first moved in a neighbor came over very excited that we were Japanese-Americans and were moving in.  

In 1968, I was unaware of the incarceration/internment problems that had taken place in the Central Area in the ‘40s.

23rd Street Home, Interior. Collection Dee Goto
You grew up on the other side of the Cascades?

Not only that. We went to the incarceration/internment camp to visit and I thought they (the Japanese internees) were having a great time. Back then, we lived on a farm in Idaho, we had relocated before the war and didn't have to go to the camp because we lived outside the restricted zone which was 400-miles from the coast.

We visited Minidoka because many of our friends were there. Living on a farm, we didn’t have neighbors very close by so when I visited it seemed like the kids in camp were all having a lot of fun. My mother particularly envied all the craft classes the ladies were taking. Also, she noticed the women didn't have to cook. My 21 year-old Uncle worked hard during the week so he could drive to Minidoka for the Saturday night dances. Despite what seemed like the good times they were having while incarcerated, our family wouldn't consider trading places. We knew freedom was most important.

1939. Collection Dee Goto

You started talking earlier about the composition of your neighborhood on 23rd.

There was two black families across the street and one Japanese family a few doors down, the Hayashis, another black family three doors down. There were the Vogels, Germans, across the street.

We knew everybody for about 2-3 blocks; we were pretty close.  I organized Block Parties.  Our kids played outside with all the other kids, they all were playing in our yard. I had doors open so there were kids running through our house. One day a kid knocked our television off its stand.  There were trikes and bikes all over in our yard. I found a photo last night of the kids making a train of these toy vehicles.

Because the kids were always playing in the street, I organized a kitchen conference and got all these signatures to get curbing put in on 23rd Avenue so the cars couldn’t rush in. That was one of the first neighborhood traffic diversions. Since then, the Department of Transportation made lots of diversionary traffic controls in the streets of Seattle but that was one of the first ones.

Dee at 4 years old. Idaho. 1943. Collection Dee Goto.

In the evening did people sit on their stoops to socialize?

No, people didn’t sit on their porches at night by then.

Why was that?

It was getting a little scary. There was a huge march from the University to downtown in Civil Rights protest that came by our house. The Black Panthers sort of instigated some things along the route. There was a fear that a Molotov cocktail could be thrown in our windows because we were right on the march route.  Anybody who lived on the route was afraid.

Collection Dee Goto

This was in the 1970s? You were in the Central Area a little bit longer than many other folks. It seems by then the Jewish community had all pulled up stakes. There was Jewish Flight, there was Asian Flight, there was Black Middle-Class Flight as well as White Flight all about the same time.

One night my husband woke up to see someone shooting out the windows of a house across 23rd Street. Because of the unrest in the neighborhood insurance companies raised rates then one company was going to cancel our home insurance because we were living in the Central Area, so we had to get insurance elsewhere.

And busing was instituted at that time.

Flower Girl. 8 years old. Collection Dee Goto.

How was busing perceived here?

My recollection is that many people didn’t like it. I didn’t want my kids to be riding all over town. However, my view was different because I had grown up in a rural white area in the middle of a neighborhood that was really anti-Japanese. We had gotten to know our new neighbors and developed new relationships. Over time we got them to respect us. That was really valuable; it gave me a new perspective on Americanism because Japanese-Americans were just as guilty of being isolationist.

For example, when I came to Seattle I encountered a lot of cliques in the Japanese community.  When people come from outside, like myself, we felt isolated and rejected. I had enough self-confidence that I was not intimidated. Still, it’s really hard to break into those cliques. They still exist today. I’ve been here long enough that I could almost be part of cliques, although that’s dependent on what social class you belong to. I also have had the experience of different cliques because I had skipped a grade, I was with my class and then also my age group which were two different groups.

Dee at 12-13 years old. Collection Dee Goto

When I have students from Japan or Korea it always strikes me how friendship has to be divided by strictly by age group. If two people are not the same age no matter how much they like each other they can’t truly be friends.


There’s this age-based hierarchy that has to be respected and it gets in the way of real feelings.  Was that true when you were growing up?


Is it still true?

Oh, yes! If you go back to a class reunion you still feel it.

Slumber Party. 1950s. Dee took the photo.
Collection Dee Goto

When you moved to Mercer Island your life and your kids became grounded in Mercer Island.

True. But my two closest friends are still from the Central Area. They still live there. Penny Simkin, who Bastyr named the midwifery program after.

She’s very famous in childbirth circles.

That interest may have come indirectly from me. She took me to the hospital when my second daughter was born prematurely. We were friends before that but that day the police wouldn’t take me to the hospital after my water broke. They didn’t do that type of service. I called my husband’s office and he wasn’t in, so Penny took me to the hospital. At that time she was a stay-at-home Mom and physical therapist but later she became world known as a child-birth educator. She has always run her program from her home. 

Middle School. Idaho. 1952. Collection Dee Goto

What about your birth experience might have inspired her?

She doesn’t look to my birth experience as what inspired her but I’m sure it influenced her.

Was she able to be with you during the birth?


I would think being with a friend during that would be a transformative experience.

She had Marv Herard come and watch the kids when we went to the hospital. He’s a Professor of Art at Seattle University and a well-known northwest sculptor. We have a sculpture he did representing the State of Washington for the Osaka Worlds’ Fair in 1971. Every time I would go to their house I would sit on it and so now we have it.

Do you think there was anything about this neighborhood that helped you become who you are?

This was where I started searching for my heritage. I wrote a poem:

Heritage remembered nurtures our souls
Sense of self builds, pride sets goals
Freedom and economics for which our forefathers came
Found working together the name of the game.

What was it about living here that made that bloom?

I don’t know that was the reason per se mostly it was because I started working for the University Archives at that time. Still, the Central Area was where the whole Japanese-American community lived. As I interviewing people for the history of the Japanese-American community I got to know who lived where and what their experiences had been.

Omoide IV. Childhood Memories. Nikkei Heritage Project.

You put together for the UW Special Collections a history of the Japanese in this area, the Issei and the Nisei. So, can you explain how you started the history of the Japanese-American community?

I found the community leaders and the stories of where they came from, where they were born, where they lived and so on…  The first generation Japanese were still alive. Of course, there’s an immigrant story of why they came to America. I started putting that together. I also had an innate interest in psychology so I wanted to know why people made certain decisions. I went with my instincts and what I found out about that Japanese-American experience hasn’t changed since; it’s stood the test of time.

Omoide V. Childhood Memories. Kiuchi & Goto, Editors

I think now that’s my purpose in life - to document the history of the Japanese experience in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. That made it important for me to help put together a Japanese Cultural Center.

Over many, many years, through the efforts, ideas and energies of myself, Chuck Kato, Ken Sato, Toru Sakahara and Tomio Moriguchi and many, many others, we made a Japanese Cultural Center out of the buildings that had been the Language School and Community Center on Weller. It took initiative and political maneuvering but finally we got it done. In 2003 we got the Center and the Language School merged, and incorporated. It’s been moving forward for 10 years now and received a million dollar remodel.

So, the Japanese Language School building became the Japanese Cultural Center. It is a great building.

It’s a 100 years old this year, the first section was built in 1913. It's on the National Registry of Historic Places. 

It has a great history, at one point it housed returning internees released from incarceration at the Camps.

They just got a Park Service grant to document the families in residence after the incarceration/internment camps. There were 25 families who lived there from about 1946 – 1955. Then, it was turned back into a Japanese Language School and Community Center. After the war it was the Japanese Community Service. Genji Mihara was the Executive and the President of it then.

Before the war it was sort of a Chamber of Business people and they built the Japanese Language school. They were the organizers of what was called a ‘Kenjinkai.’  A ‘Ken’ means the various prefectures in Japan and each prefecture has their community organization. If you’re from Hiroshima, you belong to that Ken, each has a representative that forms a representative body to make community decisions. 

Omoide Revisited. Dee Goto et al Editors

There was a strong connection between Japan and its those who initially moved to America. Japan wanted to expand and at one time, colonize. Japan felt a certain responsibility for their emigrants and wanted to keep track of them through a census. These Kenjinkai’s may have formed originally as they were paid to collect this data. Some of it may have been in the form of membership dues.

The community developed through these organizations. Before the war, mostly of these businesses were hotels. During 1890-1910, there might have been about 10 Japanese-run hotels.  The Japanese who worked on the Railroads would come back to Seattle on their days off. Probably the Hotel functioned as their homes, where they got medical care and so forth. If the hotel was run by someone from a particular Ken, all the workers from that region in Japan would use that hotel. My ancestors are from Hiroshima. My great-grandfather came here and worked on the Railroads in 1897.

Then it’s possible that your grandfather and Herb Tsuchiya’s grandfather might have known each other?

They definitely knew each other. I don’t even have to guess. If you were from Hiroshima as a first generation immigrant, you knew all the other people from your region.

I learned from some of my research done during this project about Minidoka that some people make the contention that the reason the Japanese were forced out of the land on the west side of the Cascades because they were such successful farmers which allowed white farmers to take those flourishing businesses.

That was mostly in California. That is true, though.

It makes sense because why were people forced into camps on one half of a state and not the other…

You see in California the farms were big, but they were small up here.  That was true about the big time farmers so there was some of that, especially because Issei could not own property and in 1921 they also could not rent property so many farmers lost everything when they went to camp.

Another thing I learned was that after Minidoka a high percentage of people didn’t come back to the Central Area. I wonder why?

I think their feeling about the discrimination they’d faced. Some were willing to fight for what they had while others were not entrepreneurial and business-savvy so they didn’t come back and went to work for someone else. There was a time, even if one had a college degree they wouldn’t be hired. The war eased that and Japanese were known to be honest and hard workers.

With discrimination you had to be pretty self-reliant and savvy to fight through it. I think some people took the easy way out and became employees rather than business-owners. The business owners who came back are the focus of my book on the Lion’s. You needed to be strong. Discrimination in a way helped some become stronger.

About this book:
 They later proved themselves because by 1980 in Washington, the Japanese were statistically the highest percentage of white-collar workers and per capita income. They were the most educated, they had fewer numbers of children, and they out-married more. The Native-Americans and the Japanese out-married more compared to the other ethnic groups.  

Out-marriage is when you marry someone of a different ethnic background. Why do you think people made that choice?

Because of prejudice people just wanted to be as American as they could be…  kids of that generation went overboard to be American.  Something like nearly 90% of Sansei (third generation) out-married where I grew up. On the other hand, as one of the older Sansei it was still made clear that I socialize with and marry only Japanese. Therefore, my grandfather was known as a match-maker. It was known that if I didn’t find someone quickly on my own there would be negotiations started on my behalf. 

It differed though on who might marry who.  Because of the war (between Japan and China) it was considered bad to marry a Chinese. That was also because Japanese were farmers and the Chinese were merchants. In Japanese culture farmers were of higher social status than merchants so it was a class issue.

My father-in-law, though, totally admired how the Chinese have amassed fortunes in the US. He thinks the Chinese are better at that than the Japanese.

If I wasn’t focused on building the Japanese Cultural Center I think I would have participated in the Pan-Asian organizations; it would be fun for me. I have more fun in the mixed heritage events because I like learning about people – how we are alike, how we are different. 

Nevertheless, I feel like we need to focus on creating a sustaining Japanese Cultural Community Center first because the Japanese have helped build this community. I still support the idea that President of our Board should be male, to generate more funds. Yet, when I went to Japan and visited political community groups everyone there, including the men, agree that it’s the women who bring things about. Here in the States I don’t think that’s how we look at it. The woman supports the man in the home, takes care of things and they’ll subjugate themselves in terms of outside family honor. Those ideas persist from family history, from culture. Smart women all over make things work.

My grandfather came to the States in 1905. He was a dairy hand and eventually came to own a dairy. By 1910-1920 about 100 Japanese farmers in the Kent/Auburn valley supplied roughly half of Seattle’s milk supply. They were all run out of business because of discrimination and the Alien Land Law in 1921. This law meant my grandfather could not rent property; Japanese were already prohibited from owning property because he was not a citizen.

This was a law passed 1790 probably intended against the blacks as it was passed just after the Revolution. In 1921, it meant my grandfather then couldn’t own or rent property anymore and all the Japanese were run out of the dairy business.

My grandfather and a group of his friends all relocated together to eastern Oregon where the Owyhee Dam was providing farming opportunities. That area was a desert but with the dam it could be farmed.  The allotment of land was bigger so they could earn more money than they had from the small truck farms they’d had in here.

I was born over there in 1939. I lived there during the Japanese-American Concentration camp years. Then, I went to college in Portland.  When I left for college I had to take a train because my folks couldn’t afford to drive in those days. At the train station a lady came running up to me to ask, ‘Are you Japanese?’ She said, “Stand right there, my girls have never met anyone Japanese.’ That was my first experience of being a specimen, a curiosity.

And for readers who might never have experienced that, what does it feel like to be made a representative of an entire community because you happen to be standing there?

It was reverse discrimination by that time but we were singled out and made to feel a little uncomfortable. I went to Lewis and Clark College. One time, my roommate wanted to set me up on a date but he said couldn’t go out with me because his parents might not like it if he dated a Japanese girl.

In that sense that’s where I was fortunate. My grandpa is one of my heroes. He built churches and he was a community leader.  When I was called 'Jap' and all that I had a heritage to support me, I felt proud to be called Japanese. My family instilled that into us.

Each culture has special cultural traits that help us overcome hardship. That’s one of the key things I try to do in developing the Cultural Center here.

In my Master’s degree study in psycho-social nursing, there was a study about problem-solving that found that the war brides from Europe and Asia scored better because they could see different sides of a problem.  Having a different cultural heritage from where you live lets you have a different perspective. That’s something very valuable we bring into the larger community. It’s very important to me to bring that Japanese perspective to the Seattle area. That’s why I worked so hard over years to develop the Japanese Cultural Center.

In 1961, when I married my husband, I did not know that our grandfathers had once been best friends. Nobody talked about the old, hard times. All we knew was everybody was happy for us. We knew all the Japanese families in the area.

I came to learn all this family history later after I started my research. I encourage everyone to research their own history.

It turned out that my husband’s grandfather died by accidentally swallowing some poison. As he was dying, my grandpa stayed overnight with him and was asked to take care of the Nakanishi family and the nine children. My mother-in-law was the oldest and already married.

Also, I learned my mother had been promised to my husband’s uncle. That didn’t happen so my mother was asked to marry my father because my grandfather owed my father’s father money and with the marriage they’d forgive the debt. My mother said since my father had gone to college she was impressed by that.

So, she was not in opposition to the marriage.

Right. My father has become a hero in my mind yet he didn’t quite have the entrepreneurial spirit that some others had so he was a little maligned by my uncles. Also, my father was a born-again Christian. Relatives made fun of the fact that he wouldn’t work on Sundays.

What was the religion of most people in the Oregon area you grew up in?

Buddhist/Shinto, but in America it was the Christian community that reached out and helped the immigrants.

My grandfather told my mother we would learn nothing bad if we went to a Christian Church. He encouraged her to follow her husband’s religion.  So we grew up Baptist like Herb (Tsuchiya) and Yosh (Nakagawa).

Then, you must have met Pastor Brooks Andrew’s father?

I interviewed his father, Reverend Andrews, for the University of Washington Special Collections. Once, I had Rev. Andrews in my car to go visit Floyd Schmoe and I ran out of gas on the floating bridge. I was young in those days. A policeman rode up, gave us a little gas and we made it the gas station. That was a memorable experience with Reverend Andrews.

Is there life advice you’d like to share?

In Japanese Culture we have the Daruma Principle, when life knocks you down seven times, you get up eight.  Everyone has something unfair happen to them and the Daruma Principle is how you keep going.

[Dee came to this project through the Japanese Cultural and Community Center.  She also owns a Nutrition and Family Counseling business, the Goto Company and Shaklee Distributors]

©  Madeline Crowley People of the Central Area 2013   All material is covered by copyright. Express written permission must be given for any copyrighted material on this page. Email to request permission to copy or paste materials. 
This project was supported in part by
4Culture's Heritage Projects program

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About Me

Seattle, WA, United States
I am not a professional photographer nor a trained journalist. At community meetings, it became clear that many of us don’t know each other. We haven’t heard each other’s stories and don't know each other’s circumstances. This is my attempt to give a few people the chance to tell their story, to talk about our community, to say their piece in peace. As such, comments have been disabled. The views and opinions expressed here are those of each narrator and do not necessarily reflect the position of views of the CentralAreaComm.blogspot blog site itself. The is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied by narrators of this project. All interviews have been edited and in places condensed.

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