The ‘general’ of Bainbridge’s vanished village

Head over HERE to read my story about the effort to preserve the many artifacts at Yama, a Japanese immigrant village that took shape near the Port Blakely mill in the late 1800s and faded away 80 years ago. The story features a photo gallery of a few artifacts that remain at the site.

Bainbridge Island Historical Museum Curator Rick Chandler has done a good deal of research about the village. His exhibit about Yama is currently showing at the museum. It features photos, maps and several household items once owned by some of the island’s first Japanese residents.

Below is a short history by Rick about the Takayoshi brothers, two of Yama’s most prominent residents. Known by the village’s residents as the ‘general’ of Yama, Tamegoro Takayoshi owned a general store that was the epicenter of activity at Yama. It had, among other things, a photo studio, ice cream parlor, bathhouse and tea garden.

The Takayoshi Brothers, Port Blakely Pioneers
By Rick Chandler

Tamegoro and Seinosuke Takayoshi were born in southern Japan in the town of Tsuwano which lies forty miles west of Hiroshima. Tamegoro was the elder, born in 1867. Seinosuke was born eight years later in 1875. It seems likely that there was yet an older brother in the family of which little is known. Second and subsequent sons in Japanese families of the time often felt driven to emigrate and seek their fortune on foreign soil before returning home.

As a young man Tamegoro served in the Japanese army and then as a policeman in Tokyo. It was there he met and married Tamao in 1897. The young couple set out for the new world destined for Boston, but never got past Puget Sound, settling down in Port Blakely in 1898. Japanese settlers had been living in Port Blakely for 20 years and many were from the prefectures around Hiroshima. Tamao gave birth to their first child soon after their arrival in 1899. They named him Keigo but he was always called “Kay”.

Seinosuke (pronounced Say-nos-kay) entered into a brief marriage in 1898 and a son was born in the spring of 1899. They named him Sukezo but in America he was known as Henry. Henry’s mother died shortly after giving birth to him and Seinosuke left him in the care of relatives and departed for America in the fall of 1899. After a brief stay in Hawaii he arrived at Port Blakely in 1900 and took a job in the mill company’s large cook house.

Both brothers initially depended on the Port Blakely Mill Company for their livelihood. However, the going wage for Japanese workers was ten cents an hour or one dollar a day, and the Takayoshis had bigger dreams and growing families. By 1915 Tamegoro and Tamao had 8 children, 4 boys and 4 girls. After the death of Seinosuke’s first wife his parents in Japan arranged another marriage for him. Raku arrived in Port Blakely at the age of nineteen and bore a son to Seinosuke in 1906. A second son and a daughter were born by 1917. Also by this time Seinosuke’s first son Henry had joined the family in Port Blakely. Family gatherings would have numbered 4 parents and a dozen children.

Tamegoro and Tamao settled into a house in Yama next to the Hotel. They converted the front rooms into a general store that specialized in Japanese merchandise. It was a success from the start and Tamegoro was able to develop his entrepreneurial skills to an array of enterprises. He began to bake bread and cakes, and made ice cream with milk and cream from “Farmer Willie” Peterson’s nearby dairy. He started a delivery service, a watch repair shop, a photography studio and was an agent for a Seattle laundry company. He installed three public bathtubs under the ice cream parlor. His tea garden and business structure became the showplace of Yama. His house was the only building in Yama with a painted exterior. He had Yama’s first telephone and installed the only water pump in the enclave. Tamegoro was often addressed as “General” even though he never approached that rank in the army. It would be appropriate to consider him Yama’s unofficial mayor. His photographs of Yama provide a treasure-trove of insight into this vanished village.

Seinosuke worked a number of jobs with the mill company until he finally found his calling as a greenhouse operator. Japanese immigrants were not able to own property, but Seinosuke worked out arrangements with Otto Peterson in New Sweden and Dr. Kellam at Pleasant Beach. The large greenhouses shipped produce and flowers to Pike Place market in Seattle, as well as filling local demand.

The community of Port Blakely prospered until the end of the first world war. In 1919, employment at the mill started falling off sharply and many Japanese moved away from Yama. During these trying times Tamegoro contracted cancer and died in March of 1920 with his young family nearby. Tamao and the children struggled to keep the store open but finally, in 1929, the phone number L11 was disconnected and the Takayoshis moved away.

Seinosuke tried to keep his greenhouse business operating through the great depression, but it took its toll. He died in 1935 and was entombed in the old Port Blakely cemetery close to Tomegoro.