Japanese in Whitefish – Part 1

By Jill Evans, Administrator of the Stumptown Historical Society

If life was hard and dangerous for the general citizenry of Whitefish during the early years, it was more difficult for minority groups, and there were at least three of these: The Italians, The Japanese, and the Chinese –all of them originally laborers on the railroad—and their families. All settled first in small sections of Whitefish near the railroad tracks. The early Pilots carry a number of articles and editorials tinged-or crammed-with prejudice.

The Japanese were accepted earlier and more readily than the other two groups. This seems to have been the result of several factors.

The course of the Russo-Japanese was of 1904-5, for one thing, was followed closely in Whitefish, and sympathy lay with the Japanese. Every week’s newspaper carried a story about the progress of the war. When young Japanese in Whitefish returned to Japan to fight for their country, they were seen off with celebration by the entire town. When Japanese diplomats, led by Baron Komura, went through on their Great Northern trip from Tokyo to Washington during the war they were given a celebration at the depot that included Japanese flags and emblems, fireworks, the Kalispell band, a large crowd of both Japanese and whites. Baron Okado and President Theodore Roosevelt later stopped at Whitefish during peace negotiations, and were given an enthusiastic welcome. The Baron would not get out of bed, but “Teddy” came out on the platform in a nightshirt and overcoat, made a friendly little talk, and was wildly cheered.

Also, the Japanese undeniably contributed to the town, specifically at the Fourth of July celebration of 1908, but at many other times too. They were successful and cooperative businessmen. In the early years Japanese managers for the Oriental Trading Company were enterprising and respected. And then M. M. (“Swede”) Hori, who had been a houseboy for the Conrad family, Kalispell financiers, was given ten acres of Whitefish land by his employer and moved to Whitefish. He opened the Hori Café and Hotel, and in 1919 turned it into a $50,000 building extending from the present Pastime to the Toggery. It was the most popular eating place in town, and in the lobby of the hotel were renowned heads of elk, buffalo, and deer, prepared by the local taxidermy. Hori operated this business until his death in 1931, and Mrs. Hori continued its operation fifteen years longer. During her ownership Mrs. Hori, who had come to Seattle from Japan in 1911 and married Hori in 1915, is said to have fed all transients who came to her. Some chopped wood in return, but she fed everybody regardless of payment. Her dairy and truck farm were operated for her by the Sakahara family while she ran the café.

Tom Hatsukano

Tom Hatsukano High School photo ca 1941

The Hori Gardens east of town were a matter of pride to the Japanese and the whole town. Their potatoes, celery, and other truck garden vegetables were widely known and won many prizes at fairs throughout the Northwest. Large quantities of Hori vegetables were purchased by the Great Northern dining service, by whom they were widely advertised. The ranch also had a prize herd of Holsteins and operated a dairy. Mrs. Hori, later Mrs. Jiro Masuoka, gave important gifts of money and city lots to the town, and there is a plaque commemorating these on the stairway of City Hall, which reads: “In tribute to Mr. & Mrs. M. M. Hori, in recognition of and appreciation for their community interests, support, and generous gift of real estate to the city of Whitefish.”

Although the Horis were the most successful Japanese business people of Whitefish, they were not the only ones. The Shiomis operated a successful laundry for many years, which they expanded in 1926 by buying out their major competitor, the Whitefish Steam Laundry. Mr. Hatsukano, who operated a candy store on Second Street next to Pacific Power, was familiar to all school children of the time and their parents, partly because of his wide smile and long, white beard.

See more of their story in the Whitefish museum, located in the Train Depot.

Note: The quoted material is taken from Stump Town to Ski Town, by Betty Schafer and Mable Engelter, written in 1972 and reprinted by the Stumptown Historical Society in 2003. It is available for sale in the Whitefish Museum located in the Train Depot.

CuratorJapanese in Whitefish – Part 1