by George Taniwaki


Moon pies for cheap. Photo by George Taniwaki

I love moon pies (apparently, I was a southerner in a past life). Surprisingly, they are big in South Korea too (who knew, for history see Wikipedia).

Incidentally, don’t confuse moon pies with moon cakes which are another Asian sweet (which I usually don’t like because of the salty egg flavor).

Anyway, today, I found a really cheap source of my favorite confection. Lotte brand is $3.50 for 335g or 29 cents a pie. Mysteriously, they are hidden next to weird spices in the international food aisle, not prominently displayed with the other cookies in the snack aisle. Perhaps it’s a form of American food protectionism by US cookie makers, Asian segregationist policy or redlining by the store, or the result of some other nativist conspiracy plot.

It’s crazy that a South Korean company can import all the ingredients, process them, ship them back to the U.S., and still be cheaper than US-made cookies. But I don’t care as long as I get my fix of graham cracker, marshmallow, and sugary goodness.

by George Taniwaki

I just returned from a short trip to New York. I have been to the city many times, but not recently. So I took time to go to places that are new since my last visit in 2009.

Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum


Immersion room, courtesy Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

As a software program manager, the Cooper Hewitt is one of my favorite museums. It recently completed a major renovation (Press Release, Dec 2014). I was looking forward to seeing the redesigned design museum and was not disappointed.

Upon entering the museum, each visitor is given a stylus and a code number. The stylus is a bit bulky but is rugged. The pointed end can be used with large touchscreen monitors (probably Microsoft PixelSense devices since the newer Surface Hub wasn’t released until after the museum opened) scattered around some rooms. Visitors can select images, write text, and draw images on the touchscreens. Visitors can tap the other end of the stylus to the touchscreens to save their work. They can also tap on exhibit signs to save them and get more information for later.

On the second floor is a cubical Immersion Room that contains another large touchscreen monitor. On this one, visitors can select wallcovering patterns from the Cooper Hewitt collection or design their own using the pen. They can save their patterns and project them on the walls of the room. It is a very enjoyable experience to see your pattern fill the room (see photo above).

After your visit, you can go to the Cooper Hewitt website, create an account, enter your code, and review your visit and further explore exhibits that interested you. If you are a developer or tinkerer, check out the Toys section to use the API and to access anonymized visitor data.

Museum of Modern Art


Crossroads (promotional still) 1976, Courtesy Connor Family Trust

The Museum of Modern Art is not new yet. However, since my last visit, MoMA has announced a major expansion. An increase of 4,600 sq. m (50,000 sq. ft) will add about 17%  of new space the the already large museum. Construction has started, though it hasn’t caused any closure of the current space for now.

The addition is expected to be well integrated with the existing museum. Construction will take over four years to complete (Curbed New York, Jan 2016).

I saw a special exhibit on Bruce Conner (1933-2008) an avant garde painter, sculptor, photographer, and film maker (see photo). The show was organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In an ironic twist, I was unable to visit the newly remodeled SFMoMA while I was in SF in April since it was still closed for renovation (see SF Gate, May 2016).

The expansion of MoMA required the demolition of the American Folk Art Museum, which was a lovely bronze-clad building next door to it. (I saw a wonderful special exhibit on quilts during my last visit to New York.) The building is already gone and is now just a hole in the ground. The museum has moved to Columbus Avenue between 65th and 66th Streets.  I didn’t have time to visit it.

9/11 Memorial & Museum


The north fountain with white rose. Photo by George Taniwaki

The National September 11 Memorial opened in 2014. It honors the victims killed in New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania during of the awful attacks in September, 2001 as well as the people killed in the earlier attack on the World Trade Center in February, 1993.

The memorial consists of two square fountains, each encompassing the footprint of one of the towers. The fountains are surrounded by bronze panels with the names of each victim cut into them. A white rose is placed by each name on that person’s birthday (see photo). Water falls about 10 m (30 ft) into a reflecting pool. From there, it falls into a square hole so deep you cannot see the bottom. The sound of rushing water is emitted from the hole. The scale of the fountains is moving. Even on a busy summer weekend when thousands of tourists are viewing the memorial, there is plenty of space to stand and contemplate.


View from the balcony entering the museum. Photo by George Taniwaki


View of quote from stairs entering the museum. Photo by George Taniwaki

The 9/11 museum is also enormous and also within the footprint of the towers. The main floor is under the fountain about 18m (60ft) below ground. From the balcony you can see the slurry wall that holds back the Hudson River and a giant remnant of a column from the World Trade Center marked with spray paint (see photo).

An escalator takes you past a quote translated from Virgil’s Aeneid, “No day shall erase you from the memory of time” (see photo). The quote is surrounded by 2,983 watercolor paintings, one for each victim, by Spencer Finch recalling the shade of blue of the sky on the morning of 9/11.

Overall, the museum does a good job of explaining the events leading to the attack and the recovery effort afterwards. One can imagine the difficult task of presenting an evenhanded account in the face of enormous pressure from victim families, first responders, government agencies, donors, and politicians. Nearly every artifact and photo is heavily researched and annotated, which is somewhat chilling. One gets a sense of how invested the survivors are in preserving the memories of the loved ones lost in the attacks.

As a side note, when viewed in context, the use of the Virgil quote above is rather controversial. The “you” refers to the attackers, not the victims, giving it a very different meaning than what was intended (NY Times, Apr 2011). Yet the alternate interpretation is also true. Because of the horror they caused, we will not forget the attackers either.

The Cloisters


A garden in the Cloisters. Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art


Panoramic view of the Hudson River and New Jersey. Photo by George Taniwaki

The Cloisters is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It houses artwork and architectural fragments from twelfth to fifteenth century Europe. The building is shaped like a medieval cloister and is located at the top of a hill in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan (see photos).

I’m not a big fan of art from this era, so have never bothered to go all the way up to the Cloisters. But after visiting Florence a few years ago I decided I should make the journey. It was well worth it. I took the subway and walked up the hill. The building is imposing.  The gardens are tranquil and beautiful. And seeing the historical transition in painting from flat to perspective is fascinating.

Dyckman Farmhouse Museum


Irises in bloom. Courtesy of Dyckman Farmhouse Museum

On my way to the Cloisters, I accidentally missed my stop. Rather than wait for a train the other direction, I decided to walk back. On a busy street filled with businesses I suddenly passed by a small garden and walked in. It turns out it was part of the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum. Opened in 1916, the museum is not very large, but is well maintained and reveals some of the history of Manhattan beginning with the Revolutionary War.

Final Notes

When visiting a city, I rarely buy City Pass tickets or their equivalents. The list of venues is fixed and limited. Instead, I just buy tickets in advance directly from each museum I visit. In fact, I just go to each museum first, checked out how long the line is, and if it is too long, then use my phone to buy tickets online. Museums with long lines and that lack online ticket sales don’t get my business.

To get around a strange town, I need more than a map. I need info on the best ways to get around by walking, biking, using public transit, or hailing Uber. Also, I want to compare estimated travel times and costs for each option. I have found two excellent apps to help. They are CityMapper and Transit, both available for iPhone and Android.

by George Taniwaki

This is a continuation of my class notes from Landscaping in the Northwest without the Need for Automatic Sprinklers, taught by noted local plant writer and speaker Marianne Binetti and sponsored by the Cascade Water Alliance.

Part 1 of this blog entry is posted in April 2014.


Plants mentioned on page 5, Gold band yucca, Miss Willmott’s ghost, Blue fescue, Allium


Plants mentioned on page 6, Smoke tree, Golden ninebark, Huckleberry, Elderberry, Salmonberry


Plants mentioned on page 7, Rosemary, Sedum razzleberry


Plants mentioned on page 8, Sword fern, Sedum autumnjoy, Euphorbia


Plants mentioned on page 9, Begonia, Hen and chicks, Sempervivum glabifolium, Sedum angelina, Woolly thyme, Sandwort, Moss lawn, Blue star creeper


Plants mentioned on page 10, Sedum echeverias, Creeping jenny, Christmas rose

Note: The hyperlinks to nurseries and garden shops in this blog post were added by me and are for reference only. They were not part of the lecture and are not meant as endorsements by me or the instructor.

by George Taniwaki

Last Saturday, I attended a free class sponsored by the Cascade Water Alliance, an association of several water districts in Western Washington. The class, entitled Landscaping in the Northwest without the Need for Automatic Sprinklers, was held in Sammamish, an eastern suburb of Seattle. It was taught by noted local plant writer and speaker Marianne Binetti. It was a great class and I learned a lot. Probably the most important thing I learned was to not be intimidated by plant names. There are thousands of varieties of ornamental plants and you can’t know them all. Just go to the nursery with a plan to buy water-conserving plants, ask for help, and pick things you like.


Marianne Binetti. Photo by Joe B

Ironically, it is raining today. But I know that come summer, the Puget Sound region will have three dry months. Our house has a big yard and out in the suburbs water is very expensive. I want to learn how to design and build a low maintenance/low irrigation landscape for our yard. And you can’t beat the price of a free class.

My wife Sue and I attended a similar class back when we lived in Denver. That class featured a technique called xeriscaping and was taught by the Denver Water Department. Denver is much drier than Seattle (15-inches rain per year in Denver vs. 38 inches in Seattle). However, we had a city house with a tiny yard plus water was much cheaper due to the senior water rights held by the city.

Both the Denver low-water xeriscaping class and Saturday’s no-water class covered how to choose drought-tolerant and freeze-tolerant plants like succulents, hardy perennials, and prairie grasses. These plants are not necessarily native to the respective regions, but will grow there and look appealing. Both classes also offered information on proper soil amendment, and mulching to minimize or eliminate the need for irrigation.

Enough description about the classes. Below are the notes I took during Ms. Benetti’s lecture. I took the notes on a 6-inch square notebook I received from Northwest Kidney Centers using a pen with black ink. I cut the pages out of the book, added the colors using felt-tip highlighter pens, and scanned the pages. Enjoy!


Plants mentioned on page 1, Heavenly bamboo, Japanese red pine


Plants mentioned on page 2, Wisteria, Clematis


Plants mentioned on page 3, Barberry, Euonymous, Lavender, Spiraea


Plants mentioned on page 4, Kinnick kinnick, Rock rose, Potentilla

Part 2 of this blog entry is posted in April 2014.

Note: The hyperlinks to nurseries and garden shops in this blog post were added by me and are for reference only. They were not part of the lecture and are not meant as endorsements by me or the instructor.

by George Taniwaki

It was raining all day, keeping me from doing yard work this afternoon. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. So I started doodling and came up with an invention to keep exterior concrete steps from getting covered with puddles of water.

My idea is to use a hard rubber mold on top of each tread to cut notches in the step that act as gutters to guide the water down to the next step down.

The drawing below shows the cross-section of a typical concrete step with a 11-inch tread and 7-inch riser. The tread has a series of 1-inch wide triangular grooves molded into it. The grooves are sloped down the tread. The groove is 1/8-inch deep at the start of the tread (cross-section AA) and reaches 1/2-inch deep (to become 45-degrees) at the end of the tread (cross-section BB).

The design has several nice features.

  1. Unlike most concrete steps, the treads are not sloped. The tops of the grooves are level to the ground. This improves safety. You won’t slide, and potentially fall, when the steps are wet, muddy, or icy
  2. The grooves shed water from the treads. This keeps water from forming puddles on the treads even if the concrete for the steps is poured slightly off-level
  3. The grooves reduces the contact area between the step and your shoes, to increase traction, which again improves safety


Concrete steps design. Drawing by George Taniwaki

I’ve never seen concrete steps with grooves like this. So either I am the first person to think of this, or my design is a solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist.

by Michio Taniwaki

This is a continuation of the story of the Taniwaki family tree with biographies of generations 5 through 8. The stories of generations 1 to 4 are in a Jan 2014 blog post. If you are one of my relatives, please provide information to complete these stories.


Eight generations of the Taniwaki family tree

Fifth generation

Tatsui Taniwaki 谷脇達意

Tatsui was born in the 1890s as the eldest child of Umetaro and Tsuru. She married Nobushi Yokoyama. They lived in Taiwan (which was a Japanese colony at the time) for several years. She died in the 1990s.

Nobushi Yokoyama 横山農夫志

Nobushi was a school teacher in Taiwan. He also managed rental property owned by Tsuru, his mother-in-law. Without consulting her, he mortgaged the houses to start his own business, planning to secretly pay her back from the profit. His plan failed and Tsuru lost the houses to the bank. Tsuru’s book showed the last entry was in 1931. The relation between them could not be worse.

After the war, Nobushi, Tatsui, and their son Shizuo moved back to Japan and lived in one of Tsuru’s rental houses.

I don’t know if Nobushi is related to Yasukichi (Matsu’s husband) or if the same family name is a coincidence.

Kiyomi Taniwaki 谷脇清実

My father was born in 1901 in Japan as the second child and elder son of Umetaro and Tsuru. Umetaro left for the U.S. in 1904 and Tsuru followed in about 1909. He was left with his grandparents who did not treat him well. At age 16, he came to America where he worked mostly as a farm laborer with the intent of buying his own farm.

In 1924, the U.S. passed a restrictive immigration law that would effectively prevent new immigrants from Japan from entering. Kiyomi hurried back to Japan and married Sadai and returned with her to America.

Around the same time, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California’s Alien Land Law was constitutional. This made it illegal for Japanese immigrants to own or lease farmland. Kiyomi continued to work as a farm laborer. He did a good work fast and preferred piecework over hourly rates. He made $5 a day (about $100 in 2010 dollars, which was quite high for farm labor).

But since he could not own a farm, his work required moving from one farm to another. This was not suitable for a family man. He got a job in Hayward and worked for a carnation grower, Fujii Nursery. Now with a steady job, Kiyomi and Sadai had two children, Michio (me) in 1926 and Hideko (my sister) in 1931.


Sadai, Michio, and Kiyomi Taniwaki, circa 1929

Around 1928, someone from Tsuru’s family wanted to come to America for school. This required a U.S. sponsor who could cover any liability. Kiyomi asked the nursery owner, Fujii to be the sponsor and he accepted. The young man got involved in a quarrel with another student and injured him. This was potentially a large liability case and Kiyomi would do anything to keep Fujii out of it. He sought help from Shigeki Oka, a man from the same prefecture. He paid Shigeki $200 (about $3500 in 2010 dollars), but he didn’t do anything. In the end, Kiyomi somehow managed to make the young man go back to Japan and convinced the victim to not claim compensation from Fujii.

With the onset of the depression, Kiyomi wanted to take his family back to Japan. But because of this legal problem, the trip was delayed until December, 1932.

When the family returned to the farm, his aunt Tomi and her husband Unkichi did not have place to go, so Kiyomi gave them the house that his grandfather Eiji built many years ago and gave them 100 yen (about $1000 in 2010 dollars, but several months cash income in rural Japan) to disassemble it and move it to a new location.

Kiyomi built a two-story house for his family. People described it “as big as a school-house.”

In 1937, the Japanese army invaded China. Because he had not served in the army when he was younger, Kiyomi was called to service at the late age of 36. He served in the Supplementary Transport Unit. There, he often met English-speaking people. Despite differences, the Chinese referred to him as a gentleman. He came home after six months.

Kiyomi died on 1987 Dec 13.

My father told me the following stories about our farm. Our farm once had large camphor trees, a prominent landmark. One day, a local official, who was seeking recognition or a promotion, ordered the tress cut down in order to make camphor blocks that the local lord could use to protect his clothes from moths. Our family was discouraged by this and quit growing camphor trees.

He also said in late 1930s, the area was covered with network of tree roots. Leftover wood was used to make hibachi (stoves used to warm hands, not to be confused with the cooking devices known in the U.S.). I remember seeing two of them, the larger one was about 70 cm (2 foot) in diameter.

Sadai Ono 小野貞意

My mother was born on 1905 Jan 7 and married Kiyomi in 1924 and immediately moved to the U.S. She and Kiyomi had two children born in the U.S. before moving back to Japan in 1932. She died on 1986 Feb 26.

Sakae (Oski) Taniwaki 谷脇栄

Oski was born in 1903 in Japan. He had just started school when his mother, Tsuru, took him to America to join Umetaro.

Oski was a very quick learner of English. Only two month after moving to America, he came home from play and told his mother a story of  why the moon is yellow. He said in Japanese, “A woman was making butter. It didn’t turn out well, so she threw it away. It went high into the sky and became the moon.” He said he learned it from a  neighbor. Since the neighbor was not Japanese, he must have heard the story in English.

When his parents moved back to Japan in 1924, Oski remained in the U.S. and attended the University of California, Berkeley to become a pharmacist. However, while in school he realized that California would refuse to grant him a license because he was not a U.S. citizen, ending his dream.

Though everyone called him Oski, my uncle’s given name is Sakae. Oski is a nickname taken from the name of the bear mascot of UC Berkeley.

Oski was one of the founding editors of the New World Daily (Shinsekai nichinichi shinbun), a bilingual newspaper for Japanese immigrants in San Francisco.

In 1935, Oski went to Japan to look for a job since America was still in depression. He came to see us at Kochi prefecture first. Then he proceeded to Taiwan where Tatsui, his older sister, and her husband, Nobushi, were living. Nobushi came up with an English teaching position and English reporter work at a newspaper, but Oski didn’t like these jobs and returned to America.

In 1942, thousands of Japanese Americans living in the western U.S. were forced to evacuate their home and deported to internment camps under U.S. executive order 9066. Oski, Gladys, and their young son Hugo were among them. Each person could only carry a single suitcase. All homes, cars, and other possessions had to be disposed. Rather than sell their appliances and furniture at distress prices, Oski asked neighbors to store these items for them. After the war, he could not locate the neighbors. Everything they owned was gone.

While incarcerated in the Amache relocation camp near Granada, CO, Oski worked as an editor for the camp newspaper, the Granada Pioneer. Near the end of the war, Oski was released from the camp and employed as a taxi driver in Chicago.

After the war, the family moved to Denver, where a small Japanese-American community was growing. Oski died about 1986.

Shizue (Gladys) Ioka

Gladys was born about 1911 in California. She married Oski in the 1930s. They had two children, Hugo and Walter (Nobu). She ran a Japanese gift shop and bookstore called Kobun-sha in Denver (not to be confused with the magazine publishing company of the same name in Japan). She died about 2000.

Sixth generation

Shizuo Yokoyama 横山静夫

Shizuo is the only child of Nobushi and Tatsui. He graduated from Imperial University (now National Seven Universities) with a degree in agriculture. He worked for the kencho (prefectural government) until his retirement at age 60. He has come to America twice.

Kimiko [___] _公子

Kimiko married Shizuo in 1950s. She was a school teacher, now retired.

Michio Taniwaki 谷脇道雄

I am the elder child of Kiyomi and Sadai. I was born on 1926 May 30 in Oakland where a Japanese midwife had a clinic, but lived in Hayward California until December 1932. By then I was in a school. My family moved back to Japan where I had a hard time adjusting to the new life in Japan, but eventually became familiar with the environment.

By 1942, Japan was engaged in the Pacific war. My father paid tuition to enroll me in what was equivalent of high school. During this time I started a radio repair business.

After graduation, the war was still on and I was drafted and sent to Hiroshima to become a radio operator for one of the army owned ships. Before the training was complete, the atomic bomb was dropped. I was very lucky and was not injured. Details of my experience are published in a three-part Dec 2012 blog post.

After the war, I wanted to return to America, but encountered legal problems because of my dual citizenship. I had voted in Japanese elections and served in the Japanese army. I was unable to get a visa until 1953.

In the U.S., I lived in Hayward and worked for the same carnation grower as my father, Fujii Nursery. I also started a little TV repair shop in a rented house.

I married Hisae in 1958 and we had our first son, George. One day, Oski and Gladys visited us and invited us to move to Denver. We accepted. As of this year, we have lived in Denver for 52 years.

I have gone back to visit Japan four times since returning to the U.S. The first was in 1975 with the entire family. My children have been there more frequently than I have.

Hisae Ota 太田尚枝

Hisae was born on 1935 Nov 29 in Chongjin, a city in what is now North Korea which was then Japanese territory. She lived in a Japanese enclave and attended a Japanese school and doesn’t remember seeing any Koreans in the city. Hisae, her mother, grandparents, and five siblings all younger than her lived in the city. Her father, like most able-bodied Japanese men, was serving in the army.

Japan announced its surrender to the allies on 1945 Aug 15, but the Soviet Union did not recognize it. Instead, it invaded China and Korea. The Japanese army was already recalled leaving the Japanese civilians defenseless. Hisae and her family fled their home.

The Soviet airplanes used machine guns and bombs to attack the cities and then the convoys and trains carrying the fleeing civilians. With some exception, Koreans were not very friendly. Hisae’s family hoped to reach Busan, a port in southern Korea protected by the allied forces. This was a stressful undertaking. During the retreat, her baby brother and  both grandparents died.

In Japan, they reunited with her father and lived in Yamaguchi prefecture. Immediately after the war, food and medicine were scarce and a newborn baby sister died.

In 1956, the U.S. government allowed a small number of refugees to immigrate. Hisae’s family was accepted and they moved to San Pablo, CA. Their sponsor was the owner of Oshima nursery, a rose grower. I was working for a carnation grower in Hayward and had a friend working near the Oshima nursery, so I visited the area frequently. One day I met Hisae and two years later we got married in 1958.

Hugo (Kiyoshi) Taniwaki

Hugo was the elder son of Oski and Gladys. He was born about 1938 in CA. As a child his family was deported to the Amache relocation camp in Colorado and spent three years in confinement. He lived most of his life in Denver. He died in 2013 while in Phoenix, AZ.

Margaret Yamada

Marge was born about 1940 and married Hugo about 1958. They had two children, Ronal and Elaine (Vicki).

Walter (Nobu) Taniwaki

Walter is the younger son of Oski and Gladys. He was born in 1949.

Stephanie Uyeda

Stevie was born in 1949 and married Walter in 1972. They have no children.

Seventh generation

Fumiko Yokoyama 横山典子

Fumiko is the elder daughter of Shizuo and Kimiko. She was born about 1955. She married a man named Nishimura, they have no children. She likes to travel and visited us in Denver several times. She guided us during a trip to Tokyo in 2006.

Hiroko Yokoyama 横山浩子

Hiroko is the younger daughter of Shizuo and Kimiko. She was born about 1958 and is married with no children.

George Taniwaki

George is my elder son. He was born in 1959 in Alameda, CA and grew up in Denver, CO. He does not speak Japanese, but has visited Japan for both business and vacation. He writes a blog at where this story is posted.

Susan K. Wolcott

Susan was born in 1953 in Sunnyside, WA, the third of four children. She and George were married in 1989 while they both lived in Chicago, IL. They currently reside in Bellevue, WA and have no children. Susan does not speak Japanese but has been to Japan several times to teach a CPA review class in Tokyo.

James Taniwaki

James is my younger son. He was born in 1962 in Denver, CO. He lived in Kobe 1984-85 for a year of study abroad and worked in Osaka 1985-89. Since then, he has been to Japan at least 45 times on business. Jim speaks “enough Japanese to get into trouble, but not enough to get out of trouble.”

Ronal Taniwaki

Ronal is the elder child of Hugo and Marge. He was born in 1959 in Denver, CO.

Elaine (Vicki) Taniwaki

Vicki is the younger child of Hugo and Marge. She was born in 1960 in Denver, CO.

None of the members of the last generation have children. So this may be the end of our branch of the Taniwaki line.

[Update: Removed names of some relatives at their request.]

by Michio Taniwaki

I am the oldest son of the oldest son of the oldest son and can trace my ancestry back five generations. My ancestors lived on the island of Shikoku, near a place now called Susaki-shi. They were members of the farming class (meaning they owned the land they farmed on). Many other farmers did not own land. Instead, they were sharecroppers who tended a plot and lived in a house on land owned by another family in exchange for a share of their output.

We can’t call these ancestors the Taniwaki family because back in the early days, commoners did not have family names. Family names were restricted to the ruling class. Family names became required for all persons, not just the ruling class, after the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

Taniwaki is an uncommon name in Japan. However, there are many people around Susaki with the family name Taniwaki. I am not related to most of them. Perhaps it is because people in the area just liked the name Taniwaki (it means side of the valley) and used it for their own families when they were ordered by the government to choose a name. Perhaps it is because in the past one of the ruling families had the name Taniwaki and it was a familiar name.

Before the advent of the government family registry (called koseki), our ancestors recorded all births, marriages, and deaths at the Buddhist church. The priests maintained a registry called kakocho. Records were also kept by the shōya, a community leader appointed by the top-down local political system. Knowledge of ancestors was passed down the generations by stories with the help of the custom of visiting the family cemetery. Landowning families, like ours, maintained their own private graveyards on their property. You would think then that it would be easy to trace our family history. However, churches burn, grave markers wear out, and families move. History can get lost.

Below is my reconstruction of my family tree. If you are one of my relatives, please provide information to complete this story.


Eight generations of the Taniwaki family tree

First generation

Shohei 庄平

Shohei is the oldest known ancestor in the family line. He was born in the late 1700s and died in 1856 or 1857. His grave and those of his ancestors are not found in the current family cemetery as explained below.

Shohei’s wife

I don’t have any information, she probably lived from about 1795 to 1860.

Second generation

Yoshihei 芳平

Yoshihei is the eldest son of Shohei and his wife. He was born in 1808. He married Iwa. After several years with no children, they adopted a young man to be an heir, a common practice in Japan called yohshi-engumi.

Yoshihei and Iwa later had three of their own children, all sons. When their oldest son became an adult the family transferred their house to the yohshi and moved to a new site about a kilometer (0.6 mile) away where they built a new house. They probably continued to work on the same farm after the move.

Iwa 岩

Iwa was born about 1815 and died in 1897.

Other siblings

I don’t have any information on any other children Shohei and his wife had.

Third generation

Adopted son

The adopted son and his wife moved into Yoshihei’s home. After Yoshihei and his family left the property, one of his duties was to maintain the ancestral family cemetery which included the burial plot for Shohei.

My late father told me that his grandfather, Eiji (Yoshihei’s son), once took him to the grave site. It was not in good shape. Stones were scattered about and he said, “This is where our long gone ancestors were buried.”

Son 1

The eldest biological son of Yoshihei and Iwa was born after the adoption of an heir. Since he could not stay on the farm, he became a carpenter and moved to Hokkaido, which was then Japan’s frontier. There, he designed and built houses using techniques he developed.

A story I heard was that one day, a house this son built had to be relocated. Workers found that unlike most houses, it did not show the normal sequence of construction and was impossible to disassemble. They had to go to him for assistance.

Eiji 栄次

Born in 1842, Eiji is the second biological son of Yoshihei and Iwa. He was 18 years old when the family moved to the site of the new home. Eiji was already a skilled carpenter and designed and built the new house. It was west-facing; the original house was east facing. He earned the title miya-daiku (literally shrine carpenter, a master carpenter) meaning he designed and built projects for the ruling class and would train and supervise his own crew of apprentices. Projects included maintaining local o-miya (Shinto shrines) and building the first primary school in our area when education became compulsory. Eiji died in 1926, the year I was born.

Ushi 丑

Ushi was Eiji’s first wife. She lived from 1847 to 1904. I don’t have any more information.

Ito 糸

After Ushi’s death Eiji married Ito. What I heard about her was not good. While Umetaro (Eiji’s son) and his wife were in America, she mistreated her step-grandchildren Tatsui (my aunt) and Kiyomi (my father). Sakae who was the youngest was lucky, he had gone to America and was with his parents.

Son 3

Prior to the Meiji Restoration (1868), travel abroad was forbidden. However, after trade was opened between the U.S. and Japan, many men migrated to the U.S. for a chance to make money, mostly in farm labor, logging, or construction.

The last son of Yoshihei and Iwa went to America not to work, but to study photography, which was not possible to learn in Japan. Upon returning to Japan, he went to Hokkaido and opened a photo studio.

Commenting on the two sons who moved to Hokkaido, my dad, Kiyomi said, “Those who lead unusual lives tend to leave no legacy.”

Fourth generation

From this point on, all relatives have family names at their birth.

Umetaro Taniwaki 谷脇梅太郎

Umetaro is the eldest child and only son of Eiji and Ushi. He was born on 1869 May 18. He had a reputation as a playboy, a poet, and being somewhat irresponsible.

When Umetaro was 20 years old he was drafted into the army and sent to Asakura near Kochi-shi, the barracks of the 44th regiment. One day, there was a shooting contest and Umetaro won the first prize. He invited leaders of his company to a geisha house where sake was served and geishas danced and sang. He didn’t have money to pay for this and so sent the bill to his father.

War broke out between Japan and China in 1894. Umetaro was recalled and the 44th regiment was sent to Korea. He came out safely, but this experience made him hate war.

About 1900, a burglar broke into a neighbor’s house. A mob caught the burglar and beat him to death. The mob realized the seriousness of the matter. Umetaro, who was not part of the mob, intervened and negotiated with the police. The police agreed not to make a case.

In 1903, Japan was to engage in another war, this time against Russia. Umetaro was afraid he might be called back to the army again, so decided to go to America. It seemed a good idea, he would be safe from the army and wages in America were good.

No records indicate when Umetaro went to America, but it is most likely in 1904, the first year of the Japan Russia war. His gravestone says that he had been in America for 20 years. From other records I know he and Tsuru returned to Japan in 1924.


Umetaro Taniwaki, circa 1910

On his return, Umetaro wanted to build a new house, a large mansion. He drew up the plans but only got as far as building a long retaining wall around the house. He bought pine trees for 15 yen (about $150 in 2010 dollars, but the equivalent of half a month’s pay in rural Japan). People said, “Stupid Ume.” He also bought new furniture, utensils, and Japanese scroll paintings and calligraphy. Although he never wanted to be a carpenter or cabinet-maker, he made a cabinet for his phonograph and records. I was amazed by its quality.

Three years after returning to Japan, Umetaro died on 1927 Sept 19. While on his death-bed, he wrote his final short form poem, it was to say Tsuru will lead happy life. His last words were, “I won’t send for you.” Tsuru who died in 1950 said, “He hasn’t.”

Tsuru [___] _鶴

Tsuru was born in1879 and married Umetaro in 1897. They had three children. After Umetaro left for the U.S. in 1904, he was expected to send back money to his family. But after a few years with no remittances, Tsuru wanted to go to America to see what her husband is doing. She took the youngest child, Sakae (Oski), with her. I don’t know the exact year, but a neighbor said Sakae carried a school shoulder bag, so he was probably 6 or 7, making it between 1909 to 1911.

Upon the arrival at the workers camp near Tacoma, WA, she found that all men who were cutting trees and preparing land for development looked weak and in low spirits. Their diet was poor too.

These laborers could not speak English. One went to a grocery store, dropped a rock and said “kokekokko” mimicking a hen to buy eggs. I don’t know if this is a true story, but it is not hard to imagine that their lack of language skills attributed to the poor diet.

Tsuru started to cook for these workers. She saw edible plants growing wild, picked them, cooked them, and served the workers in exchange for cash. “Boys were so happy,” she said.

It became clear that a worker’s camp was no place to make money. Tsuru saw better opportunities for business. She moved the family to Seattle and bought a hotel. How they got the down payment is not known, possibly they borrowed from Eiji who knew that Tsuru had a good business sense. When she was younger, Eiji was having a problem collecting money from one of his customers. Tsuru volunteered to go and collect the money and she did it.

After some success in Seattle, Tsuru moved her family to Sacramento and opened a restaurant catering to Japanese.

One day at the restaurant, they bought a barrel of miso. Inside the barrel was a metal can. Soon a few Chinese appeared and took it with them. Tsuru never saw the content of the can but it was obviously part of a smuggling operation.

The restaurant was busy and Tsuru worked hard. But not Umetaro, he only pursued enjoyment such as playing the samisen. Eventually, Tsuru could not take any more so she sent him home. But he disliked the monotonous, old, and poor country, and he traveled again to America.

In 1924, with some money in their pockets, they both left America.

After Umetaro died in 1927, Tsuru did not want to live on the farm. Instead she moved to Susaki-shi and bought a dry goods store. Actually buying is not accurate, women could not own real property. She loaned money to a local merchant and the store was mortgaged. The store carried dry goods such as dried beans of many varieties, dried seaweeds, sugars of many colors, straw hats, chōchin (paper lanterns), and such. Her price was competitive and the store always had customers.

Tsuru also bought several rental houses in Taiwan, which at the time was a territory of Japan. Again, for legal reasons, the property was registered under the name of her son-in-law who was made the landlord (more on that later).

About 1932, Tsuru began selling a medicine for jaundice based on an old Taniwaki family remedy. The story is that once upon a time a pilgrim who traveled from temple to temple became ill and one of my ancestors helped him and nursed him back to health. The pilgrim showed his gratitude by giving our ancestor the formula for the medicine. Since then our family had been dispensing the medicine whenever asked to.

To make it a business, Tsuru began to advertise in a wide area. She produced 100 or more signs to display on the roadside. One day, the police came to the store and told her that the signs were not allowed. “Your medicine could not be as good as the signs claim.” The police may have exceeded their authority but an appeal would be prohibitively expensive. Tsuru gave up.

During the war, the Japanese government reduced the number of retail outlets and Tsuru had to close her store.

After the war, under the occupying force’s order, Japan passed a sweeping land reformation law. All farmland not cultivated by land owners had to be sold at below market prices to the tenants. Tsuru lost most of her farmland and the rent it produced.

Tsuru died in 1950.

Matsu Taniwaki 谷脇松

Matsu was born in 1871 as the second child of Eiji and Ushi. She married Yasukichi Yokoyama (横山安吉) in 1895 and they moved to his farm. I believe they were both alive at the end of the war.  I don’t have information on any children they had.

Tomi Taniwaki 谷脇富

Tomi is the youngest child of Eiji and Ushi. She was born in 1880. She had a mental disability and so was not a good candidate for marriage. In 1907, Eiji arranged a marriage between Tomi and Heikichi Ichikawa (市川平吉). They divorced a year later without any children and she returned to the family home.

After the deaths of Eiji (1926) and Umetaro (1927), Tsuru moved to Susaki. She (or perhaps Umetaro before he died) arranged Tomi to marry Unkichi Ichikawa (市川運吉) in 1927 and gave them a small plot of land. Tsuru asked them move into and take care of the now empty family home until Kiyomi returned (more on that later).

I don’t know if Heikichi and Unkichi were related to each other or not. My guess is they were not as Ichikawa was a common name in our area. Tomi died about 1940.

The stories of generations 5 through 8 continue in a Feb blog post.

[Update1: Corrected or added several birth dates and wedding dates. Corrected kanji errors and grammar errors. Added references to koseki and kakocho records. Yoshihei moved his family to a new site for a home, but continued to farm at the old site. Asakura is a town near Kochi-shi, not a city in Fukuoka prefecture. Only one house was broken into by the burglar. Tsuru cooked for the workers at the camp near Tacoma but did not open a restaurant there. Added info about Matsu and her husband. It was Tsuru, not Eiji, who asked Tomi and her husband to move into the house. Added comment about ambiguity of Tomi’s husband’s name.]

[Update2: Clarified that Heikichi and Unkichi are actually two different men. Updated family tree.]

[Update3: Asakura was annexed by Kochi after the war. Tsuru was born in 1879, updated family tree. Heikichi was not a neighbor. Land was given to Tomi for her marriage with Unkichi, not Heikichi.]

[Update4: Removed names of some relatives from family tree at their request. Added link to part 2.]

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