Media and Publication
Article and Photograph courtesy of:
The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. Berkeley, California 94720 United States.
War Relocation Authority Photographs of Japanese-American Evacuation and Resettlement
Series 12: Relocation: new homes, etc. (various places)
Volume 45, Section E, WRA no. H-637
Wherever Japanese American people have settled there's a demand for rice cakes, and Mr. Y. Hamano, Issei proprietor of the Umeya Company in Denver, Colorado, has been very successful in supplying those demands. Formerly of Los Angeles, where he was engaged in the same type of business, Mr. Hamano was evacuated to the Rohwer Relocation Center. In March, 1944, he relocated to Denver, where he intends to remain. Twelve people are employed in his plant, and all are kept busy packing, wrapping, and mailing packages of rice cakes to various parts of the country from which they receive orders. One of Mr. Hamano's sons manages the Mikawa Sweet Shop, another of Mr. Hamano's enterprises. Shown at work mixing batter for rice cakes is one of Mr. Hamano's employees, T. Kobayashi, formerly of Los Angeles and Rohwer Center.
Photographer: Mace, Charles E.
Denver, Colorado. 3/22/45
Transcription of 1976 documentary film made on Yasuo Hamano ©(Narration)
This is the account of Mr. Yasuo Hamano making senbei for over 50 years.
Yasuo Hamano was born the first son on October 30, 1892 in the Katada village of Mie Prefecture. After graduating high school, he took a clerical post at the Katada village government office. Yasuo later moved on to the Osaka Naniwa Kurisu Corp. where in October of 1919, he was dispatched to inspect the status of commerce in the U.S.
The year prior, costs of living in Japan sharply increased causing life for agricultural laborers to become extremely tough. Such workers were especially impacted as rice merchants also raised prices dramatically. Rice riots erupted as agricultural laborers were squeezed by both low wages and high rice prices. Violence quickly spread throughout the country.
In December of 1919, amidst Japan ’s social unrest, Yasuo boarded the Siberia liner and arrived in San Francisco where he worked for 4 years. Later, he came to Los Angeles where his legacy with the Umeya Co. was born.
Yasuo’s passport, issued by the Imperial Government of Japan, measures 26 x 40 centimeters. It is bears marks by the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Uchida Kosai, appealing to the U.S. Immigration Authority to allow Yasuo’s unfettered passage as a commercial inspector without a guarantor.
When I started the business, there were exclusions in American society to prevent Japanese from assimilating. It was quite difficult to be accepted by white society. So, we began with mostly Japanese peers, hiring 7 or 8 workers at about 2000 yen per month. However, with only resources on hand, business seemed hardly feasible.
That’s why we left San Francisco where Japanese were scattered. Yet with no knowledge of the area, we first came to towns where we could find other Japanese. We walked from store to store and drove throughout the area. At the time, there was little capital for business and it was even tough to pay for ingredients and repairs. This was our hardship everyday for 20 years.
Amidst such uncertainty, WWII broke out and we were temporarily interned in the camps. Thankfully, we were allowed to leave as laborers in Denver where, upon request of many Japanese, we restarted the senbei business. This is how we were able to supply senbei to the 13 camps and receive the favor of many Japanese.
At the time, import of all the non-essential items for the enjoyment of Japanese people were suspended, sakura arare being one of them. This is why some felt there was a future in rice crackers. So, we decided to research making rice crackers in Denver. However, we had no experience making such a product and our first attempts were quite crude. Facing such challenges was difficult, but this was how we gradually built up our experience.
After the war ended, we eventually made it back to where it all began, in Los Angeles. Having brought back part of our arare machine, we spent the next 5 to 10 years without making profit on arare. Nevertheless, we came to believe that matching rice with soy sauce and adding different flavors was the right direction. We were confident that if we could produce it, the world in the future, including Caucasians, would demand arare. Today we can see the fruits of such struggles and research, as even among the white communities, we have been greatly successful. It is as if a flower has finally bloomed out of our long trials.
My son was born the same year we started Umeya. Running the senbei shop for this long has had its good and bad times. Although initially it might have appeared otherwise, it was never easy. The pressure was directly felt at our household level. I could not even send money to my parents in Japan. Such suffering was like the cold wet sweat on our backs. As I think about it now, it was very sad.
Continuing his father’s business, Takeshi Hamano speaks about Yasuo Hamano:
He is an extremely patient man in business. He continually tells me that no matter how good you are at making something, more important to business is to understand the heart of your customer. Having come from Japan , my father lacked both the capital and market for business. I feel he must have struggled a lot.
With regards to running the business, it took everyone’s hard work. And, although things might not have always worked out, I feel the most important aspect is that we focused our effort for the community. My father’s generation, my generation, and my kid’s generation are vastly different. It must have been such a struggle to not have a market in white society during my father’s generation. With our generation, there was the war and its aftermath, as well as still trying to be accepted by white society. It took some time but, I believe it was much easier than my father’s generation.
This is how Takeshi Hamano speaks about his father.
Although our shop is small, having done business for a long time, I think doing business is not the same as it was long ago. Merchants cannot be successful just pursuing profit. Workers must be treated just as well as investors. Moreover you must provide goods to the community, your customer, that they will enjoy. You should never put your benefit before making decisions on quality and price. If I think about it now, business cannot prosper unless it is focused on the community and based on their actual standard of living.
Yasuo Hamano’s feelings have and will carry on in this senbei factory. Employed for over 20 years, Takao Toda and Mitsuro Hashimoto speak about Yasuo Hamano, "He is someone who understands the feelings of his workers."
This concludes the account of one issei, Yasuo Hamano.
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