Thursday, 27 July 2017 22:59

Historic newspaper serves as record of Japanese history in Utah

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by Jade Sarver

Many people drive by, but most don’t realize the piece of history on the border between Fairpark and Poplar Grove, right in our backyard. Small and discrete, hidden by shrubs and a bonsai tree stands the former home of a daily Japanese-language newspaper that was published for 77 years, from 1914 to 1991.

The Utah Nippo was founded by Uneo Terasawa, who had migrated to the United States in 1905 and who had been farming in the Salt Lake City area since 1909. Uneo died suddenly in 1939 and his wife, Kuniko, carried on as reporter, editor, typesetter, and publisher until her death at age 95 in 1991.

The paper was a primary source of information for members of the “Issei,” the first generation of Japanese immigrants in the Mountain West. The first issue of the Utah Nippo appeared in Salt Lake City in 1914 and began building a circulation of over 800 within a year. In 1921, Terasawa married Kuniko. The couple had two daughters who helped their mother with operations – Kazuko, who lives in Fairpark, and Haruko, who lives in Salt Lake City. They granted The West View this rare interview.

When I entered the building, time seemed to stand still. The office area is dark, cramped, and cluttered with stacks of old newspapers. Cobwebs line the ceiling, and we are greeted by ghostly rows of tall, handcrafted, slanted cases holding thousands of tiny, metal Japanese type sets. On one end, dusty aprons hang on a nail—as they have for years. A calendar faces open, eerily stuck on November 1996.  

One can immediately imagine the newspaper’s former owner, Kuniko, bent over a rickety, low-tech printing press. Magnifying glass to her eye, tweezers in her fingers, she would’ve hand-set type the old-fashioned way — in antique characters that today even most Japanese cannot read.

The back of the building is parked full of huge metal machines, backed up to each other, side to side, like a printing press graveyard. The air is humid, and the windows are covered to preserve the contents of the building from nature’s elements.

The four-page paper started as a daily, became a weekly, and, in its final days, was a “sometimes monthly,” explained Kuniko in a 1989 Deseret News story. “The paper is published when the stories are finished being typeset.” According to the story, when asked, “Why is it still called Nippo,” which means daily, Kuniko pulled herself to her full 4-foot-7 height. “Because,” she said, “I work on it every day.”

Notably, the Nippo was one of just four Japanese American newspapers in the continental United States that published during World War II, since it was located outside the West Coast restricted area. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the federal government forbade the publishing of Japanese language newspapers, but the Utah Nippo soon resumed circulation with government approval because the United States wanted Japanese-Americans to receive accurate information on official policies regarding relocation, curfews, and other wartime news. The paper provided news to the Japanese communities in Utah, Idaho, western Wyoming, and Eastern Nevada and was a highly valued newspaper for the Japanese-American people of the region.

The Nippo saw its prewar circulation of less than 1,000 rise to 10,000 during the war, necessitating new equipment as the staff more than doubled. When the war ended and the internment camps closed, the circulation fell to around 4,000 in 1946 and gradually declined as the wartime swelling of the Salt Lake Japanese-American population declined, along with the Issei. But even when circulation dwindled to about 700 readers in 1989, a subscription only cost $7 a year—the same as it did when the Utah Nippo was started in 1914. Kuniko was not in the communications business for profit.

“Money is not important,” she said. “People are.”

Kuniko’s daughter Kazuko contributed a one-page English digest, but all other copy in the Nippo appeared in pre-World War II characters, disused elsewhere since Japanese ideograms were modernized starting in the late 1940s. Kuniko was the only person at the paper who could still compose with the nearly 3,600 old-style characters, which few but the older Japanese could read.

“No one is picking type anymore. It’s all gone digital but there are a few people who are still able to read it – mostly scholars and Japanese historians. It’s like going back and learning old English and trying to make sense of it.”

In July 1966, it faced another crisis when Salt Lake City's Japantown—including the Nippo's offices—was to be torn down to build the Salt Palace. Though the family contemplated ending the paper, they ultimately decided to relocate and continue. Over the last 50 years, the only regret of Haruko’s is that the Salt Palace basically wiped out Japantown. 

“The only things that are left are the two churches, the Japanese Church of Christ and the Buddhist Temple. Of all the businesses that moved, the only one still running to my knowledge is the Sage Farm. The camaraderie and the group cohesiveness of the Japanese community disappeared. Back then, you could meet up with other Japanese people on 100 South, and that just disappeared. There was even some resistance to the Japanese moving to the neighborhood.”

When Kuniko Terasawa died in Salt Lake City on August 2, 1991, the career of a distinguished newspaperwoman and one of the most active senior citizens in Utah came to a close. Her death also marked the end of the Issei era in Utah. Terasawa was well known in both Japan and the United States. She was active in establishing a sister city relationship between Matsumoto, Japan, and Salt Lake City that continues to this day.

In 1993, daughters Kazuko Terasawa and Haruko Moriyasu donated the full run of the Utah Nippo to the University of Utah Marriott Library to digitize all 46,550 pages for use on a global level placing the paper online for the world. Additionally, the library’s Preservation Department will be taking measures to preserve and re-house the original newspapers. A complete set of the wartime editions of the paper has been published in seven volumes in Matsumoto, Japan. 

So what’s in the future for the Utah Nippo? Kazuko recently turned 90, and Haruko—a retired U. professor—is busily working to catalog and keep track of the decades of artifacts. Haruko admits they are trying to figure out what to do with everything. 

“Unfortunately, no one wants the equipment. The printing press goes back to the late 1800s,” she said. She explained that even though the large printing presses are old, the folding equipment and other printing presses are still useful.

Eventually, the Utah Nippo will shutter its doors, but it currently stands as a monument to their mother and as a time capsule over the last 25 years since Kuniko’s death. Even though the physical remains may be lost to history, the digital records will live on for generations of scholars, historians and anthropologists to enjoy.