Japanese American writer shares insights into San Luis Obispo’s prewar Japanese immigrant community
Writer Shizue Seigel’s grandfather, “Frank” Sakuichi Tsutsumi and three friends arrived in California from Kumamoto-ken, Japan, in 1905. They worked in the sugar beet fields of Betteravia in Santa Barbara County, before renting land along San Luis Creek south of San Luis Obispo.
Blending Japanese and American technology to irrigate their fields, they grew lettuce, cabbage, peas, and other produce just as the area’s population swelled, due to the petroleum industry.
By 1911, they prospered enough to send for brides. Sometime in the 1910s, Sakuichi leased 140 acres at the site of the failed refinery of Oilport—the location of modern day Sunset Palisades housing development.
In 1928, he bought several storefronts in Japantown at Higuera and South Streets. 1931 he invested $50,000 in a hotel and more storefronts. He died in 1934 but his widow, Umematsu struggled to manage the farm and Japantown properties during the Great Depression.
On December 7, 1941, their carefully built house of cards devised to circumvent discriminatory Alien Land Laws began to collapse.
Shizue Seigel is a Japanese American writer, artist, and community artivist based in San Francisco.
Seigel is founder/director of Write Now! SF Bay, which supports San Francisco Bay Area writers and artists of color though creative writing workshops, events and anthologies that reflect the depth and diversity of the 60 percent of Bay Area residents who are people of color.
Her seven books include Essential Truths: The Bay Area in Color, Civil Liberties United, and In Good Conscience: Supporting Japanese Americans during the Internment.