LETTERS: Kudos for San Jose Japantown issue


To the Editor:

I was pleasantly surprised to read the special edition of the Nichi Bei Weekly on San Jose’s Japantown (Sept. 19, 2013), especially the article “Japantown’s Historical Sites,” since my grandfather and his brother were responsible for constructing many of the historical buildings in Japantown. I thought it might be interesting for your readership to know the extent of these brothers’ importance in the history of the development of the Japanese community in California.

My grandfather Shinzaburo Nishiura and his brother, Gentaro, formed a construction company soon after coming to this country and settling in Santa Clara County. During their careers, they built many private homes and public buildings in and around San Jose, Santa Clara County and more widely, in California. These buildings, some of which were mentioned in the historical article, include: many greenhouses for Japanese flower growers in the county; the first San Jose Betsuin (ca. 1908); Kuwabara Hospital (now the Issei Memorial Building); the Japanese Pavilion for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco (later altered by the Nishiuras as part of the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park); the cottages at the Gilroy Hot Springs; the Japanese Pavilion for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island; the main gate to Hakone Gardens in Saratoga; Okita Hall; and their finest achievement in the pre-war era, the present San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin, designed by George Shimamoto in the middle of Nihonmachi.

It should be mentioned here that the Nishiura brothers, in addition to being carpenters, were also fine cabinet-makers who had built many beautiful Butsudan (household shrines) for families and Buddhist churches, while being incarcerated at the Heart Mountain concentration camp. One of these Butsudan is now in the permanent collection of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

Let me also mention that my brother Takao Nishiura had, for a brief time, worked for Shinzaburo and Gentaro in construction and went on to become an architect who has also designed many fine buildings in the Santa Clara County area. One of Shinzaburo’s sons, Shinichi Nishiura (my uncle) was also responsible for the construction of many fine buildings in the area, as was Gentaro’s son, Kiyoshi Nishiura, who were both part of Nishiura Construction Company for a period of time.

In conclusion, I’d like to mention that the San Jose Betsuin was completed in 1937, just a few short years before the outbreak of WWII, which tragically forced the Nikkei in America to abandon the entire West Coast of the U.S., and all the lives that they had established and built for themselves, to face an uncertain future in strange, unknown surroundings. It was during this time, shortly before being forced to move from San Jose, that Shinzaburo and Gentaro were informed of a small fire that had broken out within their beloved church. Fortunately, the fire was quickly put out, but if spread, it could have completely destroyed their magnificent achievement, which still stands as a symbol of what immigrants can contribute to this country.

Eizo Nishiura
Los Lunas, N.M.

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