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Borders & Heritage

Records from History: Music Collection of Early Japanese Immigrants in the Northwest

A collection of old Japanese 78 RPM records, donated by local community members in the Seattle area, offers a window into the musical interests of early Japanese-American immigrants.

August 11, 2017

It’s hard to fathom the music that has been lost in the ether of history, but Seattle-based musician Paul Kikuchi oversees a unique project at the crux of this idea. Kikuchi is tasked with cataloging a rare collection of Japanese 78 RPM records at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington (JCCCW). The collection is comprised of records originally published in Japan between 1900 and the 1950s. Over time, the records have been donated to JCCCW by the Japanese-immigrant community and their descendants in the Seattle area.

Paul Kikuchi is tasked with cataloging a rare collection of Japanese 78 RPM records at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington (JCCCW).

“A lot of these records were also artifacts that had to be given up during the internment, because 78 RPM records made of shellac are very heavy,” Kikuchi says. Shellac, a resin secreted by insects found in forests in the Far East, is harvested from trees where the insects leave it. The substance has been used throughout history in various products around the world, including the early 78 RPM records, which were later replaced by vinyl LP records.

“Some of the earliest records we have in our collection are from about 1910,” Kikuchi says. These were among the earliest recordings made in Japan.

“The earliest wave of Japanese immigrants were likely bringing these records first with them,” Kikuchi says. “Early immigrants were also likely having records sent to them by family members from Japan.”

Kikuchi also serves as a board member at JCCCW — volunteering to digitize the music, making it available as a database for researchers interested in learning about the musical interests of early Japanese immigrants in America.

“We feel that the records themselves are a really interesting window into the [lives] of the Japanese-American population in 20th century in the Seattle area,” says Kikuchi.



Laila Kazmi

@Lailakaz — Laila Kazmi is a Northwest Emmy award-winning senior producer and writer at KCTS 9. Her first love is discovering and telling stories of diverse people, places and history. She has lived in Karachi, Bahrain, Chicago, and Seattle. At KCTS 9, Laila produces the series Borders & Heritage, featuring stories of immigrant and refugee experiences in the Pacific Northwest and has produced Reel NW, featuring independent films from and about the Pacific Northwest. Her video-stories have appeared on KCTS 9PBS NewsHour Art Beat, World Channel at WGBH, and KPBS in San Diego. Her articles have been published in PBS NewsHour Art BeatThe Seattle Times, Seattle PI, COLORLINES and Pakistan’s daily Dawn. Laila has a Master of Communication from the University of Washington.

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