The Matsuura Family and the Japanese Children's Home
Updated: Jan 19
How the Japanese Children's Home Started
The Matsuura Family's story begins during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1919, similar to the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 that has left families in pain, financial distress, and confusion. This is how Mr. Umekichi Tanaka felt in 1919, after losing his wife and newborn son to the Spanish Flu, and being left with six young children. Then, he, along with two of his daughters, arrived at the Matsuura household, where he begged for help. The Matsuura family desperately wanted to help Umekichi, so they welcomed the girls in and quickly renovated their home to accommodate everyone. This was the beginning of the Japanese Children's Home, located in Guadalupe.
Quickly, their household grew to 50 kids, for it was not easy for Japanese families to care for their children. A lot of parents had just immigrated to the United States, and for many, both parents had to work in order to make ends meet. In addition, many families wanted their children to learn the Japanese culture and send their children to a traditional Japanese-style school. Some families sent their children back to Japan, but others either weren't financially able, or were worried about their children having to sail in the rough seas for twenty days. Others were left in confusion when it was time to enroll their children in school, for they were still learning English themselves. Again, the Matsuura family stepped in to help.
Unthought of Hardships
In spring of 1919, the family had already taken in 18 kids; during the day, the children would attend Guadalupe Grammer School, and after school, they did their homework, studied the Japanese language, and learned about the Japanese culture. But having 18 kids in the same home led to legal issues, for a state inspector ordered the home to close, after finding many building code violations. In the meantime, the family had to leave the 18 kids to their relatives, until a solution could be found. All the while, the family campaigned for funds to add fire exists and build a second story in order to accommodate all of the children. Before the end of the year, 36 children (double the amount they had) were back in the Matsuura home again.
Guadalupe Grammer School
Another hardship the family faced was caring for the sick children. One Christmas, the entire household was placed in a 30-day quarantine after a kid came down with Scarlett Fever. During those four weeks, the Matsuura family had their hands full caring for 50 children at that time, 24 hours a day, with only a cook to help them out.
A Sense of Community
Paul Kurokawa, a Japanese who had attended the Japanese Children's Home, said he will never forget the warm atmosphere and sense of community he felt while attending the Japanese Children's Home. He recalls, "Every day was filled with programmed athletics, religious studies, listening to stories and just plain goofing around with my brothers and sisters at the home" (Contreras). In addition, the children were actively engaged in the Japanese culture while at the home; in 1926, Lord Sonyu Ohtani from the Buddhist headquarters in Japan, who was touring the temples in the United States, stopped by at the Guadalupe Buddhist Church, and was welcomed by essays the children of the Japanese Children's Home had written to him in Japanese.
As can be seen, it was no easy task for the Matsuura family to care for all of these children, but they did so with care and compassion. They really wanted to preserve the Japanese heritage and had a heart for all of the families who had to work to make a living. Life was not easy for the Japanese in America, and the Great Depression only made matters worse. As a result, the Japanese Children's Home was forced to close, and the children returned to live with their parents.
Contreras, Shirley “How the Matsuura Family Stepped in to Help.” Santa Maria Times, 4 May 2014, santamariatimes.com/lifestyles/columnist/shirley_contreras/how-the-matsuura-family-stepped-in-to-help/article_eb8aab3c-d352-11e3-9d5a-001a4bcf887a.html.
Guadalupe Grammar School, c.1920s, photograph, Dawn Kamiya Collection, Dawn Kamiya, Re/Collecting Project, http://reco.calpoly.edu/items/show/2323.