A group of three Japanese historians paid a special visit to Tacoma this week. Arriving in town on May 15, their first stop was at the North End home of Ron Magden, a local historian and author.
The three Japanese visitors – Kosuke Harayama, Hiroyasu Takano and Shunji Nagatsuka – all work at the National Museum of Japanese History in Chiba, a suburb of Tokyo. The purpose of their visit to Magden was to return an important photograph that had been loaned to the museum for an exhibition. It depicts a group of Japanese lumber handlers loading cargo onto a ship on the Tacoma waterfront in 1915.
The photo is the property of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 23. President Scott Mason was on hand for the occasion. Mason said the union recently hired an archivist from the University of Washington to assist Local 23 and other unions in efforts to preserve historic photographs, paintings and other artifacts.
Among the union’s collection are paintings done in the 1940s and 1950s by Fred Zinn, who was a member of the union as well as a commercial painter. Doug Johnson, a trustee with the union, said Zinn used to paint murals on the walls inside local taverns to pay his bar tabs. Cargo ships of the era were his favorite subject.
“He was very good at detail,” Johnson remarked.
Johnson said a union member found one of Zinn’s paintings in a garage sale. Some were loaned to United Airlines recently for an exhibit at Seattle/Tacoma International Airport.
Evidence of the better treatment of such artifacts was seen at Magden’s home. A delivery truck pulled up with the photograph, which was carefully wrapped in packaging material to protect it on the long journey from Japan. It was brought inside, where it was unwrapped by the visitors.
The three men have several stops to make on their itinerary this week. One is Bainbridge Island to examine a collection of newspaper articles and photographs related to Japanese immigrants there. They will also go to Seattle to spend time in the archives at the University of Washington.
Harayama said he and his colleagues are working on research projects about Japanese immigrants who came to the West Coast.