Skip to main content

Yamamoto family papers

Identifier: 1999.008

Scope and Contents

The Yamamoto family papers contain records and photographs related to the lives of Cho and Jinzo "Joe" Yamamoto and their two daughters, Yuki and Fumi. Included in the collection are passports and travel documents related to Cho and Jinzo’s passage from Japan to the United States (1917, 1920), naturalization documents (1956) and Cho’s watercolor drawings (ca. 1963). Also included are Yuki Yamamoto’s poems (1938-1939), telegrams sent to her during World War II (1942-1945), personal journals and sketches (1971-1986), correspondence sent to her sister, Fumi (1945-1980s) and a collection of drawings. Additionally, the collection contains Fumi Yamamoto’s passports, report cards and diplomas (1928-1951), journals (1944-1998), fiction and non-fiction writings (1939-1960s), postcards from friends and family (1940s-1970s) and miscellaneous material, including sorobans (abacuses), and a biographical, academic paper (1997) that was written by a Northwestern University student after she conducted an interview with Fumi.

The Photographs series contains images from both Japan and the U.S. reflecting Cho and Jinzo's early married life, their daughters' childhoods in Whitefish, MT and Spokane, WA, Yuki's adult life in Japan, Fumi's adult life in New York and Chicago, and Cho and Fumi's trips to Japan to visit Yuki. Of note are photographs of Jinzo "Joe" Yamamoto in a United States military uniform, Jinzo and Cho in their Japanese market in Spokane, WA, and the Yamamoto family on a ship as they bid farewell to Yuki on her departure for Japan.


  • circa 1917-1997

Biographical / Historical

Jinzo “Joe” Yamamoto (October 17, 1882-1950) left his native Japan in 1905 and traveled to the United States. He settled in Seattle, Washington where he held a variety of jobs including that of a “houseboy” and a position in a salmon cannery. Jinzo eventually joined the U.S. Navy and served as a steward on the USS Lexington.

When Jinzo was ready to marry, he decided to return to Japan to find a wife. While there, he met Cho Tanabe who agreed to marry him and move to Whitefish, Montana to build a life together. The town of Whitefish - established after construction was completed on the Great Northern Railway - housed railroad and logging industry workers that had settled in the area. Jinzo worked for a local railroad company until he was laid off due to the Great Depression. Consequently, he moved his family to Spokane, Washington where he opened a Japanese market which experienced limited success until he was unable to import Japanese goods due to the impending war. Jinzo shuttered his Japanese market and then tried his hand at the restaurant business when he established “The Coffee Cup.”

Shortly after Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed United States Executive Order 9066. This order led to the forced evacuations of Japanese Americans and ethnic Japanese people from designated “military zones” located mostly along the West Coast. Fortunately for the Yamamoto family, they were located just outside the military zone and were not interned in a government relocation center. Although the Yamamoto family was spared internment, World War II greatly affected their sense of well-being and their ability to make a steady living. Cho and Jinzo moved in with some friends in Montana before moving to Chicago - a resettlement hub for Japanese Americans. Jinzo passed away in Chicago after an illness in 1950.

Cho Tanabe Yamamoto (February 25, 1895-June 20, 1974) was born in Shiga-ken, Japan. As an orphan, she was deeply concerned about her future so she accepted Jinzo’s proposal of marriage in 1917 and moved to Whitefish, Montana in 1920. While residing in Whitefish, Cho gave birth to Yuki in 1922 and Fumi in 1923. The children attended the local public school and learned to speak English. Cho, a homemaker, assisted her husband, Jinzo, in his business enterprises. She was also a gifted artist as evidenced by her watercolors of flowers and by the handmade, illustrated books on flower arrangement contained within the collection. After Jinzo died, she continued to live in Chicago with her daughter, Fumi, and worked in the artificial flower business. In 1956, Cho became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

Yuki Yamamoto (January 20, 1922-February 17, 1987), the eldest daughter of Cho and Jinzo, spent her formative years in Whitefish and Spokane. She moved to Tokyo, Japan when she was a young woman and was living in Japan when World War II began. The collection contains a series of desperate telegrams that her family and friends sent to her in attempt to ensure that she was safe in Japan during the war years. Yuki was a writer for a newspaper and was a talented artist and photographer as well. She corresponded extensively with her sister, Fumi, and her letters offer a detailed account of her life In Japan. Yuki never returned to the United States to live, however, it appears that she made one brief visit to Chicago when her mother passed away in 1974. Yuki suffered from cancer during the final years of her life and was cared for in a Catholic hospital. She converted to Catholicism before she passed.

Fumi Yamamoto (June 9, 1923-January 9, 1999) was a 1940 graduate of Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane, Washington. She continued her education at Kinman Business University for a two year period and received a certificate of completion for her efforts. In 1944, Fumi decided to move to New York City where she found work as a stenographer and secretary with the United Service Organization Inc. (USO) division of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). While in New York, Fumi attended writers’ workshops at the Columbia University Extension and at the New School of Liberal Arts. The collection includes her short stories, poems and a draft of her autobiography that she worked on sporadically for several years. In one of her drafts, she refers to New York as her “home and happiness for five years.”

In 1949, Fumi’s father became gravely ill and she was summoned home. Jinzo passed away in 1950 and Fumi decided to settle in Chicago with her mother. She was accepted into the University of Chicago where she earned a Bachelor of Art degree in 1951. After graduating, Fumi found work with a publishing firm but then was afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis and had to take an extended leave of absence. Her company held her position for her and she ended up being an editor there for 25 years.

Photographs and documents indicate that Cho brought her young daughters to Japan for a visit in 1929. Cho and Fumi did not visit Japan again until 1966 when they visited Yuki for the first time. The women had not seen each other since Yuki embarked on her journey to Japan around 1939. This successful reunion resulted in a Cho and Fumi’s follow-up visit to Japan in 1969. Documents indicated that Fumi visited Yuki a final time in 1978.

Despite suffering from the effects rheumatoid arthritis and the debilitating joint surgeries that accompanied the disease for the duration of her life, Fumi was a prolific writer. She regularly corresponded with family and friends, kept detailed journals, wrote short stories, poems and her memoirs. Later in life, she became involved in a Chicago drama group named the White Crane Players. As a member of this senior citizen performance group, Fumi had the opportunity to take part in a “musical narrative” that covered topics that were of interest to seniors. Fumi passed away on January 9, 1999.

Source: Yamamoto Family


14 boxes

Language of Materials




Stacks 2, Shelves 7C and 7D


Some items in this collection are available as digital images, indicated by an asterisk (*) at the beginning of the file/folder name in the collection inventory.

Yamamoto family papers
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • 2022 Aug 08: The Photographs series in this collection was previously described in a separate finding aid under the collection identifier 1999.008P Yamamoto family photograph collection. 1999.008 and 1999.008P have now been merged into a single collection. Box and folder numbers are unaffected by the change.

Repository Details

Part of the JASC Legacy Center Repository

4427 N Clark St.
Chicago IL 60640 United States
1 (773) 275-0097