How well do you know your family history?

Last summer, my brother ventured down to the Smithsonian in Washington, DC to look at documents relating to my grandfather. The Harumichi Yatsuhashi Papers are there, with a fascinating look at my family’s history in the U.S.  Here’s the web version of what he found:

Yatsuhashi Harumichi Family Papers 1907-1976
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Yatsuhashi Harumichi Family
Yatsuhashi Harumichi Family Papers 1907-1976
Phy. Description: 
8.25 linear feet
Digital Reference: 
Image Finding Aid
Bio / His Notes: 
Asian art dealer and merchant Yatsuhashi Harumichi (1886- 1982) was born in Tano, Japan, on December 15, 1886. Upon completion of his studies in Osaka, Mr. Yatsuhashi secured employment in the Osaka office of the prestigious Asian antiquities firm, Yamanaka & Company. In 1907 he joined Yamanka & Company’s branch office in Boston, Massachusetts, as its general manager and treasurer of the company’s Asian division. Located at 424 Boylston Street, the store was a center for Chinese art, as well as for Japanese assorted goods. In 1913 Yatsuhashi married Shigeki. They produced two sons (Michio and Masao) and two daughters (Sumiko and Kukiye). (Harumichi Yatsuhashi, Oriental art authority and Brookline resident. (1982 December 3). The Boston Globe, obituaries.) Following the United States’ entrance into World War II, the Alien Property Custodian seized the Yamanaka shops in New York, Boston, and Chicago. The holdings were sold at auction in May and June, 1944. In 1945, Yatsuhashi Harumichi and his son Michio opened their own Asian art dealership at 420 Boylston Street in Boston. Yatsuhashi Harumichi fostered exchange between his native and adopted homeland. He was a member and officer (president in 1931) of the Japan Society of Boston since 1921, an avid supporter of the Boston Marathon, and a founder of the Boston-Kyoto Sister City Foundation. (Boston Globe, 1982 December 4. ) Michio Yatsuhashi, who helped his father open the Yatsuhashi antique shop, died prematurely as a result of cancer in 1981. One year later, Mr. Yatsuhashi died in Boston at the age of 96. He was survived by his daughters, Sumiko and Kikuye and one son, Masao.
Scope and Content: 
The Yatsuhashi Harumichi Family Papers (1906-1976) document the professional and personal lives of a Japanese-American family in Boston during the twentieth century. The patriarch, Yatsuhashi Harumichi (1886-1982), was an influential Asian art dealer and the papers also document the professional experiences of Asian art dealers in the United States during the early and mid 20th century. Mr. Yatsuhashi worked at the antiquities firm of Yamanaka & Company before starting his own Asian antiquities shop in 1945. Included in the papers, portions in Japanese, are correspondence; catalogues relating to the Alien Property Custodian’s 1944 liquidation of Yamanaka & Company’s New York branch’s holdings; photographs depicting art objects and shop interiors, the Yatsuhashi family; Yamanaka & Company, and extended family, friends, and colleagues; and items belonging to Mr. Yatsuhashi’s wife, Shigeki, and some of their children.
Language Note: 
In English and Japanese
This collection is organized into three series. Series 1: Yatsuhashi Harumichi papers, 1912-1965, n.d., series 2: Other family members, 1937, 1966, n.d., series 3: Photographs, 1907-1976, n.d.
Gift of James Arthur Marinaccio, 1994
Finding aids: 
Electronic finding aid available.
Cite as: 
The Yatsuhashi Harumichi Family Papers. Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Gift of James Arthur Marinaccio, 1994.
Access is by appointment only, Monday through Thursday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Please contact the Archives to make an appointment:

Anecdotally, my father regaled us of stories of his family before the war. Sadly, these were too few. The ones we all remember had to do with my grandfather’s work with the Japan Society (he was the Society’s president in 1931). Because of his position, he opened his house to Japanese visitors. The most controversial story had future Japanese Admiral Yamamoto, then a student at Harvard, babysitting my father and his siblings.

Below is one of the few remaining pictures we have. My grandfather is on the right. The man on the left is Admiral Osami Nagano, chief of the Imperial Japanese Naval General Staff in 1941, then fleet Admiral. My father recalled the last conversation my grandfather had with Yamamoto. I don’t remember if it was by phone, telex, or in person. Essentially it was, ‘you will not hear from me again.’


My aunt, the last surviving member of my father’s immediate family, knows the Yatsuhashi family’s history in Japan. She still tells stories–one puts my family in the Imperial court in Kyoto. Yatsuhashi, she says, comes from the city bridges. Yatsuhashi was the eighth from the palace. Names originating from the seventh down to the first exist, the lower the number, the closer the family was to the Emperor. Below is a picture of the Yatsuhashi Bridge. A path crosses the South Pond via this Yatsuhashi Bridge (zigzag bridge) covered by a wisteria arbor. (hat tip:


My favorite story and unprovable–that may grandmother, Shigeki Kawano, had an ancestor who fought Kublai Khan’s invading forces when the typhoon, the Kami Kaze destroyed them in 1281. Is any of this true? I don’t know. Still, it’s fun to think so. Here’s a passage I found on Google from a book called the Mongol Invasion of Japan:


My wife isn’t impressed, and my aunt’s claim that my family was once close to the Emperor, was once  Japanese nobility, doesn’t keep me from taking out the garbage. My wife notes that my aunt never came out and said our family was at the Court. She hinted, but then–well–she Japanese. Maybe if I could prove it… A few quick searches revealed a few instances of the name Yatsuhashi in Imperial Japan–one a blind musician, one a courtesan (say it’s not so!)

The point? Take time to get to know your parents and grandparents before it’s too late. What you learn may surprise you.


One response to “How well do you know your family history?

  1. Beautiful photo of the bridge! Your overall point is well-taken. A year ago I lost both grandmothers within 6 months of each other. I still have a grandfather who remains alive and kickin’ to this day. I feel like there’s never enough time to hear all that he would tell me.

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