Who Were They?

Lost and forgotten photos from the past

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt (a railway kitchen) had me searching in the antique shop for interesting photographs, and while I did find some that would *probably* work, I settled on three photographic proofs of an industrial kitchen. Little did I know what an great historical touchpoint this would turn out to be.

Upon first glance, the photos looked like a standard industrial kitchen – large work areas, people in white coats & hats, large cooking apparatus. Two major clues stood out right away. First, the stamp “Unfinished Proof Ninomiya” and on the back, writing in Japanese.

Shrimp kitchen

Shrimp kitchen

While I am guessing at the kanji at this point, all the photographs have the word “shrimp” written in English. This particular wide-angle image has and additional character. It could be kitchen, production, room, something else entirely. If you read Japanese, please feel free to comment with a translation.

UPDATE: from reader Mustang.Koji, the kanji say “Dai Ni Kou Jyou”, or “#2 Factory” (or plant).

Japanese kanji

Japanese kanji

The top three characters are written on each photograph. The bottom character only appears on this wide-angle one.

Next, I took a look online for the photographer. As it turns out, Ichiro Ninomiya was a prolific photographer in Los Angeles, CA, in the Little Tokyo area. Some time in 2010, a photographer in Los Angeles took possession of 15,000 or so negatives representing the majority of this photographer’s life’s catalog of work. The materials were to be thrown in the garbage. O.o. Ichiro Ninomiya was interred in a “relocation camp” in the US during World War II.  This embarrassing bit of American history has long been swept to the side by people who would rather forget the enforced relocation of thousands of American citizens of Japanese origin. Ninomiya’s family was interred in Arizona. After the war ended, the family returned to the Little Tokyo area and Ninomiya took up his long and historic photography career. He was well known in the area, and photographed everyone from regular everyday people to the governor of Hawaii.

Fried shrimp

Fried shrimp

On the website Saving Ninomiya I discovered a few photographs of Ninomiya himself and his studio.

From Saving Ninomiya

Click on the photo or the link to take a nice long look at the website. The curator of the collection was scanning negatives, and it appears some of the collection has been housed at a local university. While it appears the site has been fallow for a little while, hopefully the Sepian interest will spur the curator to update us! There is also a Facebook page: Ichiro Ninomiya: Saving a Life’s Work. I know all of us Sepians can identify and connect with the intent of this project!

Another photo I found on the site was of the Rose Frozen Shrimp Inc. (Squeee!!) It could just be a coincidence, but I’m feeling pretty confident.

Shrimp steak

Shrimp steak

These workers in an industrial kitchen, identified as a “shrimp” kitchen, are working with deep fat friers. Also, in the panoramic photo above, you can see barrels of “Golden Dipt,” which was known as a premium batter. Golden Dipt was manufactured in Millstadt, IL from 1957 – 2010, although the brand dates back to 1938. The Millstadt location was known for making “Japanese breadcrumbs” for batter.

I have reached out to the curator of the Ninomiya collection, and also the the Little Tokyo Historical Society to find out of either group would like to take possession of these images. They probably date from the 1950s and show one tiny moment in the long and proud history of Japanese Americans in Los Angeles. I am delighted to have rescued these from the heap of photos at the antique shop, and also to have learned of such an interesting photographer & the resultant project.

UPDATE: The Little Tokyo Historical Society has responded and are deciding whether they will take ownership of the photos. Fingers crossed that they can find a home with other artifacts and objects similar to their history.

For more images of kitchens, railroads, and otherwise, click over to Sepia Saturday. You will be happy you did!

Click on what’s cooking

15 thoughts on “Shrimp kitchen

  1. anyjazz says:

    You’re right! That did lead to some interesting details. I hope you can find a home for them.

    Like

  2. Wendy says:

    Excellent photos and story. Your research became more of a project than you anticipated, I’m sure, but what a fantastic ending if one of these groups is excited to have the pictures.

    Like

  3. Mustang.Koji says:

    Just a quick note. The kanji say “Dai Ni Kou Jyou”, or “#2 Factory” (or plant). Also, if you look up Toyo Miyatake Studios in Alhambra, CA, forward the print copies to Alan Miyatake. He knows Mr. Ninomiya as does some other people still alive. The picture of the car on parade was taken on First St. and Alameda in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, CA.

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    1. Mrs Marvel says:

      Thank you for the translation and the lead!

      Like

  4. Occupational photos are fascinating especially when they document immigrant trades and history. Here in my town of Asheville there was a Japanese photographer named George Masa who took beautiful landscape photos of the Appalachians from around 1915 to 1933, and helped to establish the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. His photograph collection and history was also nearly lost.

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  5. It’s always so wonderful when an old scrap of paper opens up to reveal a history we knew nothing about. Great post.

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  6. Boobook says:

    Fantastic research. Thanks for the links too.

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  7. postcardy says:

    The fun thing about Sepia Saturday is that it motivates research about the pictures.

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  8. Sharon says:

    So you really go searching in antinque shops, especially for photos for Sepia Saturday posts? I am impressed.

    My immediate thought was Forrest Gump…because of the shrimp.

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    1. Mrs Marvel says:

      When I know I don’t have something to meet the prompt I try to go to the shops. I know we can post anything and it doesn’t have to meet it, but I like to try. Sometimes it is a looonnnngggg stretch tho. :-)

      Like

  9. zimnoch says:

    Great Photos! yummy I’m now HUNGRY!:)

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  10. Brett Payne says:

    Excellent detective work, and a fascinating back story to the photographs. It’s unfortunate that the Ninomiya rescue project seems to have faded a little.

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  11. Little Nell says:

    Now I know there is such a thing as Shrimp Kitchen! I’m constantly amazed that your antique shop yields photos to fit the theme each week.

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    1. Mrs Marvel says:

      You should see the size of the box of photos!

      Like

  12. Bob Scotney says:

    An excellent and interesting post especially to see how your detective work has succeeded.

    Like

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