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First student of color bridges two cultures


 

Ihei Yamauchi is pictured at the front right in this 1908 photo of the WSU Civil Engineering Society.
 
 
Excerpted from an article by Hayao Nakahara in the 2010 issue of Insight magazine, Office of Student Affairs and Enrollment
 
 

WSU’s first student of color was born in Japan. Although he returned there after his American education, he and his descendants maintained strong ties to the United States.
 
Ihei Yamauchi was born in 1880 in the county of Haga of Tokushima Prefecture, one of the four prefectures of Shikoku Island, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands.
 
He attended Sapporo Agricultural College (renamed Hokkaido University in 1918) on the north island and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. He attended Washington State College (now Washington State University) in Pullman in 1906 and obtained his master of science in civil engineering degree in 1908. His master’s thesis, “The Design of the Reinforced Concrete Arch,” is still stored at WSU.
 
Worked for power companies
A dam in Japan designed and constructed by Ihei
Yamauchi.
After returning to Japan, Yamauchi worked at various power utility companies. He designed many hydraulic dams and supervised their construction.
 
Yamauchi was invited to join the foundation of Korea’s Mt. Kongo Electric Railroad Company to do a feasibility study. He became the auditor and later was named chief technical officer and senior executive director of the company. He also became the president of the North Korean Electric Power Company.
 
After returning to Japan again, he became a director of Sanriku Power Utility Company, which is now Tohoku Electric Power Company, one of the largest power companies in Japan. He was also a director of the Shimada Manufacturing Company.
 
Western preferences
He built his home around 1915. It looked like a Japanese house from the outside, but the interior was very American.
 
Unlike typical Japanese houses at the time, it had a centralized heating system using steam and a fireplace with a beautiful mantel. A few bathrooms in the house were completely western in style.
 
Yamauchi wished to educate his children in the American way. He moved to a block in Tokyo across the street from Japan Women’s College in order to enroll his first daughter at the college later on. She did enroll there and studied English literature, but married before graduating and went to Berlin to study piano at the State Music Institute.
 
His countries at war
His two sons attended Japan’s Waseda University, where one studied architecture and the other mining engineering.
 
When the Second World War started, Yamauchi’s oldest son joined the Japanese Air Force. Yamauchi was very sad that Japan went to war against his beloved America, and his sorrow intensified when his first son was killed by American guns in the Philippines.
 
Yamauchi’s mind and health deteriorated after the death of his son, and he passed away on Nov. 22, 1943.
 
American descendants
One of his granddaughters has lived with her husband on Long Island, N.Y., for 40 years. She received violin education at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Their two sons live in New York City.
 
Another granddaughter was educated at Indiana University (also as a violinist) and lives in Fort Myers, Fla., with her son. So three of his 10 great-grandsons were born and live in the United States.
 
Yamauchi has not lost touch with his America.

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