Pacific Postcards

Santa Monica's Connection to America's Pacific Coast History (S.W.)

The primary source chosen is a photograph of a Japanese fishing village that is stationed at the Long Wharf, Santa Monica coastline. Having a personal connection to this beach, I wanted to utilize a source that demonstrated Santa Monica’s history and gave insight to understanding the background behind this well-known, tourist attraction. This source was taken in 1915, but the Japanese fishing village was started by Hatsuji Sano in 1899 and burned down in 1916. The old beach road pictured in the photo eventually became Pacific Coast Highway and one can even spot a glimpse of Santa Monica’s pier in the back of the picture. The photo illustrates a different time in Santa Monica’s Pacific Beach history that has yet to be addressed and helps us understand the interactions that took place along this beach’s shoreline before it was industrialized to the tourist attraction we know today.

The primary source, taken by Ernest Marquez, introduces a new perspective of Pacific beaches since Japan, which is considered a “Pacific Rim power,” is docked at this coastline for fishing instead of a Native settlement like we have previously read about in our course readings. This photo is compelling because, in class, we have read about America’s abundance and how this incentive attracted other countries into stationing their fishing ports and settlements along America’s Pacific coastline for economic power. In class discussions, we have had conversations about the impact an oceanic region has in granting control and power in the trading network for different countries and tribes. However, instead of the primary source depicting countries like Britain and Russia docking their ports on America’s coastline as we have discussed in class, we are shown a different country being stationed. This opens up curiosity on why this Pacific Rim power, Japan, specifically chose Santa Monica’s Pacific coastline in America, and what attracted Japanese fisherman, Sato, to this region in terms of the environment and resources?

Santa Monica was first home to the indigenous tribe, the Tongva, who were a hunter-gatherer society that inhabited this coast and built villages around water sources to fish. They had an extensive trade network and were centrally located in a rich, oceanic ecological resource of shellfish, sea mammals, and fish. When the Tongva were forced to assimilate to Spanish culture, two entrepreneurs started a wharf and railroad company beside Santa Monica’s coastline and aimed to make this city an attraction. Hatsuji Sato was then leased some of their railroad land when he migrated to this coastline and started a Japanese fishing village which became home to about 300 Japanese families. 

From the Japanese migration to America, we have read a similar occurrence in Reid’s book, The Sea is My Country, where the British migrated to American soil to utilize their resources along the coast. In the third chapter, Reid claims that “British settlers began establishing sawmills, fishing operations, farms, and small settlements in the [Pacific Northwest]” (Reid, 91). The Pacific Northwest, although not within the California coastline, is along the Washington and Oregon coastline located in America. The migration of British establishment to this area from Reid’s book demonstrates the important need of immigrating to American coastlines for resources, economic profit, and overall power. England stationed Hudson Bay Company Forts along this Pacific Northwest coastline for their fur trading business. This larger country saw the opportunity for potential along America’s Pacific coast and knew the power they could gain with stationing more settlements in this region. Having economic monopoly of the fur trade through the Hudson Bay Company was important for establishing economic power, and the offer of America’s coastline of abundant resources was proven to provide for their ambitions. Indigenous people, both close and far, were drawn to Hudson Bay Company’s “opportunities for goods and trade” which was granted to the company through America’s oceanic riches (Reid, 94). Reid argues and highlights the idea that America’s prosperity in terms of environmental advantages and oceanic supply attracted people from across the Pacific to settle and trade in this region. From Reid’s argument, one can utilize this historical event to understand the history behind Santa Monica’s coastline and the primary picture.

Reid’s ideas help readers understand the primary source because it portrays the reasons for Sato’s ambitions and intentions on migrating to America’s Pacific coast. Like the British for opening Hudson Bay Company Forts, Sato had goals of creating a fishing village that would grant him economic prosperity and control. The picture itself depicts Japanese settlements against a rocky mountain with small fishing huts along the Pacific coastline. This illustration allows readers to visualize how countries immigrated and established territory along America’s coast like the British in Reid’s passage. Readers are able to distinguish tiny people surrounding these fishing huts and fishing boats along the shoreline which indicates the village getting ready to fish for the day and lets readers envision the life of an immigrating settlement on America’s Pacific coastline. In Reid’s book and the primary source, both the British and Japanese had hopes of utilizing America’s resources and goods for their benefit and profit. Having the upper hand in resources grants one the advantage in the trade network and ultimately, leads to more power for the country or tribe in control. Sato’s ambitions of establishing a wealthy fishing port to gain economic commerce and control were due to his understanding of America’s oceanic advantages which would provide him with the opportunity of plentiful resources. Before Santa Monica was turned into the tourist attraction it is today, one can acknowledge the power this Pacific coast held in giving other countries a chance of dominance in the trade network.

Another asset Santa Monica’s coastline offered was its geographical location. The geography of California’s Pacific coast gave Pacific Rim powers an extensive trade network since it was located between Europe and Asia. Being in between these powers allowed for more transoceanic connections to occur and make those located in America act as a “middleman” between these Pacific Rim powers. In Yokota’s book, Pacific America: Histories of Transoceanic Crossings, he introduces in the second chapter the idea that America’s geographical location became a source of economic and cultural interest. America’s geography granted the nation “the potential to create linkages between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans” which allowed them to “connect these two major aquatic systems” (Yokota, 29). America “joined [the] global networks of commodity exchange” and was at the center of “the developing Pacific market” (Yokota, 33). This advantage as the “middleman” gave America a lot of opportunities in the trading system and the power to control a lot of the exchanges between European and Asia countries. America was able to “exchange [its] ‘raw’ materials of their surroundings for the ‘cooked’ products” from both Europe and Asia countries (Yokota, 32). Yokota presents the argument that having this variety in resources from different countries and being at the center location for trading to happen, made America a very appealing place to settle and live economically. With the benefits presented about America being the world’s trade center, this helps us understand the primary picture and history behind America’s Pacific beaches.

From the knowledge of America being at the center of the world’s trade, this attracted Sato and made him bring his fishing village to American land. The geographical location of America would grant Sato numerous benefits as he would be located at the central point of trade between two powerful regions, Asia and Europe, and gain a variety of resources from either country. From researching the Japanese fishing village, Sato traded his resources with other Asian and European countries to obtain goods such as tea, ginseng, and oil. By stationing his village on Santa Monica’s coast, Sato was able to exchange goods more conveniently for his people since they didn’t have to worry about traveling to other countries for their goods. Countries traveled to America’s coast to trade in its abundant waters and with this advantage, Sato was able to produce a wealthy fishing village along this coast. The close proximity between these powers would grant Sato easy access to both countries for goods and exchanges and enable him to build control over the trade network. America’s location alone made making profits easier and Sato wanted to take ahold of that opportunity for the potential it could bring to his fishing village. Being stationed in an abundant region and at the location of the world’s trade center, Sato had numerous advantages up his sleeve and like these other Pacific Rim powers presented, Sato had the possibility of being as successful as other countries. He knew the migration to Santa Monica’s Pacific coast could allow his fishing port to grow economically strong, provide him with resources from both Europe and Asia, and make his fishing village as successful as Britain’s Hudson Bay Company Forts. From both Reid and Yokota’s arguments, one can now understand this history behind America’s Pacific beaches and the advantages and benefits it can provide for other countries.

Reid and Yokota’s arguments educate the readers in fully grasping the extent of America’s advantages and riches which are all provided from the Pacific coastline on American soil. Reid’s argument presents scholarship in the ways America provides bountiful resources to neighboring Pacific Rim powers which enables them opportunities for economic control in the trading network. His argument supports the primary source that Sato sought economic profit and control for his fishing village so this migration to the American coast gave him the possibility of a promising outcome for his ambitions. Yokota demonstrates how America’s geographical location presents power on its own. Having close proximity to Europe and Asia grants the villages located on America’s coastline economic control for being the “middleman” in exchanges and allows these regions to obtain resources from both powerful countries. Sato’s knowledge of these advantages led him to build a wealthy fishing village along this coast, but this village was later burned down in 1916 due to Americans claiming back their territory on this beach. The existing scholarship helps us understand the primary source because it demonstrates the ambitions behind Hatsuji Sato’s decision for stationing his fishing village along this Pacific coastline and the opportunities of success it could provide in helping his fishing village flourish on the Santa Monica coast.

From this primary source and existing scholarship, one now has a deeper understanding of Pacific beaches and is more knowledgeable on Santa Monica’s beach history. This Pacific coastline holds more value than just being a tourist attraction people know today but holds power in its abundant oceanic resource and geographical location within the Pacific. Readers now have a deeper understanding of Santa Monica’s rich coastline and oceanic history that encourages them to build upon this new perspective on the ways Americans view the Pacific beaches they enjoy going to today. 

Works Cited
Santa Monica Organization. “History of Santa Monica.” Santa Monica Conservancy, 2000. 
Marquez, Ernest. “Japanese Fishing Village, Santa Monica.” Calisphere. Huntington Library, 2015. 
Water and Power Associates. “Water and Power Associates Informing the Public about Critical Water and Energy Issues Facing Los Angeles and California.” Early Views of Santa Monica, 2019.

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