Nishimura, Sannomiya, Kobe, Japan

Nishimura Sannomiya, Kobe, Japan, photograph copyrighted Estate and family of Howard W. West seniorOn the first pages of the old photograph ablum of my grandfather, Howard W. West, and his time in the Marines and military, much of which was spent on the USS Arizona during the 1920s, I found a lovely signed photograph or postcard of an oriental woman. The signature reads: Nishimura Sannomiya, Kobe, Japan.

The first hunt for Nishimura on the web came up with a Shoji Nishimura (1889-1944), a Vice Admiral with the Japanese Navy. He died in the Battle of Leyte Gulf website guiding the Fuso and Yamashiro Battleships among other destroyers and cruisers.

Both Nishimura and Sannomiya are surnames and the names of towns, streets, buildings, and companies around Japan.

If you have any information on this Nishimura woman, it might help fill in some blanks about the life of my grandfather. Please leave a comment below to help us uncover our ancestors’ past.

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12 Responses to Nishimura, Sannomiya, Kobe, Japan

  1. Megumi says:

    Sannomiya is a large shopping district in Kobe, Japan.
    Its been there since the city was founded.
    Kobe is historically a gaijin’s (outsiders’) city.
    I hope that helps!

  2. It helps if I assume that the name was used to represent where the girl worked and/or lived. She might have also used it as a real or fake last name. Any idea on the first name or the woman? A famous Geisha of the time or something?

    What does “outsider’s city” mean? A lot of tourists or non-really-Japanese person? Like an immigrant or cast off from society? Interesting.


  3. Kana says:

    I dont have any information on the woman. But my first guess is that she was not a geisha. This is a professional photograph, and had she been geisha she would have appeared in professional geisha attire. But her dress is very western. She may have been an entertainer, singer or something similar. Her dress suggests she was attempting to appeal to the american or western lifestyle.
    Gaijin means foreigner. So it could easily be some sort of ‘port’ city. Where military and foreign goods were in constant traffic.
    Surnames generally originate from cities, representing where the family started. At least in european countries, I cant gaurantee the same for Japan.
    My suggestion would be to see if the cities,streets,buildings that share this name have some similarities, a common ground they originate from.
    I did a quick wikipedia search and didnt come up with anything on Nishimura, and the only thing on Sannomiya was it was a main train station in Kobe.
    Id do a search to see what were popular first names for girls of that era. It may have easily been a stage name if nothing else.
    Do you feel you are related to this woman? Or was it simply that you found this photograph? It just easily could be that your grandfather attended a show she did, and that was a souveiner and nothing more. Or it could be much more.
    Im just curious what lead you on this search.

  4. zichi says:

    The photo is signed in English, so I doubt it was taken by a Japanese. The woman is dressed in expensive western dress and expensive pearls, so probably not your standard Japanese family of the time. Kobe is famous for pearls. It could be that she was married to a non Japanese. Gaijin actually means “outsider” and is a term not only applied to foreigners. Nishimura is a famous coffee shop. Sannomiya is the main central area of Kobe which at that time was all low level building. It’s possible that the writing refers to this coffee shop which was and still is in Sannomiya. Great coffee, and great cakes! The woman is unlikely to be related to your grandfather.

  5. There is no relationship between this woman and my grandfather.

    I’m searching for information about her and her life and activity to try to understand why this photograph was so treasured in my grandfather’s photo album. If she was a “modern” geisha or entertainer, then that would tell me that he may have attended her programs several times or many times. If she was a friend, that that would be more information. We know nothing about my grandfather from this time period so I’m trying to fill in a few blanks, and hopefully someone who is related to her may recognize her, too. Filling in a few blanks in their family research.

    At the time this photo was taken, Americans were in Japan after World War I, though not as many as after World War II. Some areas of Japan catered to Americans, so it is my guess that this woman was a form of entertainer who catered to Americans. Still, the specifics would be nice to know.

    Thanks for the information.

  6. tim nishimura says:

    my last name is Nisimura and my family has been here since the early 1900s there are still many nisimuras over in japan.

  7. Alex Eyre says:

    Photographs from this period (and into the 70’s) in the West bore the name of the photographer (or photographic studio) inscribed on the front, especialyy those images used to promote the photographer’s services. This might simply be a ‘glamour’ card (although the subject doesn’t look like she’s feeling very glamorous) used as advertising. I think that you are looking at an image taken by a (Mr.)Nishimura in Sannomia, Kobe, Japan and that any information about the subject would be on the reverse of the image.

  8. @Alex Eyre:

    That’s another idea. However, there is no helpful information on the back of the photograph.

  9. @tim nishimura:

    Any of them photographers, models, or geshias in Japan in the 1920s? 😀

  10. lansdell christie says:

    the woman in the old photo is the great great grandmother of a very beautiful young woman who now lives in sapporo where she has escaped the prying eyes and cameras of the papparazi who are paid by powerful yakuza gangsters to find and return her to her great great grandmother’s ancient palace in kobe where they plan to imprison and worship her. the beautiful young woman spends her time playing the koto and composing songs about ancient japan. these sentimental songs are so inspiring that they have fired the imaginations of many powerful corporate executives in tokyo and nagoya [to whom she sends her music]. These men dream of finding and marrying her, but she has remained elusive in her old quiet house in a crowded neighborhood where no one knows her. she remains secluded there waiting in her courtyard for the return of kunzunru nakashima, a local cobbler’s brilliant son who taught her to play the koto before he left japan to study the ancient oud music played by berber tribesmen in the atlas mountains of northern morocco. sometimes when this troubled young musicologist dreams of her he composes tragic haunting love songs which he sends to her by Email.

  11. @lansdell christie:

    Lovely creative story with no factual support. It would be nice to put a name on the face and learn the specifics, as well as why my grandfather treasured this photograph while protecting her family today, if they are truly at risk. Thanks.

  12. Inago says:

    I came upon your site by random. I am a gaijin (literally foreign person) living in Sannomiya, Kobe. Kobe, Kyoto, Kamakura, and Tokyo would have been prominent tourist areas during the 1920s. Kobe has been historically known in Japan for its foreign (mostly European) population and has had foreigners living here for over 100 years. Sannomiya very likely refers to the central (downtown) area of Kobe, which had a large foreign settlement and would still have been the central entertainment and tourist area in the 1920s.

    Japanese surnames are all based upon locations and natural features: Nishi-mura means “north village”. Street names are rare in Japan–Japan has a different address system, and Nishimura doesn’t fit as a neighborhood in Sannomiya. Nishimura is more likely to be a surname and/or a name of a business, or as previously mentioned, the name of the photographer (a rare and specialized occupation for the time). As most women still wore kimonos in Japan (and most certainly geisha), a woman dressed in western fashion would have been a fitting image for a souvenir photo from Kobe for the time.

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