The U.S. Navy veteran owned a north Minneapolis cafe and lived in the same Linden Hills bungalow for three decades, less than a mile from Lake Harriet. When he died at 87, he was buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery — an honorable send-off that came a quarter-century after Ed Yamazaki received a different sort of recognition.
On Dec. 8, 1941, Federal Reserve officials aided by Minneapolis police closed Ed's Sandwich Shop under a Treasury Department directive to freeze businesses run by Japanese nationals. It was the day after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.
"We are sorry to see the war come, but what can we do?" said Yamazaki, who was born in Japan in 1881 and had served as a Navy steward's mate from 1906 to 1908 after emigrating at the turn of the century. "My family and I have no ties in Japan."
With support from a North Side furrier and other neighboring merchants, Ed's Sandwich Shop reopened four days later — contingent on all revenue being deposited into a supervised account that permitted $200 monthly withdrawals to offset living expenses.
The episode was just one of the many curveballs in Yamazaki's unique life.
"I am guessing he might be the only person born in Japan buried at Fort Snelling," said Krista Hanson, a World War II researcher from Maplewood. "He might be the only person born in Japan buried at any national military cemetery."
Robert Roeser, a supervisor at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, said he knows of no way to determine whether Yamazaki was the first — or only — Japanese-born U.S. veteran buried at the Twin Cities graveyard of 280,000. They all had stories, but few rival Yamazaki's.
Born in Maruoka, Japan, Edward Yoshinosuke Yamazaki was 18 when he sailed from Yokohama to San Francisco aboard the America Maru, a high-speed passenger liner in the Oriental Steamship Co. fleet. He crossed the Pacific in February 1900 in hopes of receiving an American education and studying music. The ship manifest listed him as a commercial school student, according to Hanson.
Less than two weeks before Yamazaki turned 25, he survived the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 that killed more than 3,000 people and leveled four-fifths of the city. He escaped with little more than the clothes he was wearing.
His next stop was Brooklyn, N.Y., where records show him managing a YMCA and studying violin under renowned teacher Franz Kneisel at the music school that would become Juilliard. Unable to find work, Yamazaki wound up at the naval yards in Portsmouth, N.H., serving a two-year stint as a steward serving officers. The Navy would remain racially segregated until 1948 and he was still decades away from citizenship, so cooking and cleaning on ships was likely the best he could do.
By 1914, Yamazaki had landed in Minneapolis. He worked at the Mandarin Cafe before opening a Japanese tea house on Nicollet Avenue in 1919, and marrying a daughter of Norwegian immigrants, Anna Hansen, who was nearly 16 years younger. They welcomed a son, also named Edward, in 1920.
Steep rent and antiquated equipment eventually forced him to sell the tea house, but by the 1940s he was running his modest sandwich shop on the North Side.
In the meanwhile, sports pages were listing his son Ed among the city's top speed skaters in popular races at Powderhorn Park. The younger Ed changed his last name to the more American-sounding Evans around 1940, "prior to enlisting in 1941," military researcher Susanne Adler said.
An Army staff sergeant, Evans was at Camp Claiborne in Louisiana when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He would eventually rise to the rank of major in the Air Force, and retired after 20 years in the military having served during both World War II and the Korean War. He's buried a few sections south of his parents at Fort Snelling.
Yamazaki's sandwich shop, at 922 W. Broadway in north Minneapolis, not only endured the Pearl Harbor shutdown but a kerosene fire spreading from a shed behind the business in August 1942. Even after the shop's 28-year run ended, Yamazaki was still filled with "youthful vitality" at age 80, according to a 1962 article that said he kept busy working five hours a day at the landmark Nankin Cafe in downtown Minneapolis and playing an active role at Lake Harriet Methodist Church.
After a life that included emigration from Japan, survival of the San Francisco earthquake, a YMCA job in Brooklyn, a stint in the Navy and years of restaurant work in Minneapolis, Yamazaki became a U.S. citizen in 1954. When he died in 1968, his short obituary in the Minneapolis Star said he was survived by his wife, his son in Houston and three grandchildren, and a sister back in Japan.
"He's OK as far as we folks up here are concerned," his business neighbors were quoted as saying about Yamazaki in the hours after Pearl Harbor, when authorities came to shut him down.
Curt Brown's tales about Minnesota's history appear each Sunday. Readers can send him ideas and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest book looks at 1918 Minnesota, when flu, war and fires converged: strib.mn/MN1918.