Fuji-Ya, Second to None

Reiko Weston’s Role in Reconnecting Minneapolis and the Mississippi River
Kimmy Tanaka and Jonathan Moore

More than two million people annually cross the Stone Arch Bridge over the Mississippi River at St. Anthony Falls, drawn to the history and vibrancy of the sublime setting. There is the roar of the falls that can be heard before it can be seen. There are the waves and white foam of the water as it passes over the spillway and crashes on the dissipaters below. There is the min-eral smell of the mist that is thrust airborne, descending on visitors. And there is the elegant curve of the bridge itself, gradually revealing more and more of the panoramic scene as one moves across it. At the eastern end of the bridge is a large boulder with a plaque affixed to it. The plaque recounts the discovery of St. Anthony Falls by a Franciscan priest, Father Louis Hennepin, who first viewed the falls in 1680 and named them for his patron saint, St. Anthony of Padua.¹

There is, of course, more to the story. People knew of the falls prior to Father Hennepin’s visit, and it already had a name— several, in fact. To the Dakota, who had guided the priest to this location, it was called Owamni Omni (whirlpool). To the Ojibwe, it was Gichi- gakaabikaa (the great severed rock). So Father Hennepin’s encounter with the falls that is glorified on this rock was not really a discovery at all, but more of a “rediscovery.”²

Nearly three centuries later, another explorer would arrive at the opposite end of the bridge and behold the place with new eyes. Her name was Reiko Umetani Weston. While Weston introduced many Minnesotans to Japanese cuisine and culture for the first time through her Fuji- Ya restaurant, arguably her greatest influence was connecting a city to its river once again. The restaurant’s physical embodiment— three solid walls to the city with one wall of windows to the river— forced the city to face the Mississippi in the most literal sense.


A page from Fuji-Ya’s menu at its first location on LaSalle Avenue in downtown Minneapolis.

The year was 1961. Reiko Weston was driving along a forlorn street in Minneapolis’s milling district looking for a new location for her restaurant. It was perhaps an unlikely place to be looking. A century of lumber and flour milling had significantly altered the falls and denuded both river-banks of their former natural beauty. More reliable sources of power had begun to draw many industries away from this locale. Enterprises that had grown up on the riverfront were leav-ing, headed to the suburbs or to other states. General Mills, for example, had moved its headquarters to the western suburb of Golden Valley three years earlier, and its Washburn- Crosby Mill would close in 1965.³
Trains were still rumbling over the Stone Arch Bridge, and signifi-cant swaths of real estate between downtown and the river were still devoted to railyards, though the area’s reliance on rail for transport was declining. Two vestiges of natural landforms, Spirit Island and Upton Island, with their limestone outcrops, had been obliterated to make way for the construction of a planned lock and dam. (The Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock, completed in 1963, extended the reach of barge traffic above the falls.) The riverfront was becoming a collection of things that industry left behind— abandoned foundations, burned- out building shells, and contaminated soil. It was a scene to which the city was happy to turn its back. A 1972 report, pro-duced by a committee made up of the Planning Department, the Housing and Redevelopment Authority, the Department of Public Works, and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board referred to the area as “the backside of the City.”⁴
While the river’s west- side milling district was indeed an unlikely place for a restaurant, one could also say that Weston, a Japanese immigrant in her early thirties, was an unlikely explorer. Born in Japan in 1928, Weston had served as an interpreter during World War II. Following the war, she worked as a secretary in General Douglas MacArthur’s Tokyo office, where she met her future husband, Norman Weston. In 1953, Norman— an Army Air Corps pilot— returned to his native Minnesota with Reiko. Weston’s parents, Kaoru and Nobuko Umetani, came too, as a new start was in order for them as well. Her father, Kaoru, had been an admi-ral in the Japanese navy and suffered financial ruin following the war.⁵ Weston enrolled in math and psychology classes at the University

of Minnesota. Seeking something to keep her parents occupied, she opened a restaurant on Ninth Street and LaSalle Avenue in downtown Minneapolis in 1959. She named it Fuji- Ya, meaning “second to none.” Her mother’s recipes for traditional Japanese dishes were at the heart of the menu. Her father greeted guests and delighted children with origami animals he folded for them. While it may have given her parents a new sense of purpose, it may not have fully restored their sense of pride. Weston’s daughter, Carol Hanson, later recalled that when her grandfather was asked why he was doing janitor’s work at the restaurant, he stated simply, “Because we lost the war.”⁶

While the river’s west- side milling district was indeed an unlikely place for a restaurant, one could also say that Weston, a Japanese immigrant in her early thirties, was an unlikely explorer.

The endeavor was likely a growing source of pride for Weston, however, as her new creation grossed $50,000 in its first year, and its popularity quickly outgrew its 25 seats. Her par-ents and their seven employees had trouble keeping up with the demand, compelling Weston to put her educa-tion at the University of Minnesota on hold so that she could play a larger role, which included finding a larger space. The Westons concurrently tried a location at 29 East Fifth Street in downtown St. Paul, but the build-ing was soon razed to make way for the Capital Centre building.⁷
Weston’s two- year search for a larger location eventually led to the fateful meeting between her and the Mississippi River. At one point, she later recounted, she talked to officials of the Burlington Northern Railroad. “They told me I was ridiculous to ask for property. Then one day, while driving on E. 1st Street [sic] along the river bank, I saw a for- sale sign on a burned- down flour mill. I contacted the real- estate company and made an immediate offer. I hate to quote the price, it was such a steal.”⁸

Weston recounted many times over the years what drew her to the then- derelict site that fateful day, and at the center of every retelling was the river. The composition of elements revered by Japanese culture was also not lost on her. “The Japanese love rivers and bridges and waterfalls,” she told the Minneapolis Star. “Under a bridge and overlooking a waterfall. It’s the perfect setting for a Japanese tea house.” Weston’s daughter and friends later recalled that she consid-ered these features “good luck signs.” It may have been those omens or just Weston’s intuition that helped her see what others could not. In 1972 Weston said of the site, “I can’t understand  this. It’s such a beautiful site. I think maybe American people are a little too busy to appreciate what they have. I think maybe we (Orientals)
[sic] are a little bit more sensitive.”⁹

It was not just from the river, the waterfall, and the bridges that Weston drew inspiration, however. She saw the ruins of the 1870 Bassett Sawmill and the 1882 Columbia Flour Mill not as elements to be discarded but as artifacts to be celebrated. Rather than erase all evidence of past use at the site and start over with a blank slate, she embraced the embodied energy of the three- foot- thick foundation walls and used these stereotomic
(heavyweight stone mass) relics as the springboard for something new.


Entrance to Fuji Ya, reminiscent of a genkan in a traditional Japanese home.

Weston sought the talent of Shinichi Okada, then a student of architecture. Like Weston, Okada was born in Japan in 1928 and studied at the University of Minnesota. He went on to study at Yale University and would later win a public competition to design the Supreme Court of Japan, but that was still a decade away. To adapt and refine Okada’s concepts, Weston hired local architect Newton Griffith. The University of Minnesota graduate had studied with Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer at Harvard University. He had recently com-pleted the renovations of the lodges at Glacier National Park for the Great Northern Railway before agreeing to help Weston execute her vision.¹⁰
Together, the trio created some-thing not yet seen in Minnesota, what Skyway News described as a “3,000 square- foot version of a Japanese home.” They perched a square box on top of the historic foundations, not unlike how traditional Japanese structures are elevated off the ground, perfectly covering the former Bassett engine house and Columbia boiler room below. The three walls nearest downtown were covered in light col-ored stucco and were almost entirely opaque except for a narrow clerestory running along the top of the walls to let in light. The fourth wall on the river side was completely transparent with floor- to- ceiling glass. Here, the box extended out beyond the ruin walls, creating an overhang supported by wood columns spaced at regular intervals under the box.¹¹

Weston and her architects created
some-thing not yet seen in Minnesota,
a version of a Japanese home perched
on top of historic foundations.

When the new Fuji- Ya location opened in 1968, guests approached the building from the southeast, allowing the sound of the falls to drown out the noise of the

city before they entered. Inside, this corner was one of the darkest areas of the build-ing, creating
a subdued effect and a counterpoint to the outdoors one had just left behind. The first space one encountered was a small room at the base of a staircase, reminiscent of a genkan, a sunken space in a tra-ditional Japanese home where shoes were left to keep the living space clean. In the Minnesota climate, though, guests were allowed to keep their shoes as they climbed the stairs.
At the top of the staircase, a matrix of dark wood structural posts and beams subdivided the space. The exposed wooden structure and modu-lar nature of the building recalled the craftsmanship of traditional Japanese architecture but with mid- century modern flourishes. The delicate structural elements supported large timber beams, running predomi-nantly toward the river, the ends of which penetrated through the top of the walls to the exterior. A rectangu-lar portion of the roof in the center of the restaurant was raised up, allowing light to wash down from a second set of clerestory windows above. Continuing along the southeast cor-ridor, visitors passed a tokonoma, a long, recessed niche for displaying Japanese art and textiles. To the left, conventional booths and tables filled a dining room, where guests could keep their shoes on. A partition that ran parallel to the glass wall facing the river was composed of wood slats, filtering the light that emanated from the river view.
On the other side of that partition, another realm began. Here, the grid of wood posts and beams created five separate dining bays. Because odd numbers are considered lucky in Japan, the number five was likely not an accident. Each bay, or zashiki (a tra-ditional Japanese- style mat room for entertaining guests), was based on the scale and proportion of a tatami mat. Tatami are three- by- six- foot straw floor mats covered with woven rush grass on which people tradi-tionally sat or slept. In Japan, room sizes are described by the number of tatami mats that can fit in them. Each zashiki was a six- mat room, sep-arated one from another by a series of fusuma screens made from gilded rice paper mounted in wood- framed panels. The fusuma helped define each zashiki and soften sound while creating a warm glow that emanated into the room.¹²

Reiko Weston in one of the zashiki dining rooms separated by fusuma screens.
Diners sat on rattan zaisu chairs, legless seats that allow users to sit on the floor while still enjoying the comfort of a back, at low-slung tables.

A server wearing a kimono, a color-ful Japanese full- length robe, showed guests to their table. Diners in Fuji- Ya’s zashiki were expected to follow Japanese culture and remove their shoes before stepping onto tatami. Not only did this signal entrance into a more intimate space, but also it was a foray into the exotic for Minnesota clientele. A longtime customer, John Murphy, commented at the time the restaurant closed in 1990: “It’s been like getting away to another coun-try coming here.” The practice also provided endless fodder for food critics who reviewed the restaurant over the years, reminding readers to “wear clean, matching socks at Fuji- Ya.” Guests sat at low- slung tables on rattan zaisu, legless chairs for sitting on the floor with the comfort of a back support. Akari lanterns by Isamu Noguchi provided illumination overhead, while traditional Japanese music played in the background. In the restaurant’s early days, the menu largely consisted of variations on suki-yaki, a one- pot dish of thinly sliced meat and vegetables cooked tableside in a soy sauce- based broth. As the restaurant grew, its food offerings expanded, too.¹³

Weston waving at a locomotive, 1968. In describing the Fuji Ya experience, she told Minneapolis Star reporter Barbara Flanagan, “The trains should toot-toot every time they pass my place.”

In 1973, Weston again enlisted the help of Japanese architects along with the assistance of a local architecture firm, Arthur Dickey Architects, to add another floor beneath the zashiki rooms to accom-modate a new teppanyaki area. Here, diners sat around a table with a large integrated hotplate, while their chef cooked meat, fish, and vegetables right before their eyes. The artful tossing of knives, pepper mills, and food became part of the act and cap-tivated diners as much as the food did. It was all part of the experience that Weston was trying to cultivate in addition to appetites.¹⁴

In 1981, Fuji Ya introduced the first sushi bar in the state.

As part of the same building cam-paign, Weston added a new entryway on the southeast side, incorporating a pebble mosaic floor and a limestone water fountain complete with a rain chain. This extended the soothing sound of St. Anthony Falls farther into the entry sequence of the build-ing. Pat Lindquist, a reporter for Skyway News was impressed, writing in her column, “Once inside you hear water again in her foyer’s Japanese pond. A serene and comforting wel-come to timeless dining.” In 1975, Weston added onto Fuji- Ya again, this time building over a portion of the Columbia Flour Mill to the northwest. This provided for three more zashiki rooms on the upper level and additional teppanyaki dining on the lower level. In 1981, a sushi bar was added on the lower level, the first of its kind in the state.¹⁵
Architecture was not the only way Weston reconnected people
to the river: she also leveraged her gregarious spirit. She embraced and celebrated the particular moment of time and space that she occupied along the Mississippi with an enthu-siasm that was infectious. As trains, including Amtrak’s Empire Builder taking passengers to Glacier National Park and beyond, rolled past between Fuji- Ya and the river, Weston waved to the engineers. When describing the outdoor dining that she hoped to add, she asserted, “The trains should toot- toot every time they pass my place.” Norman Weston later reminisced,
“You could look out the windows and see the lock and dam and the falls and the railroad tracks.” One day, he recalled, customers fixated out the window as the Westons’ young chil-dren, Carol and Michael, raced pedal cars along the river: “Things like that were happening in that building. There was never a dull day!”¹⁶

Weston’s original aspirations included
“a huge patio and beautiful setting outdoors to sit”
as depicted in this 1973 rendering
by Arthur Dickey Architects, Inc.

With her entrepreneurial instincts, Weston opened Fuji International on the University
of Minnesota’s West Bank in 1971. Seven years later, she launched Min-neapolis’s first dim sum restaurant, Taiga, at St. Anthony Main, giving it a Chinese theme so as to not com-pete with Fuji- Ya across the river.
In 1982, she opened Fuji Express in the skyway of the former Galaxy Building. That same year the Min-neapolis Star and Tribune reported,
“Today, her four operations do close to $3 million a year in business. Her workforce, which initially consisted of herself, her parents and seven others, has grown to more than 100 employees.”¹⁷


Weston demonstrated marketing prowess, as well. In 1981, she ran an advertisement in Twin Cities maga-zine that featured a photo of one of her teppanyaki chefs frying lobster tails with a view of the Third Avenue Bridge in the background. The ad read, “Owner Reiko Weston, ‘the Twin Cities First Lady of Oriental Cuisine,’ invites you to enjoy marvelously pre-pared traditional fare” along with “the Most Exciting View of the Mississippi River Plus the Ambience of a True Jap-anese Inn.” At the bottom, it added, “Excellent parking.” The next year, Weston extended her ad campaign to reach people from the land of lutefisk and herring. An advertisement in Twin Cities Scandinavia Today featured a portrait of Weston in a sumi- e- style Japanese ink painting with the words, “Reiko Weston says . . . Welcome, all Scandinavian visitors, to my four special Oriental restaurants! Look no further for the freshest and most exciting food in the Twin Cities, pre-pared by specially trained chefs.”¹⁸
Weston had arrived, and people were taking notice. In her daughter’s words, “She was the ‘First Woman This’, the ‘First Woman That.’ She got a lot of kudos. . . . She was way ahead of her time.” In 1979, Mayor Al Hofstede declared January 28

Advertisement in Twin Cities Scandinavia Today welcoming “all Scandinavian visitors” to Reiko Weston’s four restaurants, 1982–83.

“Reiko Weston Day” in Minneapolis, stating, “Weston makes great food and has contributed a lot to the city, especially the development of the riverfront area.” That same year, she was named Minnesota’s Small Businessperson of the Year by the US Small Business Administration. She was only the third woman to receive the award, which included an invita-tion to attend a reception at the White House. In 1980, she was inducted into the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame, the second woman to receive such an honor. Joan Siegel, a food critic, called her “a charter member of the gutsy restaurateur club.” Hennepin County judge Neil Riley described her as “a fascinating study in what a woman in a man’s world can make of it.”¹⁹
Gutsy she was: Weston was not afraid to push the envelope. In 1977, the Minneapolis Star ran a story on
“Miss Nakamura,” whom Weston was training as one of the first female teppanyaki chefs in the country. Weston said at the time, “I wanted to exper-iment to see if a woman could do what was supposed to be a man’s job.” Weston also hired a woman, Takako “Tai- San” Jaeger, to be her head cook. The Twin Cities Reader reported, “Reiko hired a woman because men brought up in the Japanese culture found it demeaning to have a female boss.”²⁰

An advertisement in Twin Cities magazine from 1981.

Reiko Weston’s success is especially admirable considering the period in which it occurred. When Weston and her parents arrived in Minnesota in 1953, the mention of Japan was prob-ably more likely to conjure the word kamikaze than sukiyaki in the minds of most Americans. It had been only a dozen years since the attack on Pearl Harbor that led to America’s entry into World War II and eight years since the war had ended. Wartime fear had fueled the unfounded suspicion that Japanese Americans posed a threat to the national security of the United States. In response, Presi-dent Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in February 1942, forcing nearly 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, a majority of whom were US citizens, into 10 concen-tration camps, located in California, Idaho, Utah, Ari-zona, Wyoming, Colorado, and Arkansas.²¹
As thousands of people of Japanese ancestry
were forcibly removed inland from the military- prescribed exclusion zones on the West Coast, the Mil-
itary Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS), which had been established in San Francisco to train Japanese linguists to aid in the war effort, also relocated— first to Savage, Minnesota, and then to Fort Snelling. By the summer of 1942, the MISLS recruiting volunteers from the con-centration camps to enlist as students at the language school. The MISLS graduated more than 6,000 service-men and – women between 1941 and 1946. The Japanese American popula-tion in the Twin Cities following the war was primarily made up of MISLS students, their relatives, friends, and significant others who resettled in the area. A 1968 survey showed that was half of Japanese Americans in the Twin Cities had either been a stu-dent at the MISLS or had a relative in the school. People of Japanese ancestry who secured employment or enrolled in universities outside of the exclusion zone were also permitted release from camps under specific conditions, including completing a “loyalty questionnaire.” The Japanese American Student Relocation Council helped students enroll in college at Macalester, Hamline, Carleton, St. Catherine, St. Thomas, and St. Cloud State, adding to Minnesota’s Japanese American community.²²


The Japanese American population in the Twin Cities following the war was primarily made up of Military Intelligence Service Language school students and their family and friends.


Masu Nakamura, whom Weston trained as one of the first woman teppanyaki chefs in the country.

The War Relocation Authority, the agency that oversaw the concentration camps, encouraged resettlement of Japanese Americans to the Mid-west, including Minnesota, where 1,292 had resettled (some temporarily) by January 1945. Resettlement efforts continued until 1948. According to census records, Minnesota’s Japanese American permanent population rose from 51 to 1,049 individuals between 1940 and 1950. Over the next decade, a 65 percent increase in the number of people of Japanese descent living in Minnesota brought the count up to 1,726. Of this number, 533 were foreign born, a statistic attributed to first- generation Japanese and to Japanese women, like Weston, who had married American service-men following the war. As a result, the number of women of Japanese descent in the state outnumbered the men through the 1960s.²³

Yasuko Gary with sukiyaki, a one-pot dish cooked at the table.

Despite the growing Japanese American community in Minne-sota, there was likely lingering wartime animosity, as evidenced
by a subtle, possibly unintentional,


A legacy of Japanese cuisine


ThE Fuji- Ya naME
found a new life when Carol Hanson, daughter of Reiko Weston, revived the name and opened a new restau-rant on 27th and Lyndale in Minneapolis’s Uptown neighborhood in 1998.
(It moved to its current location at 600 W. Lake in 2001.) While Hanson is no longer the proprietor, Fuji- Ya is still serving sushi, which its earlier namesake first introduced to Minne-sota. It is part of a thriving Japanese restaurant scene throughout the Twin Cities. While there are too many to name, each of these restaurants likely contains some imprint from Minne-sota’s earliest pioneer of Japanese cuisine. Miyoko Omori, a friend
of Reiko Weston and a former employee of Fuji- Ya, would go on to open Kikugawa in Minneapolis in 1979 and Sakura in St. Paul in 1990. Kiminobu Ichikawa, who got his training as a teppanyaki chef at Fuji- Ya in the 1970s, partnered with Del Francis and Tatsuya Saji to open Origami in Minne-apolis’s former Market Hotel at 33 North First Avenue in 1990. Koshiki Yonemura Smith, who worked at Kikugawa and Origami, opened Tanpopo in Lowertown St. Paul in 2000.1
Today, another generation of chefs is leading the next evolution of Japanese cuisine. In the past five years alone, four new Japanese restaurants have emerged in the Twin Cities. The baseball- themed Kyatchi in South Minneapolis, which specializes in sustainably sourced fish, opened its second location in December 2017 in St. Paul’s old Tanpopo space. In Minneapolis, Kado no Mise and Kaiseki Furukawa opened their doors in spring and summer of 2017 in the former Ori-gami location. Sushi Takatsu, a small take- out spot in the skyway of Minneap-olis’s Baker Center, opened in 2014. Most recently, Ramen Kazama (also in South Minneapolis) has opened its second location in the old Obento- Ya bistro near Dinkytown off the University of Minne-sota campus. All of these restaurants are under the leadership of chefs who trained at Fuji- Ya, Origami, or both.2
Weston would be proud. She once remarked, “I love food, I love to cook, I love feeding people.” Of course, her aims ran deeper than food. In 1984, she told Skyway News, “So many people just live and die, and throughout their lives, they don’t do anything. I would like to leave a legacy, do something good for the public. I don’t want to be someone who just dies and is forgotten.”
Weston’s story is one of a dream realized. Her legacy continues to this day, writ large in the kitchens and dining rooms of Japanese restaurants across the Twin Cities and on the banks and bridges and falls of the river she loved and brought us back to.

racism that often hovered just beneath the surface. Examples include a 1959 newsreel about the new “Jap restaurant” downtown and a 1980s restaurant reviewer who was critical that the servers were not as “gracious” as he would have liked, not living up to the “courte-ous and attentive service” that he had come to expect from a Japanese establishment.²⁴
Words like “Jap” and “Oriental” were widely used in media during the era in which Weston grew as a suc-cessful businesswoman in the Twin Cities. Media portrayals of her as an “Oriental” or a proprietor of an “Ori-ental restaurant” were commonplace. These terms were used to stereotype and categorize Asian Americans
as foreigners. According to scholar Karen Ishizuka, even though by the 1970s 80 percent of Japanese Ameri-cans and half of Chinese Americans and Filipino Americans had been born in the United States, they were often lumped together into the category of Orientals. This terminology, whether used intentionally or unintentionally, perpetuated Weston’s identity in the Twin Cities food scene as someone who was a foreigner or outsider— someone decidedly not of this place.²⁵

Ruth Tanbara, right, with husband Earl, sitting, and brother Howard Nomura, host Russell Fridley, director of the Minnesota Historical Society, 1956. In August 1942, Ruth and Earl Tanbara were the first Japanese Americans to resettle in St. Paul as a result of President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066.

How Weston was portrayed in the media from the 1950s through the 1970s was consonant with changing attitudes toward Asian Americans. Prior to World War II, first- and second- generation Asian Americans had been thought to be “unassimi-lable” and denied many basic rights and opportunities, such as obtaining citizenship, owning land, and enjoy-ing educational and occupational mobility. In the face of the emerging Cold War and civil rights movement, the United States struggled in the postwar era to create an image of a racially inclusive democracy. Out of this struggle, a new Asian American stereotype developed, “the model minority— a racial group distinct from the white majority, but lauded as well assimilated, upwardly mobile, polit-ically non- threatening, and definitely not- black.”²⁶

Chef Nobuyo Yokohama at the sushi bar, added to the main level in 1981.

Asian and Asian American women, notably war brides, played an important role in the making of the model minority. A crucial com-ponent of constructing a new image of Japanese Americans and a racially inclusive nation was to represent Japanese women as exhibiting the domestic qualities that were seen as key to an ideal American home life. A typical 1955 example from Life magazine told the story of Frank and Sachiko Pfeiffer, who were starting married life in a Chicago suburb. Frank described his wife as the “best housekeeper” who no longer cooks Japanese food because it is not to his liking. Over time, she is able to win the hearts of her mother- in- law and their suburban neighbors. The article ends with Sachiko stating, “I contend to lose my Japanese blood stream in America.” As Kathryn Tol-bert, a scholar on Japanese war brides, wrote, war brides “either tried, or were pressured, to give up their Japa-nese identities to become more fully American.”²⁷
Examining Weston’s story through the lens of mid- century media portrayals of Asian Americans, particularly Asian women, lends new insights into her challenges and unique role as a Japanese immigrant entrepreneur. In some ways, she was fulfilling an image of the model minority: as the headline of one arti-cle read, “Her Japanese restaurant a true American dream.” On the other hand, she was breaking gender norms and challenging the image of a domestic Japanese wife who learned American ways to please her husband.²⁸
Some challenges were part of the business of running a Japanese restaurant, including the difficulty of getting liquor licenses from the city and barriers to bringing the tal-ent and expertise that was needed from Japan. While another Japanese restaurant in town experienced a raid from immigration officials, Fuji- Ya suffered from ever- lengthening wait times for recruiting chefs. “How can you offer someone a job and then expect them to wait two years before they can get it?” she lamented to the Minneapolis Star and Tribune in 1982. “That leaves one experienced cook there. . . . The pressure and hours— it’s too much for just one person.”²⁹ Not unique to Weston’s story were the investment of time and energy required to make any business a success and the toll that can take on relationships, family, and health. Just as Fuji- Ya’s new river location was poised to open in 1968, Weston and her husband, Norman, divorced. In her daughter’s words, “I’ve always said that the restaurant was my mom’s first baby, but I was her first child. Mom and Dad divorced when I was 6 or 7, and as kids . . . we didn’t see much of her. If we wanted to see her, we went to the restaurant.” Weston remarried food broker John Drummond in 1974. Four years later, she suffered a stroke that required her daughter to increase her involve-ment in the burgeoning restaurant operations, thereby cutting short her studies at the University of Minnesota— much as Weston had done for her own parents.³⁰
While Weston experienced some limitations after the stroke, it did not squelch her penchant to dream. She reached out to her first architect, Shinichi Okada, about designing a spa and hotel to complement her restaurant along the river. In the words of the North Hennepin Post,
“Weston still owns undeveloped land on the Mississippi River near Fuji- Ya and her greatest ambition is to see that land developed into a Japanese hotel, complete with Japanese shops and a Japanese- style spa.” Perhaps channeling her own fatigue, Weston observed, “The working woman needs somewhere to go to relax and forget her busy day.” Weston also spoke of designing a Japanese garden between the restaurant and the river. Hanson later recounted her mother’s aspira-tions for “a huge patio and beautiful setting outdoors to sit. That was her actual vision.”³¹


In addition to rekindling people’s interest in the Mississippi River, Weston’s efforts also helped other entrepreneurs see the neighborhood’s buildings as artifacts to be celebrated.

Unfortunately, that vision was not to be. In 1987, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) exercised eminent domain to acquire the land Weston owned between the restaurant and the river. The MPRB wanted Fuji- Ya’s parking lot to develop West River Parkway. The “excellent parking” that Weston had once touted was no more. While the initial acquisition did not include the building, it proved detrimental to the business’s future. Shortly thereafter, Weston died of a heart attack in May 1988 at the age of 59. Weston’s son, Michael, invoked the river in a eulogy at his mother’s memorial service, comparing her perseverance to that of a carp: “In Japan, the carp is a symbol of a strong fish with a fighting spirit. They have kites and graphic drawings of the carp everywhere. It also is a fish which can fight the current and swim upstream, but is not always appreci-ated here in America.”³²
Hanson was left to lead the busi-ness, including resolving the ongoing dispute with the MPRB. In the 1989 litigation, attorneys for the plain-tiff proved that the acquisition of the parking lot had been adversely impacting the establishment. The MPRB settled for $3.5 million in exchange for the building and the roughly two acres of land, for which Weston had originally paid $20,000. The restaurant was compelled to close by May 1990.³³
In Fuji- Ya’s final week, many tears were shed among Weston’s family, em-ployees, and longtime customers. The Star Tribune spoke with one of those customers: “Alex Canalino said she and a friend have gone to Fuji- Ya once a week, often when they’re depressed. ‘When it’s been a rough day, we say it’s going to be a Fuji- Ya day,’ she said. ‘And this is a Fuji- Ya day. We’re very disappointed.’”³⁴
Upon closing, Weston’s family donated some of the tatami mats and fusuma screens to the Japanese Garden at Como Park in St. Paul, which was undergoing an extensive renovation at the time. Several of the features from Fuji- Ya were integrated into the Japanese teahouse, where they remain in 2018.³⁵

As far back as 1963, the Minneapo-lis Tribune articulated what it saw as a need: “Far too little has been done to take advantage of the inher-ent romance of the Minneapolis river front.” Weston’s cutting- edge investment in Fuji- Ya, “the first pub-lic establishment built within view of St. Anthony Falls in more than 70 years,” seemed to be just the yeast that would stimulate the revival of the old flour- milling district. As columnist and civic booster Barbara Flanagan wrote in the Minneapolis Star in 1968, “Nobody looked twice at the riverbank site until Mrs. Weston got there. Leave it to a woman to show the way. Now everybody’s interested in the river. It’s about time.” Daughter Carol observed in 2009, “Look at the riverfront now, compared to what it was in 1967. Forty years ago, my mom was there, and people thought she was crazy. She wasn’t. She really paved the way for new things coming down to that area. She really loved that river.”³⁶ In addition to rekindling people’s interest in the Mississippi River, Weston’s efforts also helped other entrepreneurs see the neighborhood’s buildings as artifacts to be celebrated. After dining at Fuji- Ya in the early 1970s, James Howe noticed the 1914 engine house of the Minneapolis Eastern Railway across the street. He renovated it and opened First Street Station restaurant in 1975, the first example of an adaptive reuse of an intact building (as opposed to building on a burned- out ruin, as Weston had done) in the Central River front District.³⁷

Fuji-Ya site and surrounding area.

Across the river, other revitaliza-tion efforts followed Weston’s lead. A year after Fuji- Ya opened, Peter Nel-son Hall purchased Pracna, an 1890 saloon, and opened it as a restaurant and bar of the same name in 1973. Between 1976 and 1985, Louis Zelle adaptively reused many of the build-ings along the cobblestoned Main Street Southeast between Central and Third Avenues Southeast to create the St. Anthony Main complex. This included the former Salisbury and Satterlee mattress company build-ing and Upton, Martin- Morrison, and Union Iron Works buildings, all dating to the mid- to late nineteenth century. It was in the Salisbury and Satterlee mattress building that Weston launched Taiga.³⁸
During the span of years that Weston was ambitiously opening restaurants, between 1959 and 1981, the historic preservation move-ment was coming into its own, both nationally and locally. The National Historic Preservation Act was passed in 1966. Among its provisions was creation of the National Register of Historic Places. The Pillsbury A Mill was designated a National Historic Landmark just a month later. In 1971, the St. Anthony Falls Historic District was listed in the National Register. A year later, the City of Minneapolis created a commission for historic preservation under the Municipal Heritage Preservation Act. In 1981, the Minneapolis Heritage Preser-vation Commission, as an advisory body to the city council, adopted the Central Riverfront Urban Design Guidelines. The Washburn- Crosby complex, now the Mill City Museum, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1983.³⁹
Other historic buildings were rehabilitated within sight of Fuji- Ya. The former Hall and Dann Barrel Company became Mill Place, an office complex, in the mid- 1980s, rebranded as Barrel House in 2017. The Hayber Development Group renovated the Standard Mill into the Whitney Hotel (1985–86) and converted the Crown Roller Mill and Ceresota Elevator into offices. In the years since Fuji- Ya first appeared along the river, billions of public and private dollars have been invested in the Central Riverfront, $1.6 billion in the past decade alone. In 1990, the population of the Down-town East neighborhood, which includes much of the west bank Mill District, was only 25 people. By 2015, it was estimated to have grown to nearly 1,700 people, a dramatic increase in 25 years. A similar trend has played out on the east bank of the river as well.⁴⁰
As for the restaurant that Weston created on the Mississippi River, given its significance as an early development among the riverfront revitalization, it was deemed eligible for the National Register in 2016, though formal listing did not occur.

The upper floor prior to demolition, October 2017.

Despite its historic status and many efforts to identify a re- use for the building, it ultimately succumbed to “demolition by neglect.” Deeming that its condition had deteriorated beyond repair, the MPRB conducted a selective demolition of the building in the fall of 2017. While the orig-inal mill ruin walls were retained, much of Weston’s intervention was razed. Some of Fuji- Ya’s architec-tural elements, such as the large beams of timber and glulam (glued, laminated timber), were salvaged in hopes that they can be incorporated into Water Works, the MPRB’s new vision for the portion of the parkway that includes the Fuji- Ya site. The plan calls for a new park pavilion to be incorporated into the mill ruins, much as Weston’s building had done. A restaurant in the pavilion is slated to be run by the Sioux Chef, a.k.a. Sean Sherman, who works to revitalize Native American cuisine. Sherman has expressed interest
in creating a venue for “a larger dialogue about Native American cultures, the river, and cuisine.” The café will be called Owamni, an ode to the falls as they were known before their multiple rediscoveries.⁴¹
This next iteration of the down-town Minneapolis riverfront is perhaps one more development for which Weston deserves some credit. Perhaps it was inevitable that Min-neapolis would return to the river where it got its start. But Weston hastened the return at a time and in a way that captured the spirit and integrity of the place before it could be further lost or destroyed and inspired the city to reconnect with the river she loved.


This article was made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Min-nesotans on November 4, 2008.
1. Minneapolis Parks Foundation, “Water Works,” https://mplsparksfoundation.org/projects /water- works/; Shannon M. Pennefeather, ed., Mill City: A Visual History of the Minneapolis Mill District (St. Paul: MNHS Press, 2003), 4.
2. Gwen Westerman and Bruce White, Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota (St. Paul: MNHS Press, 2012), 26–29; Lucile M. Kane, The Falls of St. Anthony: The Waterfall that Built Minne-apolis (St. Paul: MNHS Press, 1966, 1987), 2; John O. Anfinson, “St. Anthony Falls: Timber, Flour and Electricity,” in River of History: A Historic Resources Study of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/miss/learn/historyculture /upload/River_Ch_6.pdf; The Decolonial Atlas, “Minneapolis–St. Paul in Dakota and Ojibwe,” Jan. 20, 2018, https://decolonialatlas.wordpress .com/2018/01/20/minneapolis- st- paul- in – dakota- and- ojibwe/.
3. Kane, Falls of St. Anthony, 172–73.
4. Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, “Central Mississippi Riverfront Regional Park Master Plan,” Aug. 30, 2016, https://www.minne apolisparks.org/_asset/d6kv9t/central_riverfront _masterplan_approved.pdf, 70, 77–82; Iric Nathan-son, “How a 1972 Report Laid the Groundwork for Minneapolis’ Riverfront Revival,” MinnPost, July 5, 2017, https://www.minnpost.com/politics-olicy/2017/07/how- 1972- report- laid- ground work- minneapolis- riverfront- revival.
5. Julie Blais, “Weston’s Success Keeps Grow-ing,” North Hennepin Post, Aug. 9, 1979, 8B; Margaret Morris, “Japanese Woman’s Dream Comes True— So Now Her Dreams Expand,” Minneapolis Tribune, Feb. 4, 1979, 4F; Pat Pheifer, “Reiko Weston, Owner of Fuji- Ya, Dies at 59,” Star Tribune, May 8, 1988, 1B.
6. Rick Nelson, “Fifty Years of Fuji Ya,” Star Tribune, Jan. 22, 2009, T6.
7. “Reiko Weston’s Story Has a Japanese Flavor,” Skyway News, Apr. 17, 1984, 14; Blais,
“Weston’s Success Keeps Growing”; Nelson,“Fifty Years of Fuji Ya.”
8. Barbara Flanagan, “Tokyo on the Mississippi,” Minneapolis Star, May 24, 1968, 1B; Morris, “Japanese Woman’s Dream Comes True.” There is no East First Street. Fuji-Ya was located on South First Street.
9. Morris, “Japanese Woman’s Dream Comes True”; Blais, “Weston’s Success Keeps Growing”; Flanagan, “Tokyo on the Mississippi”; Carol Weston Hanson and Norman Weston, personal interview by Linda Mack, May 8, 2009; Pat Lindquist, “Reiko Weston: A Woman Who Was Second to None,” Skyway News, May 19, 1988, 4; Robert Lacy, “Her Japanese Restaurant a True American Dream,” Minneapolis Star, Aug. 18, 1972.
10. Sally Gadbois, “Serene Japanese Dining Along the Mississippi,” Weekender, Jan. 13, 1978, 10; “Reiko Weston Brings Orient to Riverfront, Wins SBA Award,” Riverfront News 1 (June 1979): 4; Setsuko Kamiya, “Supreme Court Place of Last Judicial Resort,” Japan Times, Sept. 17, 2008, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2008/09/17 /reference/supreme- court- place- of- last- judicial– resort/#.WvyX_fkvyUl; Flanagan, “Tokyo on the Mississippi”; Newton Griffith Collection, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota, http://archives.lib.umn.edu
/repositories/8/resources/2147#; Tessie Bundick, “The Adventures of Harlan Berntson,” Inside Trail 18, no. 2 (Spring 2004), http://www.glacier parkfoundation.org/InsideTrail/IT_2004Sp.pdf.
11. “Reiko Weston’s Story Has a Japanese Fla-vor”; MacDonald & Mack Architects, “Fuji Ya Selec-tive Deconstruction Project & Water Works Project Introduction” (presentation to Minneapolis His-toric Preservation Commission, Feb. 14, 2017).
12. Saburo Yamagata, The Japanese Home Style Book, ed. Peter Goodman (Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press, 1992), 9, 29–30, 63; Flana-gan, “Tokyo on the Mississippi”; Chuck Haga,
“After 22 Years on the River, Fuji- Ya Saying Sayo-nara,” Star Tribune, Apr. 28, 1990, 3A.
13. Haga, “After 22 Years on the River, Fuji- Ya Saying Sayonara”; Cousin Paul, “How We Rate ’Em,” St. Louis Park Dispatch, June 9, 1960; Flana-gan, “Tokyo on the Mississippi”; Marlin Bree,
“Sukiyaki,” Minneapolis Tribune Picture Magazine, Oct. 26, 1969, 23. Isamu Noguchi (1904–88) was one of the most important artists of the twenti-eth century. He called his lanterns Akari, a term meaning “light” or “illumination” but also imply-ing “weightlessness.”
14. “Fuji- Ya to Open New Dining Area,” Minneapolis Star, June 4, 1974.
15. Pat Lindquist, “Sushi Run to Fuji- Ya,” Skyway News, Feb. 16, 1982, 2; Nelson, “Fifty Years of Fuji Ya.”
16. Flanagan, “Tokyo on the Mississippi”;“Choo- Choo,” Skyway News, Oct. 23, 1974; Carol Weston Hanson and Norman Weston interview.
17. “Snapshot: Reiko Weston,” Skyway News, Feb. 7, 1984, 27; Morris, “Japanese Woman’s Dream Comes True”; Susan Feyder, “Reiko Weston’s Problem: Too Few Cooks,” Minneapolis Star and Tribune, July 13, 1982, 10C.
18. “Fuji- Ya,” Twin Cities Magazine, Oct. 1981, 112, http://maha2014.dreamhosters.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/1981- TC- Magazine. pdf; “Reiko Weston Says . . . ,” Twin Cities Scandi-navia Today (1982–83): 197.
19. Nelson, “Fifty Years of Fuji Ya”; Peg Meier,“Hofstede’s Mistake Is Purely Occidental,” Min-neapolis Tribune, Jan. 10, 1979, 1B; “Reiko Weston Brings Orient to Riverfront”; Lindquist, “Reiko Weston: A Woman Who Was Second to None”; Joan Siegel, “‘Well- Done’ Meal Can Backfire at Lovely Fuji- Ya,” Minneapolis Star, Jan. 22, 1982, 1C; Pheifer, “Reiko Weston, Owner of Fuji- Ya, Dies at 59.”
20. Nancy Paulu, “Female Chef Stirs Up Notice,” Minneapolis Star, May 31, 1977, 1C; Carla Waldemar, “The New Weston,” Twin Cities Reader, Nov. 2, 1988, 25.
21. James C. McNaughton, Nisei Linguists: Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence S ervice During World War II (Washington, DC: Department of the Army, 2006), 45; Japanese American Citizens League, Historical Overview in “A Lesson in American History: The Japanese American Experience,” 3, https://jacl.org/wordpress/wp- content/uploads/2015/01/covers.pdf.
22. McNaughton, Nisei Linguists, 53–54, 102–8, 134; Masaharu Ano, “Loyal Linguists: Nisei of World War II Learned Japanese in Minne-sota,” Minnesota History 45, no. 7 (Fall 1977): 278–81, 283; War Relocation Authority, “Regula-tions under Which Persons of Japanese Ancestry Are Permitted to Leave Relocation Centers,” Dec. 3, 1942, box 1, Ruth Tanbara Papers, MNHS Manuscripts, St. Paul, MN; Japanese American Citizens League, “A Lesson in American History: The Japanese American Experience,” 13, 106–9; June Drenning Holmquist, ed., They Chose Minne-sota: A Survey of the State’s Ethnic Groups (St. Paul: MNHS Press, 1981), 560.
23. Roger Daniels, Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II (New York: Hill & Wang, 1993), 79; Krista Hanson, “St. Paul Resettlement Committee,” MNopedia, http://www.mnopedia.org/group/st- paul- resettlement- committee; Holmquist, ed., They Chose Minne-sota, 558. In the Twin Cities alone, the population of people of Japanese descent was 1,320 in 1960 and 1,965 in 1970. Ratio of men to women in 1950, 112 males to 100 females; 1960, 84 males to 100 females; 1970, 78 males to 100 females.
24. KSTP- TV Archive, “Jap Restaurant,” film reel, 1:48, Sept. 6, 1959, MNHS Collections Online; Jeremy Iggers, “Fuji- Ya Is Star but Tiny Asuka Can Outshine It,” Minneapolis Star, Feb. 15, 1980, 2B.
25. Japanese American National Museum, “Serve the People: Making Asian America in the Long Sixties” (panel discussion with Karen L. Ishizuka, June 18, 2016), YouTube video, https://youtu.be/5xJtjpAtkCw.
26. Ellen D. Wu, The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014), 2.
27. Caroline Chung Simpson, “Out of an Obscure Place: Japanese War Brides and Cultural Pluralism in the 1950s,” differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 10, no. 3 (1998): 47–81, https://muse.jhu.edu/issue/501; James A. Michener, “Pursuit of Happiness by a GI and a Japanese: Marriage Surmounts Barriers of Lan-guage and Intolerance,” Life, Feb. 21, 1955,
124–41; Kathryn Tolbert, “The Untold Stories of Japanese War Brides.” Washington Post, Sept. 22, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/sf
/national/2016/09/22/from- hiroko- to- susie- the – untold- stories- of- japanese- war- brides/?utm _term=.267800d4c0f0. See also “Do Japanese Women Make Better Wives?” Jet 5, no. 1 (Nov. 12, 1953): 18–21; “A War Bride Named Blue Comes Home,” Life, Nov. 5, 1951, 40–41.
28. Lacy, “Her Japanese Restaurant a True American Dream.”
29. Feyder, “Reiko Weston’s Problem: Too Few Cooks”
30. Nelson, “Fifty Years of Fuji Ya”; Morris,“Japanese Woman’s Dream Comes True”; Phyllis Louise Harris, Asian Flavors: Changing the Tastes of Minnesota since 1875 (St. Paul: MNHS Press, 2012), 67.
31. Blais, “Weston’s Success Keeps Growing”; Carol Weston Hanson and Norman Weston interview.
32. Jim Fuller, “Fuji- Ya to Close Its DoorsSoon,” Star Tribune, Sept. 27, 1989, 2B; Pheifer,
“Reiko Weston, Owner of Fuji- Ya, Dies at 59”; Lindquist, “Reiko Weston: A Woman Who Was Second to None.”
33. Lacy, “Her Japanese Restaurant a True American Dream”; Fuller, “Fuji- Ya to Close Its Doors Soon,” Star Tribune, 1B.
34. Haga, “After 22 Years on the River, Fuji- Ya Saying Sayonara.”
35. Haga, “After 22 Years on the River, Fuji- Ya Saying Sayonara; Nelson, “Fifty Years of Fuji Ya.”
36. Will Jones, “Here’s Great Expectations,” Minneapolis Tribune, Apr. 26, 1963; “Reiko Weston Brings Orient to Riverfront”; Flanagan, “Tokyo on the Mississippi”; Nelson, “Fifty Years of Fuji Ya.”

37. Kane, Falls of St. Anthony, 188.
38. Kane, Falls of St. Anthony, 188–89.
39. Kane, Falls of St. Anthony, 186–87. TheNational Historic Landmark program was estab-lished in 1960 and is a separate program from the National Register. Both are administered by the National Park Service.
40. Kane, Falls of St. Anthony, 193–95; “Minne-apolis Riverfront Revitalization: Four decades of progress,” 14, http://www.minneapolismn.gov/www/groups/public/@cped/documents/webcontent/convert_279837.pdf. City of Minne-apolis Community Planning and EconomicDevelopment Department (CPED), “Minneapolis2010 Census Results,” under “Summary Data by Neighborhood,” http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us /census/2010/index.htm; City of Minneapolis CPED, “1990 to 2000 Population Change by Neighborhood,” http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn .us/census/2000/census_1990- to- 2000- population- change- by- neighborhood; http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/www/idcplg?Idc Service=SS_QD_GET_RENDITION&coreContent Only=1&dDocName=CONVERT_239832&dID =9164&WCMPopupId=065381075581535719; Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, “Downtown East Neighborhood,” Minnesota Compass, http://www.mncompass.org/profiles/neighborhoods /minneapolis/downtown- east.
41. Janette Law, “News Release: The Sioux Chef to Partner with Minneapolis Park Board, Parks Foundation on Water Works Restaurant,” Sept. 15, 2017, https://mplsparksfoundation.org /projects/water- works/. The National Trust for Historic Preservation defines demolition by neglect as “a situation in which a property owner intentionally allows a historic property to suffer severe deterioration, potentially beyond the point of repair.”

Photos on p. 98, 100, 111 by Kimmy Tanaka;
p. 99, Hennepin County Library; p. 102, 103, 105, 107 (bottom) MNHS collections; p. 104, collection of Kimmy Tanaka; p. 107 (top), cour-tesy Judy Nomura Murakami. Architectural drawings on p. 101 by Kimmy Tanaka. Top and middle, based on drawings by Peterson, Clark and Griffith Architects (1967) and Arthur Dickey Architects (1975) from Northwest Architectural Archives; bottom, based on drawings from Mac-Donald and Mack Architects (January 25, 2017). Map on p. 109, Esri. “Street Map” [basemap]. Scale Not Given. “World Street Map,” August 15, 2018; http://www.arcgis.com/home/item.html ?id=3b93337983e9436f8db950e38a8629af. Map created by Kimmy Tanaka using ArcGIS® software by Esri. ArcGIS® and ArcMap™ are the intellectual property of Esri and are used herein under license. Copyright © Esri. All rights reserved.

Skip to content