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Teikoku Sea Turtle

Mounted Sea Turtle
Pre-1924
Taxidermied Hawksbill Sea Turtle
Gift of Janie Matsushima
2023.4

This mounted sea turtle came to us from Janie Matsushima, whose husband’s family, the Matsushimas, owned and operated a retail shop in Portland for over 100 years. The store, originally called Teikoku, opened in 1905 in Portland’s Japantown. Located on NW Davis between 2nd and 3rd Ave, the store sold dry goods and supplies for Japanese laborers. And this preserved Hawksbill sea turtle hung on the wall. 

According to Japanese folklore, turtles are symbols of good luck and longevity, making them prized mascots for the success of a new store or shop. Although the critically endangered Hawksbill is no longer allowed to be sold internationally, artisans started using their shells as early as the 16th century. Their unique patterns were sought after by crafters to make jewelry, hair ornaments, and decorative items. 

After imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Umata Matsushima, the store’s proprietor, was arrested and sent to a Department of Justice detention center, as were many other community leaders. It’s not known what happened to the turtle during the war, but it evidently remained in safe hands until the Matsushimas could rebuild their business, this time named Anzen and opening at  211 NW Davis.

The store moved in 1968 to the location most people remember on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Anzen became a destination for Japanese Americans and other Asian Americans seeking culturally-specific foods and cooking supplies, but it was also the place to go for anyone seeking rice, sushi, sake, Asian crafts, and Asian books and magazines.

On September 30, 2014, after 109 years in business, Portland’s oldest grocery and gift shop closed. 

Teikoku Sea Turtle