In 1858, shortly after Japan and the West began commerce, a Japanese man called Thoro, employed by Wells, Fargo & Co. aided a disabled Japanese ship in San Francisco. Japanese sailors were surprised to hear their language so far from home.
Wells Fargo was involved in Japanese commerce early on. Ships regularly docked with packages from Japan, consigned to Wells Fargo’s Express. Beginning in 1867, Wells Fargo sent trans-Pacific messengers to the island empire. J.H. Phinney represented Wells Fargo in Yokohama. WF advertised, “Superior privileges to passengers for China, Japan and Australia.” By 1903, Wells Fargo & Company Express had three agents in Japan: T.A. Christensen & Co in Kobe , R.N. Walker in Nagasaki , and A. Weston at Yokohama .
Many immigrants from Japan settled in California. Wells Fargo facilitated their business with express and banking services. In 1912, Wells Fargo opened a branch office in the Yamato department store in Los Angeles. The Yamato office sold Wells Fargo’s travelers checks and speeded up the handling of goods from Japan. It is likely that this Wells Fargo office had Japanese-speaking employees.
The company sent an agent to show Imperial Valley growers better ways to prevent damage to produce. In 1913, Wells Fargo exhibited prize-winning vegetables in Los Angeles, grown by U. Yamasaki on one of the largest Japanese-American farms in California. Farther north, Japanese-American farmers grew prized strawberries near Florin .
In 1905, Wells Fargo Nevada National Bank served as agent for Japanese government bonds. By 1918, the bank had a dozen correspondent banks in Japan, including Dai-Ichi Ginko, Ltd. , Mitsui Bank, Ltd., Sumitomo Bank, Ltd. , Yokohama Specie Bank, Ltd. , and the Hongkong & Shanghai Banking Corp. Following World War II, Wells Fargo’s Foreign Department visited Japan and renewed correspondent relationships.
In 1961, Wells Fargo opened its first representative office anywhere, in Tokyo. Wells Fargo celebrated its Japanese business, placing an artistic, award-winning Japanese Garden in its San Francisco headquarters. By 1989, Japanese business folded into Wells Fargo’s partnership with the Hongkong & Shanghai Banking Corp.
Wells Fargo’s corporate symbol—the stagecoach—has gone abroad only to Japan. In 1970, a Stagecoach journeyed to the Osaka World Exposition , and in 1982, a Stagecoach traveled to Fukuoka . The coach then went to Nagoya before returning to service in California.