Published May 23, 2024

A Recipe for Success

Shinzo Ohki photograph
Photo courtesy of the Whitley County Historical Museum

Included among more than 500,000 items in our collection are a glass bottle of soy sauce and a little cookbook. These otherwise unassuming items were part of an entrepreneur’s dream that put the Midwest on the culinary map.

The person behind the dream was Shinzo Ohki, a businessman, artist and beloved community member who made Whitley County into an unexpected landmark in food history.

Born in Kamakura, Japan, Ohki graduated from Colombia City High School in 1907. He initially found work as an importer of Japanese goods in Chicago and Detroit, before starting his first business, the Taka Tea Co.

Shinzo Ohki and Taka Iwanga wedding photo
Photo courtesy of the Whitley County Historical Museum

After briefly returning to Japan in 1917 to marry his wife, Taka Iwanaga, the couple moved back to Colombia City, where they started their family as well as the Oriental Show-You Company, one of the first fermented soy sauce companies in the United States.

At the time, soy sauce wasn’t commonly found in local grocery stores. To entice his customers to try the sauce, Ohki included a cookbook with purchase and provided community meals that used the soy sauce.

Shinzo Ohki "Oriental Show-You Sauce" bottle

Due in part to Ohki’s exceptional marketing skills, Show-You was a hit, selling almost 30,000 gallons of soy sauce per year at its peak and putting the Midwest on the food industry’s map.

Outside of his business ventures, Ohki also served his community as a member of the Rotary Club. He was also deeply involved in his local Presbyterian church and painted beautiful watercolor pieces in his free time.

However, Ohki and his family still faced displacement from their community during World War II when the U.S. government forced more than 100,000 Japanese Americans into internment camps. As prejudice against Asian Americans spread across the country, members of Whitley County stood up for their friend and neighbor by starting a letter-writing campaign to vouch for the Ohkis’ good standing in the community. It worked, and the Ohki family was spared imprisonment.

Shinzo Ohki Cookbook

Following the war, as soldiers returned home, Ohki gave many veterans jobs at the Show-You factory. However, while working with them, he noticed that several of the men had taken Samurai swords as “spoils of war.”

Understanding that Samurai swords are sacred to many Japanese families, he began a campaign to reclaim the swords and help repatriate them.

Around 1961, Ohki sold the Show-You company to Beatrice Foods and spent the rest of his life painting, fishing and enjoying time with his family.

To this day, his legacy is honored in Whitley County through the Ohki Scholarship at Colombia City High School. And in 2021, Ohki Alley was created in downtown Colombia City, where it serves as a place for people to come together and connect.