Fargo Woman Connects Across Business, Language and Culture
Minami Klinkhammer never expected to be a business owner in Fargo, North Dakota. She didn’t expect to be a serial entrepreneur, dedicated community builder, and language educator. Growing up in a manufacturing and agricultural town several hours from Tokyo, Japan, she never imagined a life in America. But now that she’s here, she’s sinking her roots deep into the Red River Valley and creating a space for her business goals, her culture, and her family.
“The entrepreneurial spirit is something I was familiar with growing up,” Klinkhammer said. “In my hometown, everyone seems to have a small metal-working factory in their garage, including my dad. This type of decentralized fabrication is common in Japan. However, most of these operations are generational. The idea of building a business from the ground up wasn’t something I’d really thought about before moving to America. It’s been an exciting challenge!”
Klinkhammer was always drawn to the English language. It is required for all Japanese students through high school, but she continued on with language classes through college.
“I thought maybe I’d be a translator or something,” she said. She met Conrad, a Fargo-Moorhead native studying Japanese at the same school. They married and relocated to Fargo in 2011.
With the move, Klinkhammer found a new world of possibilities—and a few hurdles. The open prairies reminded her of the rice fields surrounding her hometown and there was a strong sense of community. However, that’s where many of similarities ended.
“I joke that I am not good at being Japanese,” Klinkhammer said. “I wanted a chance to grow and find myself. I didn’t see that happening staying in Japan. There are so many opportunities here for myself and my family. People here are so welcoming. It just seems like everything is possible.” Klinkhammer began her entrepreneurial journey with a commercial cleaning company soon after relocating. As the company and her family grew, she found herself more and more in an administrative role. She discovered a passion for bookkeeping, which led to the opening of her latest business—Blackbird Business Solutions. She specializes in helping small-to-medium-sized businesses and the self-employed with general bookkeeping.
“As an entrepreneur myself, I know how challenging it can be to keep the paperwork in order when you’re trying to grow a business,” she said. “I discovered that bookkeeping, like learning English, really excited me. Now, I can use all the things I’ve learned to help others achieve their business goals. It’s very rewarding.”
Building a Community
Despite the opportunities Klinkhammer found in Fargo, starting a new life in a foreign country comes with many challenges.
“It’s not just the language,” she said. “At first, I was afraid of being misunderstood, but I realized people here are very open-minded and easy to talk to. But there were things I missed from home—food, holidays. When my first daughter was born, I realized I wanted her to know about her Japanese heritage.”
The Japanese community in Fargo is very small and there weren’t a lot of chances to share her culture with others, so Klinkhammer and her husband founded Fargo Meets Japan (FMJ) on Facebook. The community brought together local Japanese Americans and Fargo-Moorhead residents interested in learning about Japan. From free language classes to large-scale events, the group helps build a cultural bridge between North Dakota and Japan.
“FMJ gives me a chance to connect with my culture and share it with my children,” she said. “About half of the Japanese community in Fargo is children, so groups like ours and events like the Asian Night at the Plains Art Museum and the Northern Plains Botanic Garden Society’s Hina Doll display are an important touchstone to connect us and the wider community to Japanese culture.”
It is a community effort. Klinkhammer spearheads FMJ and recently started offering Soran Bushi dance classes at the Fercho YMCA through a partnership with YMCA of Cass and Clay Counties. Others with an interest in Japanese culture work to bring more to the area, including taiko drumming, radio shows, and much more.
“When we started FMJ four years ago with language classes, it was just a few of us,” Klinkhammer said. “Now, the group has grown into a real community with so much to offer. It’s amazing to see what has happened with just planting a few seeds.”
Between running Blackbird Business Solutions, a scaled-down cleaning business, managing rental logistics, and leading Fargo Meets Japan, Klinkhammer has embraced the entrepreneurial spirit that defines America for most of the world. She’s also learning to balance work, home, and personal interests, like moms everywhere.
“It’s a lot,” she said. “I have two kids under five years old. It’s a challenge to keep everything running smoothly some days. But I want them to see what’s possible when you put your mind to it.”
For more information on Blackbird Business Solutions, visit blackbirdfargo.com. You can learn more about Fargo Meets Japan on Facebook or stop by one of their events. Free language classes are offered the fourth Saturday of every month and Soran Bushi dance club meets the second Sunday at Fercho YMCA.