Kokoro: The Story of Sacramento's Lost Japantown

By California Museum

Based on a 2017 exhibition at the California Museum, this collection of photos explores a now-vanished and mostly forgotten neighborhood. Once the fourth-largest Japantown in the nation, the once-vibrant community was born,out of racism and ultimately was destroyed by it. 

Japanese Dance Performance (1920/1929) by Unknown photographerCalifornia Museum

Early Japantown,1900-1942

Japanese immigration to the United States began in the 1880s, when Japan began allowing laborers to leave the country. Because of California’s need for manual labor in agriculture and railroad building, the majority of the first generation of immigrants, the Issei, settled here.  By the 1920s, Sacramento had the fourth largest Japanese population of any city in the United States. Facing racial discrimination in housing and employment and a language barrier, the Issei settled around a six block area between L and O streets, Third and Fifth streets. This neighborhood became known as “Ofu” (Sakura City) among the Japanese settlers. By 1940, Sacramento’s Japantown had hundreds of businesses that served the needs of the residents and people from surrounding areas. It offered religious services, classes in traditional flower arrangement, tea ceremonies, dance classes, cultural celebrations, and sporting events. Japantown cultivated a sense of place for the first generation and planted the roots for a lively Nikkei (Japanese American) culture in Sacramento.

Japan Alley (c. 1910s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Center for Sacramento History

Japan Alley business with residence above. In Japantown's heyday, colorful lanterns set the scene in Japan Alley as musicians played the shamisen (a Japanese stringed instrument) to accompany singers late into the night.

Japan Alley (c. 1930s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Center for Sacramento History

Japan Alley (located between 3rd and 4th, L and Capitol) was the heart of Sacramento's Japantown.

As of 2020, the former heart of Japantown is a one-block vacant lot.

Aokihara’s Jewelry Shop (c. 1910s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Center for Sacramento History

Aokihara’s jewelry store at 1125 3rd Street was among many thriving Japantown businesses.

Today the parking garage for Sacramento Downtown Commons (formerly known as Downtown Plaza) stands on the site of Aokihara's jewelry store.

Hamai Kaishundo Drug Store and Print Shop (c. 1918) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Center for Sacramento History

This photo shows one of the hundreds of businesses in Japantown. The Hamai Kaishundo Drug Store and Print Shop was located at 1210 3rd Street.

Approximate location where Hamai Kaishundo once stood, now next to Interstate 5.

Sanyo Co. grocery and hardware store (c. 1920s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Steve Koyasako

As in Japan, merchandise often was displayed outside Japantown stores. Here sacks of rice are stacked in front of the Sanyo Co. grocery and hardware store located at 1331 4th Street.

Today the Wells Fargo Center, a 423' foot office tower, stands at the location where the Sanyo Company once displayed its wares.

Kobayashi Fish Market (1939) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Alan Kobayashi

Fish was a staple on Japanese American tables. There were several markets to buy fresh fish, as well as bait fish, in Japantown. This photo shows the Kobayashi Fish Market at 1314 4th Street.

Instead of a fish market, now there is an office tower.

Kyotani Liquor Store (1934) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Janet Ichiho Kyotani

The owners of Kyotani Liquor Store at 301 Capitol Avenue documented their store's grand opening in December 1934 with this formal photograph.

Ouye Pharmacy (c. 1930s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Harold N. Ouye family

Harold N. Ouye stands outside his family drugstore at 301 L Street. At that time, Japanese American pharmacists couldn't get jobs in white-owned pharmacies, so Ouye opened his own.

Teens at Ouye Pharmacy (c. 1930s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Harold N. Ouye family

Ouye Pharmacy at 3rd and L streets was a popular hangout for the youth of Japantown.

The corner where Ouye's pharmacy once stood is now the Downtown Commons parking garage.

Ishima’s Beauty Shop (c. 1930s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Center for Sacramento History

The large number of stylists in this photo is one indicator of the success of Fusako Ishima’s Beauty Shop, at 523 Capitol Avenue.

An office tower occupies the site where the beauty parlor once stood.

Shopping in Japantown (c. 1940) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Center for Sacramento History

Women exchange traditional greetings outside the Sun Rise Laundry on Capitol Avenue between 3rd and 4th streets.

Japanese First Baptist Church (1927) by F.H. KurokoOriginal Source: California State University, Sacramento. University Library. Donald and Beverly Gerth Special Collections & University Archives

A Young People's Christian Conference gathering at the Japanese First Baptist Church. This church, located at 1530 5th St., was founded in 1920 and had a large membership by the end of the decade.

An assisted living residence now stands on the site of the Japanese First Baptist Church.

Konko Kyo Church (c. 1930s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Hideo and Yomisu Oya

Methodist and Buddhist churches were established in Japantown in the 1890s. By the 1920s, various Japanese religions joined them. The Konko kyo church, serving those of the Shinto faith, was at 604 O St.

The Capitol Towers Apartments now occupy the site of the Konko kyo church.

Nichiren Buddhist Church (April 1934) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Reverend Kenjo Igarashi

Church activities played a big part in Japantown life. This ceremonial gathering took place at Nichiren Buddhist Church, located at 220 P Street.

Today a condominium complex stands in place of the Buddhist church.

Lincoln School (c. 1938) by Michael T. BenningOriginal Source: Katie Shirasago

The Legislature authorized separate schools for Japanese Americans in 1921, but Sacramento schools remained integrated. Most Japantown children attended Lincoln School at 418 P Street. This was the 1938 kindergarten class.

Today CalPERS occupies the site of the old Lincoln School.

National Foundation Day celebration (1933) by F.H. KurokoOriginal Source: Bonnie Nishijima Okamoto and Jane Nishijima Komure

National Foundation Day, marking the date when the nation of Japan was established around 660 BCE, is a national holiday in Japan. It also was celebrated in Sacramento’s Japantown.

Japanese Dance Performance (1920/1929) by Unknown photographerCalifornia Museum

The immigrant generation (Issei) hoped their children (Nisei) would assimilate to America but didn’t want them to forget their own culture. This is a performance by Alice Kataoka’s dance class.

Sewing Class (c. 1920s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: April Ikuma Adachi

Japantown offered courses in everything from traditional flower arranging to Japanese language instruction to sewing. This photo shows Mrs. Kataoka’s sewing class

West Sacramento picnic (c. 1920s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Bonnie Nishijima Okamoto and Jane Nishijima Komure

Lake Washington, just across the river from Sacramento's Japantown, was a popular destination for community gatherings. These children were attending a Fourth of July picnic.

Boy Scout Troop 50 (c. 1930s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Sacramento Betsuin

Most Anglo groups didn't accept members of Japanese ancestry, so Japantown created its own. The Sacramento Buddhist church started a Boy Scout troop in 1904. Troop 50, shown here, formed in 1930.

Sumo tournament (c. 1940) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Victor Shibata

Sumo matches were common. Volunteers would build a dirt mound behind Tozai Dry Goods, and hundreds of spectators would crowd into Japan Alley to watch matches featuring wrestlers from across the region.

Sumo Championship award ceremony (c. 1920s) by F.H. KurokoOriginal Source: Janet Ichiho Kyotani

Watching sumo wrestling was a popular pastime among Japantown Issei men, especially during tournaments. This photo shows a sumo championship award ceremony.

Judo Tournament (1935) by F.H. KurokoOriginal Source: Center for Sacramento History

Traditional Japanese sports flourished alongside their American counterparts. This photo shows a judo group that was part of the Sakura City Gymnastics, Physical Training and Education Association.

Baseball team (c. 1926) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Craig Uchida

Baseball was a passion in the Japanese American community. This photo shows the Wakaba baseball team posed in front of the Sacramento Buddhist Church at 418 O Street.

The Buddhist church building is long gone, but the building on the right, in 2020 houses the Nisei Barber Shop.

Baseball teams (c. 1931) by F.H. KurokoOriginal Source: Ellen Ito

In 1931 the Hirosho baseball team visited from Japan. They played Japanese American teams up and down the West Coast, including Sacramento's Wakaba team. The two teams are shown in this photo.

Basketball team (c. 1937) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Kenji Hosokawa

Basketball became very popular among the Nisei (second generation) in Sacramento's Japantown and other West Coast communities in the 1930s. This photo shows Sacramento's Mikado basketball team.

Forced from home (May 11, 1942) by Dorothea LangeOriginal Source: National Archives and Records Administration

Forced removal, 1942-1945 

Japantown confronted its greatest hardship after the nation of Japan attacked the U.S. naval fleet in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. For Americans of Japanese ancestry, the bombing was a nightmare come true that sparked increased anti-Japanese hatred and fear. FBI agents and Sacramento police swept through Japantown, picking up community leaders for interrogation, stopping cars, and collecting firearms, radios, and cameras.

The Japanese American community in Sacramento and elsewhere sprang into action. They publicly condemned Japan’s actions and declared their loyalty to the United States. However, their efforts failed to calm the nation’s racial hysteria.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 under the banner of “military necessity.” It paved the way for the removal and unconstitutional incarceration of everyone of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast, including American citizens. In Sacramento’s Japantown and up and down the coast, 120,000 people had to quickly find storage or sell their belongings, resulting in tremendous financial loss.  

Interrogation (c.1941) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Center for Sacramento History

Anyone prominent in the Japanese American community was suddenly a suspect after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Giichi Aoki, owner of Aoki Music, was one of the Japantown businessmen interrogated by police.

Confiscation of "contraband" (c. 1941) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Center for Sacramento History

Following Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans had to turn in all items the U.S. government considered to be dangerous “contraband,” including these little girls’ radios and cameras.

Loyalty statement (1941-12-08) by Sacramento BeeOriginal Source: Center for Sacramento History

The Japanese American Citizens League presented a statement of loyalty to the Sacramento City Manager the day after Pearl Harbor. Left to right: Walter Tsukamoto, Dr. Jiro Muramoto, Dr. George Muramoto, Henry Taketa, Dr. George Takahashi, Dr. George Iki

Proclaiming loyalty (1942-01-18) by Japanese American business allianceOriginal Source: Bob Matsumoto

With hostility against their community rising, Sacramento Japanese American businessmen purchased a newspaper ad to proclaim allegiance to the United States and point out that they were U.S. citizens.

Exclusion Order (May 11, 1942) by Dorothea LangeOriginal Source: National Archives and Records Administration

After President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, exclusion orders went up in Japanese American neighborhoods across the West Coast informing residents that they had to leave. This one was posted at 5th and O streets.

Selling everything (May 11, 1942) by War Relocation AuthorityOriginal Source: National Archives and Records Administration

Forced from their homes with a few days' notice, many families parted with prized possessions for far less than their replacement value, or didn't find buyers at all.

Forced from home (May 11, 1942) by Dorothea LangeOriginal Source: National Archives and Records Administration

There was just a short time to prepare to leave and most people didn’t have a place to store their belongings. Families, like the one in this house at 427 O Street, sold anything they could.

Storage (1942) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Center for Sacramento History

Churches and individuals who owned property offered a place for some families to store possessions. But when they returned home years later, many found their items had been stolen or damaged.

Forced out of business (1942) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Center for Sacramento History

Businesses had to liquidate their merchandise quickly. Yorozu at Fourth and Capitol was one of many Japantown businesses that held bargain closing sales in the hurried days before they were forced out.

Walerga Detention Center (1942) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Eucaly Shirai

The U.S. government relied on members of the Japanese American community to help build their own housing at the “assembly centers.” This work crew took a break from constructing barracks at Walerga.

Forced removal (1942) by War Relocation AuthorityOriginal Source: National Archives and Records Administration

By mid-May 1942, Sacramento’s Japantown was deserted. Its residents were held at Walerga “Assembly Center” north of Sacramento before being sent to incarceration centers in distant places. They wouldn't be allowed to return for years.

Friends in detention (1942) by War Relocation AuthorityOriginal Source: National Archives and Records Administration

Behind barbed wire at Walerga, the Japanese Americans made the best of a bad situation. They attended school and organized activities. These two friends posed for a U.S. government photographer.

Children in Japantown (c. 1956) by Katsuro MurakamiOriginal Source: Murakami Family Archives

Postwar Japantown 1945-1959

In December 1944, the U.S. government announced the closing of the incarceration centers for those of Japanese ancestry. After over two and a half years, the residents of Sacramento’s Japantown finally could return home. But piecing together their shattered lives and community was challenging.

There was a general housing shortage and new people had moved into their old neighborhood. Japantown and the surrounding area, known as the West End, had become a mosaic of Portuguese, Mexican, Chinese, Korean, and African American cultures.

Within this diverse neighborhood, Japanese American leaders worked together to rebuild the social, cultural, and economic ties of the pre-war era that had provided a sense of community since the pioneering Issei generation arrived in the 1890s.

By 1950, Sacramento’s historic Japantown had regained its place as the heart and soul of the area’s Japanese American community.

Buddhist Church and Kaikan (c. 1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: LaVerne and Helen Sasaki

Finding a place to live was the first problem for the returning residents of Japantown. The Buddhist Church and kaikan (assembly hall) at 5th and O streets, shown here, served as a temporary hostel.

Parkview Presbyterian Church (c.1945) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Among those who found shelter at Parkview Presbyterian Church upon returning to Sacramento were (l to r): Takejiro Shimatsuko, Etsu and Miye Nakamura, Rev. Isamu Nakamura, Mr. and Mrs. Oshima, Mr. Hirotsu, Rev. Igarashi, Mrs. Shimatsuko, and William Otani.

Hisano and Katsuro Murakami’s Melody Café (c.1940s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Murakami Family Archives

Hisano Murakami and her son Katsuro opened the Melody Café at 318 L Street upon returning from Tule Lake after the war. She had previously owned the Nikko Low Restaurant at 1326 4th Street from 1933 to 1942.

Kat’s Koffee Klub (c. 1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Murakami Family Archives

The wartime incarceration took a heavy toll on Japantown businesses. In 1941, there were 471 Japanese American-owned businesses; in 1954 that number was around 300. But those that remained, like Kat’s Koffee Klub, which opened December 2, 1950 at 318 L St., did a brisk business.

Kay’s Fountain (c. 1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Nancy Inada Shimizu

Kay’s Fountain at 331 N Street was a popular hangout. Before the war, the clientele of a Japantown restaurant like this one would have been almost entirely Japanese American.

A parking garage for an office tower occupies the site of Kay's Fountain today.

Iris Sukiyaki (c. 1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Center for Sacramento History

Iris Sukiyaki was one of many Japanese American businesses that repopulated 4th Street, Japantown’s central business district, after the war.

Postwar businesses (c. 1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Gloria Saika Imagire

Outside Ariake Chop Suey at 1323 4th Street.

Ouye Pharmacy (c. 1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Harold N. Ouye Family

In 1946, brothers Fred and Harold Ouye reopened their pharmacy, this time in the old Sumitomo Bank building at the corner of 4th and L streets.

Toyo Photography Studio (c.1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Keiko Komura

Hiring a chindon’ya, an elaborately costumed street musician, was a traditional way to advertise a business. This one performs outside Toyo Photography Studio at 1226 4th St. as Mrs. Komura looks on.

Nisei VFW Post J Street Parade. (1950-07-04) by Katsuro MurakamiOriginal Source: Murakami Family Archives

Members of Nisei VFW Post 8985 walk in a Fourth of July parade along J Street. The all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team is the most highly decorated unit for its size and length of service in U.S. history.

Citizenship class (1953) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Eucaly Shirai

Issei, or immigrants from Japan, were barred by law from becoming U.S. citizens until 1952. When the law changed, they were eager to become citizens of the country they had called home for so long. This is Noboru Shirai’s citizenship class, held at Fremont School.

Buddhist Church Bazaar (c. 1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Jean Yego

The annual Buddhist Church Bazaar offered games, food, and socializing. By the time of its 50th anniversary in 1950, Sacramento’s Buddhist Church was the second-largest in the U.S. In a new location, the bazaar still draws crowds today.

Hanayagi dance recital (1953) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Alice Takeda Kataoka

The Buddhist Church kaikan (assembly hall) was the setting for many community activities, such as this Hanayagi classical dance recital.

Hana Matsuri celebration (c.1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: George Ochikubo family

These girls perform in a Hana matsuri, or flower festival, at the Buddhist Church. The April 8 event celebrates the Buddha’s birth.

Hiroshima Kenjinkai dinner (c. 1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Bonnie Nishijima Okamoto and Jane Nishijima Komure

Originally formed to help new immigrants find housing and work, kenjinkai took on a more social aspect in the postwar years. This photo shows a dinner hosted by the Hiroshima Kenjinkai.

Photography Contest (c. 1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Bonnie Nishijima Okamoto and Jane Nishijima Komure

After the war, community members reactivated the Sacramento chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), originally formed in 1931. The group sponsored many activities, including this photography contest.

Taiko performance (c. 1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Alan Kobayashi

The JACL and a network of churches brought back the annual Obon festivals that had been an important part of prewar life. Here, members of the Fukushima Kenjinkai provide a traditional music performance.

Obon celebration (c. 1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Keiko Komura

Obon celebrations transformed O Street as dancing and singing to the music of flutes and drums lasted far into the night. Buddhist and non-Buddhist girls alike enjoyed dressing up in yukata (casual kimono) and joining the festivities.

Obon Festival (c.1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Eucaly Shirai

The Obon celebration was a major event, attended by people outside the Japanese American community as well as within it. Sacramento's mayor delivers remarks in this photo.

JACL talent show (c.1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: George Ochikubo family

Talent shows were popular in postwar Japantown, with participants of all ages. The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) sponsored the annual “Stars of Tomorrow" in the Buddhist Church kaikan

Lincoln School graduating class (1948) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Mel Okamoto

After the war the student body of Lincoln School was more ethnically diverse, reflecting changes in the neighborhood it served. This is the junior high 1948 graduating class.

Children in Japantown (c. 1956) by Katsuro MurakamiOriginal Source: Murakami Family Archives

In contrast to downtown today, Japantown was both a business district and a close-knit neighborhood of families.

Lincoln Theater (c.1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: LaVerne and Helen Sasaki

Japantown residents enjoyed going to the movies at the Lincoln Theater, located at 412 L Street. It was owned by the Yokoi and Nakatani families.

Former site of the Lincoln Theater

Omega Phi Social Club formal dance (c. 1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: April Ikuma Adachi

Dances were one part of a lively social life for Japantown’s young people. These girls are dressed up for the annual Omega Phi Social Club formal dance at the Senator Hotel at 12th and L streets.

Sacramento Saints basketball team (c. 1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Helen Sekikawa

Basketball grew in popularity among Japantown girls after the war. The Sacramento Saints girls’ basketball team often played in the Buddhist Church kaikan (assembly hall) at 5th and O streets.

Sacramento Maroons Basketball Team (1947) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Ellen Takata Ito

The Sacramento Maroons boys’ basketball team won the 1947 Tournament Championship. The team was sponsored by the Young Buddhist Association.

Baseball team (c. 1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Eucaly Shirai

Baseball continued to be a popular pastime in the Japanese American community in the 1950s.

Kanji Nishijima (c. 1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Bonnie Nishijima Okamoto and Jane Nishijima Komure

Bowling was a favorite pastime after the war. The neighborhood organized a Nisei Bowling League that, with 128 members by 1951, was the largest of its kind in the nation. Kanji Nishijima is shown here.

Bowling (c.1950s) by Unknown photographerCalifornia Museum

Bowling was a popular sport among young Japanese American women too.

4th Street Cherry Blossoms (c.1955) by Harold N. OuyeOriginal Source: Harold N. Ouye family

Redevelopment, 1955-1965

To the residents of 1950s Japantown, their neighborhood was
a vibrant community filled with church activities, dances, sports, and festivals.
To those outside, it was a  dangerous
slum, a blight on Sacramento’s downtown.

In summer 1954, the City of Sacramento announced an urban
renewal plan, the Capitol Mall Project. It was billed as progress, a clean,
modern gateway to the Capitol.

Its price was the total destruction of Japantown and the
surrounding multiethnic West End.  Faced
with a second forced removal, this time Japantown’s residents protested. But in
the end, the authorities prevailed. They bulldozed a 15-block area, replacing
it with government buildings, private high-rises, and a wide thoroughfare along
Capitol Avenue.

In a short time, Japantown was almost completely erased from
Sacramento’s urban landscape, and likewise from the city’s collective memory.

Japantown was known as Ofu. The word is made of two Japanese characters, the first translating as sakura (cherry blossoms), and the second as capitol. This photo shows 4th Street between L and Capitol.

Redevelopment Plan (c.1955) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Center for Sacramento History, James Henley Collection

Officials present a plan for redevelopment of the West End. Japantown would be replaced by a shopping plaza with a Macy's (shown), along with office buildings and parking structures.

Sacramento City Council Meeting (1954-07-15) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Eucaly Shirai

The Sacramento City Council hears testimony about the proposed redevelopment of the West End, including Japantown, at a public meeting.

Henry Taketa Testifies (1954-07-15) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Harold N. Ouye family

Henry Taketa testified, “As a result of our wartime evacuation, we were forcibly kicked out of our residences and places of business. We by experience know that you take a lot of losses when you have to move out.”

Frank Yoshimura (c. 1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: VFW Nisei Post 8985

Frank Yoshimura testified, “The Redevelopment Agency’s plan is an abuse of power. There is a large population of racial minorities, and we in the area will be facing racial discrimination in trying to relocate.”

Arthur Mitsutome (c. 1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Keith Muraki

Arthur Mitsutome said, “We believe in the American democratic way of life and feel that fair play should be accorded to all. Progress ... with utter disregard to the rights of the individuals concerned is not progress in the right direction.”

Giichi Aoki (c. 1930s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Memorial Book of Japanese Families in the USA

Giichi Aoki testified, “The entire Japanese population suffered great hardship during the war. Evacuation during this peacetime is entirely different from the last... I appeal to your sense of justice and fairness.”

Closing Sale (c.1956) by Harold N. OuyeOriginal Source: Harold N. Ouye family

Once again business owners had to sell out as they prepared to move or close. This photo shows the closing sale at Frank Yoshimura’s shoe store at 1219 4th Street.

Ouye's Pharmacy Moving Sign (c.1955) by Harold N. OuyeOriginal Source: Harold N. Ouye family

This sign advertised the new location of Ouye’s Pharmacy when it was forced to relocate. The business was one of a few to survive redevelopment. It stayed in business at 10th and V streets until 2007.

Redevelopment (1956) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Eucaly Shirai

In September 1956, the City acquired the first three of 15 blocks slated for redevelopment. Homes and businesses, like these at 4th and Capitol, soon fell to the wrecking ball in the name of progress.

Last Days of Sacramento's Japantown (1956/1960) by Harold N. OuyeCalifornia Museum

Home movie by Harold N. Ouye depicts the last days of Sacramento's Japantown.

Redevelopment Office (c.1955) by Harold N. OuyeOriginal Source: Harold N. Ouye family

The house on the left, at 5th St. and Capitol Ave., was the home of Henry Taketa, the unofficial “Mayor of Japantown.” After the Taketas were forced out, it became the headquarters of the redevelopment agency.

Capitol Mall Groundbreaking (1959) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Center for Sacramento History

Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown and others break ground at the opening ceremony of the Capitol Mall Redevelopment Project. The Japantown businesses along Capitol Avenue made way for office buildings.

Demolished Building (c. 1956) by Harold N. OuyeOriginal Source: Harold N. Ouye family

This scene of a wrecked building at the heart of Japantown at 4th and Capitol was a common sight as demolition continued. Decades of community were reduced to rubble and memories.

Aerial View of Sacramento (1960) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Center for Sacramento History, Frank Christy Collection

This aerial photo of downtown Sacramento gives a good overview of the scope of the redevelopment project.

Fifteen square blocks between Tower Bridge and the Capitol building were leveled, seen here as empty ground and parking lots.

Agnes Miyakawa (1931) by AlbanOriginal Source: Gary Miyakawa

Japantown notables

Sacramento’s Japantown nurtured some remarkable individuals. This section highlights Japanese Americans raised in the neighborhood who went on to success and celebrity outside its boundaries. They excelled in the fields of arts and entertainment, sports, science and medicine, miltary and public service.

Also included are some whose contributions remained closer to home. These community leaders of the postwar era may not be famous, but they poured their heart and soul into making Japantown a better place, and those who lived there will never forget them.   

Betty Inada (c. 1920s) by Frank IzuoOriginal Source: Nancy Shimizu

Betty Inada recording
00:00

Betty Inada (1913-2001) couldn't be a star in the U.S. because of her ethnicity. In 1933, she left for Japan, where her American-accented singing was a hit. She became Japan’s most popular pre-WWII female jazz singer.

Agnes Miyakawa in Madame Butterfly (1931) by Unknown photographerCalifornia Museum

Sacramento native Agnes Miyakawa (1911-1995) left home to study singing in Paris. In 1931 her debut performance there in Madame Butterfly earned acclaim. She went on to perform in Japan, Los Angeles and elsewhere and appeared in films and on radio.

George Kambara (c.1930s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Sacramento City College

George Kambara’s (1916-2001) career began at Tule Lake, where he was put in charge of eye care for his fellow incarcerees. After the war he became a leader in opthalmology. He is shown with his parents.

Mitsuye Endo (c.1940s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: California State University, Sacramento. University Library. Donald and Beverly Gerth Special Collections & University Archives

While at Tule Lake, Mitsuye Endo (1920-2006) agreed to be a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging her imprisonment. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in her favor in December 1944, leading to closing the incarceration camps.

Nisei VFW Post 8985 (1947-02-07) by Kuroko StudioOriginal Source: California State University, Sacramento. The Donald & Beverly Gerth Special Collections & University Archives

Returning from heroic service in WWII, Sacramento’s Japanese American soldiers weren’t welcome in existing VFW posts due to their ethnicity. They organized their own post in 1947. Nisei VFW Post 8985 was the first of its kind.

Henry Taketa (c.1950s) by Allen StudiosOriginal Source: Sally Taketa

Attorney Henry Taketa (1913-1991) co-founded the Sacramento JACL in 1931. After the war, he helped others returning from the incarceration find shelter and jobs. Later he led the fight to save Japantown from redevelopment.

Yuki Shimoda (c.1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Bonnie Nishijima Okamoto and Jane Nishijima Komure

Yuki Shimoda (1921-1981) was one of Japantown’s most popular entertainers prior to WWII. He went on to a career on Broadway and in movies and TV, including Auntie Mame (1958), Farewell to Manzanar (1976), and A Town Like Alice (1981.)

Eugene Okada (c.1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: George Ochikubo family

Eugene Okada (1919-2012) helped rebuild postwar Japantown. He co-edited the community newspaper and organized bowling leagues. He also reopened his family’s landmark Yorozu store, which, after a second relocation in the redevelopment, he ran until his death.

Tommy Kono (c.1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Amy Kamikawa-Wong

Born in Japantown, Tommy Kono (1930-2016) started weightlifting at Tule Lake. He won gold in the 1952 and 1956 Olympics and silver in 1960, the only athlete ever to medal in three weight classes. He set world records in four weight divisions.

Toko Fujii (c.1950s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: George Ochikubo family

Toko Fujii (1920-2001) helped knit Japantown back together after the war. He helped reorganize the JACL, refurbish the Buddhist church gym, and organize the church’s youth basketball program.

Harvey Itano (c. 1950) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Caltech Archives

Harvey Itano (1920-2010) was the first Japanese American elected to the National Academy of Sciences, for his work on sickle cell anemia. He had the highest GPA of UC Berkeley’s Class of 1942, but couldn't attend graduation, imprisoned at Walerga.

Robert Matsui (c.1970s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Shig Yokote

Robert Matsui (1941 – 2005) was elected 14 times to Congress, where he helped pass legislation providing redress to Japanese Americans for their WWII losses. He is shown with his wife, Doris, who has represented Sacramento in Congress since Robert's death, and their son.

Bill Matsumoto (c.1980s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Carole Matsumoto

Bill Matsumoto (1918-2000), shown at left, helped rebuild the sense of community in Japantown that had been lost during the wartime incarceration. He is perhaps best remembered for organizing the popular JACL talent shows.

Pat Morita (c.1980s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Gloria Imagire

Pat Morita (1932-2005) was best known for his roles in the TV show Happy Days and in the Karate Kid film series. Born in Isleton, Morita first tried his comedy on patrons in his family’s Japantown restaurant after the war.

Credits: Story

CREATED WITH HELP FROM:
April Adachi
William Burg
JoAnn Fujikawa
Gloria Imagire
Alice Kataoka
Bob Kawashino
Paul Kitagaki, Jr.
Alan Kobayashi
Jane Nishijima Komure
The Kyotani Family
The Murakami Family
Reyne Ochikubo Lee
Bob Matsumoto
Paul McClure
Haruki Noguchi
Bonnie Nishijima Okamoto
Tom Okubo
Rev. Bob Oshita
Gail Ouye
Mahlon Picht
Rev. Laverne Sasaki
Annette Shirai
Marion Uchida
Kevin Wildie
Amy Kamikawa Wong

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