First Alameda Japantown Historic Marker Unveiling Takes Place Thursday

City of Alameda -- The marker features photos of shops and people in Alameda Japantown taken by Nichi Bei Nenkan in 1912.
City of Alameda -- The marker features photos of shops anCity of Alameda -- The marker features photos of shops and people in Alameda Japantown taken bd people in Alameda Japantown taken by Nichi Bei Nenkan in 1912 and a map by Ben Pease, Japantown Atlas.

First Alameda Japantown Historic Marker Unveiling Takes Place Thursday

The Japantown Historic Marker project is building new awareness of Alameda’s hidden Japantown by creating historic markers that share the rich immigrant history and the proud diversity of the Japanese American community in Alameda.

On Nov. 17, the first of four historic markers will be unveiled, connecting current Japanese American community sites with former sites of Japantown businesses. The first marker unveiling will take place at an event at the Alameda Marketplace, 1650 Park St., from 4:30 to 5:15 p.m. At the event, Japanese community members will offer remarks on the project and there will be a TaikoPeace community dance.

Alameda’s historic marker project is named “Tonarigumi,” which means “neighborhood.” Each of the four markers present a different aspect of the Japanese American community in Alameda’s Japantown, and all will be installed over the next few months:

• “Traces of Alameda Japantown” at the Alameda Marketplace
• “Life that Connects Us All” at the Buddhist Temple of Alameda
• “Becoming a Japantown” at the City of Alameda Free Library
• “A Beacon of Light” at Buena Vista Methodist United Church

Tonarigumi partners include the four marker locations and Rhythmix Cultural Works, with creative direction and design from Kazumu Julio Cesar Naganuma and Grace Horikiri.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Issei, first generation Japanese immigrants, came to Alameda as “sojourners,” seeking a better life, with a dream of making their fortunes. The new immigrants settled in a Japantown community roughly bounded by Park Street, Santa Clara Avenue, Walnut Street and the Estuary.

In 1912, Japanese immigrants set up shops and resided nearby for mutual support. Shops included barbershops, bathhouses, hotels, restaurants, grocers, tofu shops, laundries, bicycle shops, a doctor, a tailor, and shoe repair shops. Local businesses increased in the mid-1920s with nurseries and floral shops to support the Japanese in gardening and landscape work.

However, the journey for the Issei was filled with many hardships. They faced anti-immigration laws in the 1920s, increased animosity toward Japanese in the 1930s, and the relocation and incarceration of persons of Japanese ancestry from 1942 to the end of World War II.

Japanese immigrants in Alameda were taken to the Tanforan Assembly Center at the Tanforan Racetrack in San Bruno. The center had 180 barracks, about half of them built on the racetrack in-field; 26 of them were nothing more than converted horse stalls. Tanforan held 7,816 persons of Japanese ancestry from April 28 to Oct. 13, 1942. The government sent most of the Japanese incarcerated at Tanforan, including those who had lived in Alameda, to the “Central Utah Relocation Center” — a place better known as “Topaz.” A few others went to Gila River, and some went to Poston, both in Arizona.

Despite the erasure of Alameda Japantown, the Japanese Methodist Church South and the Buddhist Temple remained opened as hostels in 1946, offering hope for the returning Japanese, and a promise to revitalize the Tonarigumi, neighborhood cohesiveness, that exists today.

To learn more about the history of Japanese immigrants in Alameda, visit https://alamedasun.com/news/japanese-once-disappeared-today-they-have-st....

Ben Pease   Map of 1912 Alameda Japantown