Japanese American Resources

The Center for Sacramento History holds collections and items related to the Japanese American experience in the Sacramento region, including oral histories, archival collections and personal papers, scrapbooks, and artifacts. Below is a summary of resources found throughout CSH’s collections for researching our region’s Japanese American history.

A brief history of the Japanese in Sacramento

There was very little Japanese immigration to California until after the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882 and more laborers were needed. This wave of immigrants, known as Issei (or first generation), consisted primarily of single men who worked as laborers, farmers, and fisherman. Sacramento became a major hub for Japanese immigrants working in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Delta region.

The Issei quickly became established in Sacramento, and by 1900, ran hotels, rooming houses, bath houses, restaurants, groceries, and barbershops. In 1903, Sacramento’s Japanese Methodist Church, Buddhist Church, and Sakura City Hospital were founded.

As the Japanese population grew, so did Anti-Japanese sentiment. In 1908, immigration of Japanese laborers to the U.S. was restricted, but wives and family members were allowed to join the men already here. It was with this influx of women that the Sacramento Japanese community began to really take shape, centered downtown in the blocks bound by L and O streets, and 3rd and 5th streets.

Outside of the city, the Issei were successful farmers, despite the California Alien Land Laws of 1913 and 1920 making ownership difficul. Issi reclaimed and farmed swamplands along the Sacramento River and settling in Clarksburg, Freeport, Courtland, Pearson, Walnut Grove, Isleton, Grand Island, and Sutter.

Sacramento was the region’s hub for Japanese residents, offering Japanese cultural activities and events, schools, churches, entertainment, doctors, newspapers, and all kinds of businesses. Sacramento and the surrounding communities even had all-Japanese baseball, basketball, and other sports teams, largely due to denial of access to local teams.

The National Origins Immigration Act of 1924 effectively ended Japanese immigration to the U.S., but Sacramento County’s Issei and Nisei (the Issei's children born in the U.S.) continued to thrive, growing to a population of over 3,500 in 1941.

However, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the U.S. was pushed into war and anti-Japanese sentiment rose even more. Executive Order 9066 was issued on February 19, 1942, forcing the removal and incarceration of Japanese people living on the West Coast.

On May 13, 1942, the first 600 of the 3,800 Japanese Americans in the Sacramento region were detained at Walerga Assembly Center (also known as Camp Kohler) in northeast Sacramento County before being sent to internment camps in Tule Lake and Manzanar, California; Poston, Arizona; and Jerome, Arkansas. In many cases, those who were relocated lost their homes and businesses here in Sacramento County.

The camps closed in late 1946 and those who returned to Sacramento tried to build a new life here. But in 1956, Sacramento’s Japanese were relocated once again when the Capitol Mall Redevelopment Plan razed Japantown and the surrounding areas.

The Nisei War Memorial and Community Center, built just outside the redevelopment zone on 4th Street, commemorates this once vibrant community. Many businesses and the Buddhist Church moved south between R Street and Broadway and others near Freeport and Fruitridge boulevards. 

CSH houses many collections related to the Japanese experience. A few are described below:

Archival Collections

California Superior Court (Sacramento County) Alien Land Law Case Files

These files include annual reports submitted to the court by Japanese Americans certifying legal guardianship of children in whose name real estate and other property was transferred following passage of the California Alien Land Law of 1920. Each report includes descriptions of real estate, expenditures, stocks, and other assets owned by Japanese American minors in the name of their parents.

Rev. Sensho Sasaki collection

The collection documents through film and photography Sacramento's Japantown and Japanese community; the demolition of Japantown during redevelopment; the Rev. Sensho Sasaki, the Sacramento Buddhist Church, and the church's activities; and the Sasaki family. The bulk of the material dates from 1950 to 1960. 

Harold N. Ouye collection

The collection consists of 8 mm color film footage and color photographic slides shot by Harold Ouye that document the Ouye family and Sacramento's West End and Japantown before, during, and after redevelopment. Material dates from 1945 to 1968. Most of the films are digitized and viewable online.

Henry Taketa collection

Archival collection with photographs, newspapers (including. Pacific Citizen and Nichi Bei Times), personal papers, and materials related to Taketa's involvement with the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). Dates from 1945-1992 (bulk from the 1980s).

Yukie Takata Tule Lake War Relocation Center papers

The collection documents Sacramento native Yukie Takata's time at the Tule Lake War Relocation Center from 1942 to 1943. It includes her camp ephemera and adult education papers, correspondence, and the final issue of the Tulean Dispatch Daily newspaper. Also included is material related to her work and schooling after she was released from the camp.

Margaret Neuman collection

The collection documents teacher Margaret Neumann's classes at Isleton Union Grammar School, or Isleton Oriental School, one of the last segregated schools in Sacramento County. Includes a 1935 scrapbook made for her by her students that features photos of the students and notes written by them; a 1935 commencement program; lists of her students from the 1920s and 1930s; and photos from a reunion of Isletonians in 1984.

Ray Takata architecture collection

Architect Ray Takata was born in Sacramento in 1934 and incarcerated along with his family during WWII. His collection documents Sacramento projects he and his firms worked on in the 1980s and 1990s, including, Riverview Plaza, Crystal Ice, Sacramento Zoological Society Interpretive Center, Stanford Mansion, Natomas Middle School, Tenrikyo Church, and Sacramento County Executive Airport.

Eugene Hepting collection

Photographs documenting Sacramento's Japantown, Japanese moving during forced relocation, and Japanese people, homes, and businesses in and around Sacramento.

World War II property impound records

Sacramento Police Department records from from World War II documenting the impounding of "alien enemy" cameras, radios, and firearms by order of the U.S. Department of Justice at the outbreak of the war. Almost all of the impounds are from people of Japanese descent. Records include property receipt books, inventories, and correspondence from property owners.

Frank Christy collections

Includes “The history of California’s Japanese problem and the part played by the Native Sons of the Golden West and its solution,“ by Peter T. Conmy. Also, photographs of local Japanese community restaurants, schools and churches from the 1940s to the 1980s.

Sacramento History Center Japanese American exhibit

“Japanese Americans, Story of a People,” 1992. Sacramento History Center Japanese American exhibit catalog.

Walter Takeo Tsukamoto booklet

Colonel Walter Takeo Tsukamoto: Japanese American Citizen Leader (2002) was prepared by the family of Colonel Tsukamoto and describes his efforts to establish the Japanese American Citizen's League.

Sally Taketa artwork

“Window Scene of Castle Rock”: colored pencil or crayon drawing of Castle Rock from a window at Tule Lake Internment Camp.

City directories collection

The collection contains directories and phone books of the city of Sacramento and surrounding areas from 1850 through the early 1990s. City directory entries are listed by individual or business name and include their residence or business address, occupation and business address, and often their spouse's name. 

Government records

The Center houses property, probate, and court records that include Japanese residents. Assessor property books often include separate Japanese listings. Probate, civil, and criminal court cases are indexed by name

Sacramento Ethnic Communities Survey

The Sacramento Ethnic Communities Survey (1983-1985) included conducting oral histories of prominent members of the numerous ethnic groups that settled in the Sacramento region.  A small portion of these recordings have been indexed and transcribed.  

Naturalization records

Court records pertaining to the legal process of an immigrant becoming a naturalized American citizen, including declaration of intent, petition for naturalization, and oath.


Audio/Visual Collections

KVIE's "Memories Series: Gamen"

KVIE “Memories Series: Gamen” videotape circa 1991 includes interviews with Henry Taketa, Kiyo Sato-Viacrusis, Mary Tsukamoto, and Robert Kashiwagi about the Great Depression and experiences during the Japanese internment during World War II.

Issei Oral History Project

208 taped personal interviews of Issei, first-generation Japanese immigrants, conducted between 1969-1979. Includes several interviews with pictures wives.

KVIE's "Sacramento Good Ole Days Remembered"

“Sacramento Good Ole Days Remembered” (2000) produced by Steve LaRosa for KVIE features Mary Tsukamoto and the internment of Japanese Sacramentans during WWII.

“Strange and Wonderful Harvest”

“Strange and Wonderful Harvest” (1980) is a film about the Riverside/Pocket area of Sacramento where the Portuguese (1850s) and the Japanese settled (1920s) and farmed the land.

Walerga Oral History Project

Oral histories of people who were interned or worked at the Walerga Assembly Center during the period of Japanese incarceration during World War II.

The Tabuchi Family Oral History

The Tabuchi Family: Internment and Redevelopment oral history features mother and son Alice and Jim Tabuchi discussing their family's long history with the Sacramento area, family businesses, and forced relocation during World War II.


Library Collections

The CSH Library Collection contains a wide range of published and unpublished works, such as masters’ theses, that explore the history and experiences of the Japanese in the Sacramento region from 1869 to the 1990s. There are several volumes related to World War II internment, the causes and effects of relocations, and camp experiences, as well as more recently published items, such as the biography of lawyer Wayne Collins who defended Tokyo Rose and participated in key cases pertaining to World War II internment.  Cheryl Cole’s History of the Japanese Community in Sacramento, 1883-1972 is a notable thesis in the collection that contains a wealth of information about the early Sacramento Japanese community, including its organizations, churches, and businesses up to 1972. Also in the library are transcripts of oral interviews of Sacramento area Issei, Nisei, and Sansei, which range from pre-WWII, through the wartime evacuation and camp, as well as postwar (Sansei) experiences.