When I first moved to San Jose from the East Bay 25 years ago, one very pleasant discovery has been San Jose’s Japantown. As one of the three remaining Japantowns in the US, I always thought it had much more of a neighborhood and community feel than than the Japantowns in San Francisco and Los Angeles. San Jose Japantown is celebrating its 125 Anniversary, and KQED radio covered the history of San Jose Japantown in this KQED Forum radio show.
The radio show related interesting history, as told by Curt Fukuda and Ralph Pearce, the authors of San Jose Japantown. I didn’t know that a number of the shops in the area were taken care for their owners by non-Japanese Americans during the internment, which enabled a fair number of the original inhabitants to return. Fukuda and Pearce said that San Jose was thought to be an area friendlier to Japanese Americans, so many Japanese Americans from other parts of the country went there after getting out of the camps. Because of this and the fact that the neighborhood resisted the efforts of San Jose to make it into a tourist attraction, a lot of the original buildings are still around. These are some of the reasons that San Jose more like a true Japanese American neighborhood than an attempted simulation of Japan.
Personally, I’m really glad that San Jose Japan town is not a tourist trap – to me it’s a friendly authentically real neighborhood. I live about 15 minutes away and frequent a lot of the businesses. My family gets our teeth cleaned at Japantown Dental. Roy’s Station, described in the radio show as a community hub, is a place where my family and I have snacked many times, and we hang out there once in a while. I have a frequent eating card at some of the restaurants there, and I occasionally post some of their events like Nikkei Matsuri.
The show mentioned that while San Jose Japantown is very open and multicultural (there are Korean, Ethopian, and Hawaiian (do link) establishments like restaurants, community centers, and churches there), institutions like the Yu Ai Kai senior center, the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin, the Wesley United Methodist Church, and the Japanese American Museum keep the base as Japanese American. One caller into the show worried about the areas future, as she said that some of her favorite institutions like the Hawaiian Hula studio and store where her children learn hula is under pressure from rising rents. I hope that Hula studio stays around, but as the speakers point out, San Jose Japantown has survived many different crises.
There are many other interesting stories and anecdotes on the radio show that I couldn’t cover here, so consider giving it a listen. Fukuda and Pearce’s book can be purchased online or at the San Jose Japanese American Museum.