History of the Japanese in Los Angeles

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There is a Japanese American and a Japanese national population in Los Angeles and Greater Los Angeles.


In the 1890s Japanese began arriving in Los Angeles. The first group traveled from San Francisco after experiencing anti-Asian sentiment in that city.[1]

Families of Japanese ancestry being removed from Los Angeles, California during World War II.

As of December 1941 there were 37,000 ethnic Japanese people in Los Angeles County. Not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized military commanders to exclude "any or all persons" from certain areas in the name of national defense, the Western Defense Command began ordering Japanese Americans living on the West Coast to present themselves for "evacuation" from the newly created military zones. This included many Los Angeles families.

After the war, due to lack of housing in Little Tokyo, many Japanese Americans returning from the camps moved into neighborhoods surrounding the downtown area, into apartments and boarding houses. Notably, Boyle Heights, just east of Little Tokyo, had a large Japanese American population in the 1950s (as it had before the internment) until the arrival of Mexican and Latino immigrants replaced most of them.


Exterior of Holiday Bowl, designed by architect Helen Liu Fong, in 2002

Little Tokyo in Downtown Los Angeles is the main historical Japantown of Los Angeles. Sawtelle housed a Japantown that became known as "Little Osaka". Jack Fujimoto, author of Sawtelle: West Los Angeles's Japantown, wrote that the name was given because of the "many colorful eateries and shops."[2] The city has now officially put up community signs "Sawtelle Japantown" for this area on April 1, 2015.[3] After court ruling that the segregation covenants in the Crenshaw district were unconstitutional, the area opened up to other races. A large Japanese American settlement ensued, which can still be found along Coliseum Street, east and west of Crenshaw Boulevard.[4] The Holiday Bowl was built by Japanese entrepreneurs as a combination bowling alley, pool hall, bar and coffee shop in 1958 and served Crenshaw's Japanese residents who "had not long before suffered Manzanar's internment camps and a blanket racial ban by the American Bowling Congress".[5] Blacks started arriving in the 1960s, and by the 1970s were the majority.

The interior of the Mitsuwa in Torrance

As of 2014 Torrance has the second largest concentration of ethnic Japanese people of any U.S. city, after Honolulu. The city has headquarters of Japanese automakers and offices of other Japanese companies.[6] Because of this many Japanese restaurants and other Japanese cultural offerings are in the city, and Willy Blackmore of L.A. Weekly wrote that Torrance was "essentially Japan's 48th prefecture".[7] A Mitsuwa supermarket, Japanese schools, and Japanese banks serve the community.[6]

In the pre-World War II period the South Bay region was one of the few areas that allowed non-U.S. citizens to acquire property, so a Japanese presence came. According to John Kaji, a Torrance resident quoted in Public Radio International who was the son of Toyota's first American-based accountant, the Japanese corporate presence in Torrance, beginning with Toyota, attracted many ethnic Japanese. Toyota moved its operations to its Torrance campus in 1982 because of its proximity to the Port of Long Beach and Los Angeles International Airport, and it was followed by many other Japanese companies.[6]

As of 1988 Gardena also has a large Japanese-American community.[8] Early in Gardena's history, Japanese migrants played a role in the agrarian economy.[9]

Jack Rodman, a managing partner of the accounting firm Kenneth Leventhal & Co., stated in 1989 that the most preferred place for Japanese businesspeople to settle is the Palos Verdes Peninsula, citing the inexpensiveness compared to Bel Air, Brentwood, and Pacific Palisades, proximity to the ocean, and the ranch-style houses because they are "more like a Japanese home--single-story, spread out."[10] He stated that the other preferred places were Pasadena, San Marino, and Arcadia.[10] In addition Rodman said some Japanese businesspeople liked to settle in Hancock Park in the City of Los Angeles; Hancock Park is in proximity to the Consulate-General of Japan in Los Angeles.[10]


As of 2010, according to the report "A Community Of Contrasts: Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in Los Angeles County" by the nonprofit group Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles (formerly the Asian Pacific American Legal Center), of the Asian ethnic groups, 70% of Japanese Americans were born in the U.S., the highest such rate of the Asian ethnic groups. According to the same report, 19% of Japanese Americans were senior citizens, the highest such rate of the Asian ethnic groups, and from 2000-2010 the population of Japanese Americans increased by 1%, the lowest such rate of the Asian ethnic groups.[11]

In 1986 Hiroshi Matsuoka, the Japan Business Association of Southern California (JBA, 南カリフォルニア日系企業協会 Minami Kariforunia Nikkei Kigyō Kyōkai) executive director, stated that there were about 3,500 Japanese nationals working for 530 branch companies of Japanese companies in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.[12]


The city of Torrance has headquarters of Japanese automakers and offices of other Japanese companies.[7] The headquarters of American Honda Motor Company, Honda's North American division, is located in Torrance.[13] Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., the U.S. division of Toyota, has its headquarters in Torrance.[14] Toyota has plans in 2014 to move its headquarters to suburban Dallas, Texas in the next few years.[15] All Nippon Airways operates its United States headquarters, a customer relations and services office, in Torrance.[16] Also the Japanese supermarket chains Mitsuwa Marketplace[17] and Nijiya Market[18] are headquartered in Torrance.

Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. headquarters in Torrance

Japan Airlines moved its U.S. headquarters to El Segundo in 2003.[19] Nissan previously had its North American headquarters in Carson. In the summer of 2006 the Nissan headquarters moved to Tennessee.[20]

As of 1987, the membership list of the Japanese Business Association of Southern California stated that in an area between Los Angeles International Airport and the Port of Los Angeles, there were 194 Japanese companies which had branch operations.[13] In 1989, Sadao "Bill" Kita, the executive director of the JBA, stated that there were 693 Japanese companies with offices in Southern California. In a period before 1994, the peak number of Japanese expatriate executives and managers in Southern California was 3,800. In 1994, according to Kita, the number declined to 615. The number of expatriate managers and executives, by that year, had declined to 3,400. At that point, Japan was experiencing an economic recession.[21]


In 1979 there were two full-time and part-time schools in Greater Los Angeles catering to Japanese national students. They had a total of 356 students. In the 1980s the increase in Japanese businesses resulted in an increase in enrollment in full-time and part-time schools catering to Japanese national students. In 1987, there were three school campuses with 4,430 students. The campuses were located in Gardena, Hermosa Beach, and Torrance.[13]

Full-time education[edit]

As of 1989, the Torrance Unified School District and the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District had 42% of all Japanese-speaking students enrolled by the 100 school districts in Los Angeles County. The Palos Verdes district had 346 students born in Japan in 1985, while the number increased to 434 in 1988.[10]

The Nishiyamato Academy of California is located in Lomita.[22] The school opened in April 1992. It was founded by Ryotaro Tanose, a Japanese Diet member, as a branch of the Nishiyamato Gakuen Junior and Senior High School (Nishiyamato Academy) in Kawai, Nara Prefecture. It was originally located in the former Dapplegray School building in Rolling Hills Estates. In 1993 the school served grades 6 through 8 and had 38 students. In 1994 it served grades 5 through 9 and had 71 students. As of 1994 the school had a monthly tuition of $630 ($1017.99 when considering inflation).[21]

There was previously another full-time Japanese school, the International Bilingual School, founded to educate children of Japanese nationals working for companies such as Honda and Toyota.[23] The school opened in Torrance in 1979, later moved to Hermosa Beach, before moving to a Palos Verdes school district facility in Palos Verdes Estates in 1992.[21] By 2002 the school district had filed suit to force the International Bilingual School to leave the school property.[24]

Part-time education[edit]

Asahi Gakuen (あさひ学園 "School of the Rising Sun") is a part-time Japanese school in the Los Angeles area.[13][25] The school was founded by the Association for the Promotion of Japanese Language Education in Los Angeles. In 1988, the school had 2,500 students.[26] The school teaches the Japanese language, science, social sciences, and mathematics.[26] As of 1987 the school teaches all four aspects in each school day.[13] The Japan Traders' Club of Los Angeles (Nihon Boeki Konwa-kai), as of 1997, financially supports the school.[26]

The main campus of the East-West Japanese School (三育東西学園 San'iku Tōzai Gakuen) is located in Gardena, adjacent to the Gardena Seventh-day Adventist Church and across from the Gardena Civic Center.[13] It also has branch campuses: the Rolling Hills Campus (ローリングヒルズ校 Rōringuhiruzu Kō) in Rolling Hills Estates and the Irvine/Costa Mesa Campus (アーバイン/コスタメサ校 Ābain/Kosutamesa Kō) in Costa Mesa.[27] Its primary customer base consists of Japanese children who are enrolled in American schools. As of 1987 most of its students are from Buddhist families. The school offers two hour classes on weeknights.[13]

As of 1987 the Southern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists does outreach to the Japanese community by sponsoring the East-West School. That year, the principal, Akira Nakamura, stated that students do 10-minute bible studies as part of the program even though most students are not Christian.[13] In 1987 the annual tuition was $780 ($1644.31) and registration was $280 ($590.26) for elementary school students. The school had different fees for students at the junior high school and kindergarten levels.[13]

Nishiyamato Academy offers its own Saturday school program.[28]

The Japanese Language School Unified System, founded in 1949, included a main campus in Los Angeles and a branch campus in Sun Valley as of 1988. The San Fernando Valley Japanese Language Institute in Arleta was founded circa 1928.[29]

Culture and recreation[edit]

The Japanese American National Museum and the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC) are located in Little Tokyo. The community center features the George J. Doizaki Gallery, the 880-seat Aratani/Japan America Theatre, the JACCC Plaza (designed by Isamu Noguchi), and the James Irvine Japanese Garden. The Japanese American Veterans Memorial Court was erected on the San Pedro Street side of the community center building to honor the Japanese Americans who died in service. Additionally, the Go For Broke Monument, which commemorates Japanese Americans who served in the United States Army during World War II is located on the north side of Little Tokyo, behind the museum. The Union Center for the Arts (former Japanese Union Church of Los Angeles) is located on Judge John Aiso Street. The Nisei Week festival is held early in August every year and is sponsored by various Little Tokyo businesses. [30]

Similar Japanese American Community Centers to the one in Little Tokyo were founded after the trauma of the internment of Japanese Americans. Today, most locations have become centers for cultural exchange and can be found in Venice, Long Beach, Sun Valley, and in other neighborhoods with historically large Japanese populations.

Because of the Japanese business presence, many Japanese restaurants and other Japanese cultural offerings are in Torrance, and Willy Blackmore of L.A. Weekly wrote that Torrance was "essentially Japan's 48th prefecture".[7]

Notable residents[edit]

John Naka with his masterpiece Goshin at the United States National Arboretum

See also[edit]


  • Fujimoto, Jack (Japanese Institute of Sawtelle, Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California). Sawtelle: West Los Angeles's Japantown. Arcadia Publishing, 2007. ISBN 0738547972, 9780738547978.
  • Hayden, Dolores. "Landscapes of loss and remembrance: the case of little Tokyo in Los Angeles." Studies In The Social And Cultural History Of Modern Warfare 5 (1999): 142-160.
  • Modell, John. The economics and politics of racial accommodation: The Japanese of Los Angeles, 1900-1942 (1977).
  • Moritomo, Toyotomi. Japanese Americans and Cultural Continuity: Maintaining Language and Heritage. Taylor & Francis, 1997. ISBN 0815317670, 9780815317678.


  1. ^ Wilkman, John and Nancy Wilkman. Los Angeles: A Pictorial Celebration. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2008. ISBN 1402750366, 9781402750366. p. 148. "The first Japanese in Los Angeles came south from San Francisco in the 1890s to escape anti-Asian sentiment. Since that time, Japanese and Japanese Americans have played important roles in the economic and cultural life of the city."
  2. ^ Fujimoto, p. 7.
  3. ^ Naomi Hirahara, Thinking L.A.: How West L.A. became a haven for Japanese-Americans, UCLA Newsroom, April 15, 2015
  4. ^ Scott Shibuya Brown, Crenshaw: Littler Tokyo : Although their children are grown and gone, older Japanese-Americans still evince pride, loyalty in their changing community., Los Angeles Times, October 3, 1993
  5. ^ The Best...The Beautiful...and the Bizarre; THE 'SHAW; Holiday Bowl: Strike or Spare? Ed Leibowitz August 8, 1999 page 8 Los Angeles Times Magazine (preview) [1]
  6. ^ a b c Fujita, Akiko. "Toyota built Torrance into the second-largest home of Japanese Americans. Now, it's leaving" (Archive). The World. Public Radio International. May 16, 2014. Retrieved on May 27, 2015.
  7. ^ a b c Blackmore, Willy. "Top 10: Japanese Noodles Shops in Torrance." L.A. Weekly. Retrieved on May 10, 2013.
  8. ^ Goodman, Adrianne. "Teacher Helps Japanese-Americans Brush Up on Their Heritage." Los Angeles Times. November 24, 1988. Retrieved on August 30, 2013.
  9. ^ "Gardena Frequently Asked Questions." () County of Los Angeles Public Library. Retrieved on August 29, 2013.
  10. ^ a b c d Goodman, Adrianne. "Japanese Investors Tap Residential Sales Boom : Peninsula Draws Buyers From Pacific Rim." Los Angeles Times. February 26, 1989. p. 2. Retrieved on March 6, 2014.
  11. ^ Trinidad, Elson. "L.A. County is the Capital of Asian America" (Archive). KCET. September 27, 2013. Retrieved on April 3, 2014.
  12. ^ Puig, Claudia. "'School of the Rising Sun' : Surroundings Are American but Classes, Traditions Are Strictly Japanese." Los Angeles Times. November 13, 1986. p. 1. Retrieved on March 30, 2014.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i Rainey, James. "Children of Japanese Executives Flock to Special Classrooms." Los Angeles Times. December 31, 1987. Retrieved on March 6, 2014.
  14. ^ Hirsch, Jerry. "Giant new Toyota fuel cell powers buildings rather than cars." Los Angeles Times. October 21, 2012. Retrieved on May 11, 2013.
  15. ^ Jerry Hirsch and David Undercoffler, Toyota to move jobs and marketing headquarters from Torrance to Texas, Los Angeles Times, April 27, 2014
  16. ^ "ANA City Offices/Ticketing Offices North America/Hawaii/Guam." All Nippon Airways. Retrieved on December 22, 2008
  17. ^ "Privacy Policy." Mitsuwa Marketplace. Retrieved on June 19, 2013. "Customer Relations Mitsuwa Marketplace 1815 W. 213th St. Suite 235 Torrance, CA 90501"
  18. ^ "Bloomberg: Jinon Corp (Nijiya Market)". Retrieved 2016-07-17. 
  19. ^ Lauro, Patricia Winters. "THE MEDIA BUSINESS: ADVERTISING -- ADDENDA; Japan Airlines Moves Its Account." The New York Times. March 5, 2003. Retrieved on March 19, 2014. "The airline, part of Japan Airlines Systems, recently moved its United States headquarters to El Segundo from New York."
  20. ^ Vincent, Roger. "Nissan's old campus in South Bay gets 'flipped'." Los Angeles Times. March 3, 2010. Retrieved on March 7, 2014.
  21. ^ a b c Hillinger, Charles. "Students Get a Japanese Education at 2 Palos Verdes Schools." Los Angeles Times. September 29, 1994. Retrieved on March 6, 2014.
  22. ^ "平日校 学園概要" (Archive) Nishiyamato Academy of California. Retrieved on March 6, 2014. "2458 Lomita Blvd., Lomita CA 90717"
  23. ^ Taylor, Ronald B. "An Education Made in Japan : Schools: Students learn U.S. customs, but the emphasis on excelling is clearly Japanese at an academy in Palos Verdes Estates. The demanding curriculum is designed to keep students on par with their counterparts in Tokyo and elsewhere." Los Angeles Times. December 4, 1992. Retrieved on March 6, 2014.
  24. ^ Chan, Erin. "Museum Files Suit to Block Its Ouster by School District." Los Angeles Times. July 18, 2002. Retrieved on March 6, 2014. "The museum building is on the site of a closed intermediate school. The property also is home to two private schools: the International Bilingual School and Rolling Hills Preparatory. The school board has filed suit to evict the International Bilingual School. Rolling Hills Preparatory also will have to leave eventually, Smith said."
  25. ^ "北米の補習授業校一覧(平成25年4月15日現在)" (Archive). Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Retrieved on March 30, 2014.
  26. ^ a b c Moritomo, p. 138.
  27. ^ "連絡先/アクセス." East-West Japanese School. Retrieved on March 6, 2014. "事務局 (ガーディナ校舎)16110 La Salle Ave., Gardena, CA 90247" and "アーバイン/コスタメサ校 271 Avocado St. Costa Mesa, CA 92627 コスタメサ SDA 教会内" and "ローリングヒルズ校 28340 Highridge Rd., Rolling Hills Estates, CA 90274 ローリングヒルズ SDA 教会内"
  28. ^ "Saturday School." Nishiyamato Academy of California. Retrieved on April 1, 2015.
  29. ^ Lingre, Michele. "Early Linguists : Private Foreign-Language Schools Give Bilingual Education a New Twist." Los Angeles Times. April 28, 1988. p. 3. Retrieved on June 29, 2015.
  30. ^ Kurashige, Lon (2002). Japanese American Celebration and Conflict: A History of Ethnic Identity and Festival. University of California Press. 
  31. ^ Ayuda, Tiffany."Actress Jolene Purdy On Her New Show, CBS’s ‘Under the Dome,’ and Invaluable Advice from Jake Gyllenhaal." Mochi Magazine. July 26 (year unstated). Retrieved on July 8, 2016.
  32. ^ Moraski, Lauren. ""Under the Dome" actress Jolene Purdy: Show isn't what you expect." CBS News. June 22, 2013. Retrieved on July 8, 2016.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]