Unlike the many Chinatowns that serve as ethnic cultural enclaves in many American cities from coast to coast, and the increasing numbers of districts variously called “Koreatowns” and “Little Saigons,” you won’t find many Nihonmachi, or Japantowns. There are lots of reasons for this, but the main one is probably the Japanese American community’s need to assimilate into mainstream America after the shame and humiliation of being imprisoned in internment camps during World War II. In the 1950s and ’60s, most JAs moved into suburban America and avoided clustering in ethnic Japanese areas.
Denver has Sakura Square, a one-block development built in the 1970s I like to call “Tiny Tokyo” because it’s ridiculously small compared to Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. And New York City has a couple-blocks of Japanese businesses that have sprouted in recent years in the East Village that might be called a “mini-Japantown” in Manhattan. Seattle’s Japantown evolved after the war into the International District, though I think it’s still anchored by the awesome, generations-old Uwajimaya supermarket.
But not surprisingly, the three Japantowns that are officially recognized as national historic districts are all in California, where the vast majority of Japanese immigrants settled in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Along with the well-known and tourist-filled Little Tokyo in LA and San Francisco’s Japantown is the Japantown area of San Jose that’s more a neighborhood than a business district.
Erin and I have traveled to and stayed at both Little Tokyo and San Francisco’s Japantown, but only visited San Jose’s J-town a couple of times. We spent a few hours there last week and we love it. Here’s why: Continue reading