By John Sammon NikkeiWest Staff Writer
A new book authored by Jim Nagareda, “San Jose’s Japantown,” is a unique portal into the past that gives the reader a visual perspective of what Japantown once was, and what it is today, using rare photos many never seen by the public before.
“I wanted a book that not only captured the history of Japantown, but included historic photos of people back in the day going about their everyday business and lives, to give it a real sense of community,” Nagareda said.
Published by Arcadia Publishing of South Carolina, “San Jose’s Japantown” chronicles the arrival of Japanese immigrants to the Santa Clara Valley mostly in the 1890’s who came as laborers and helped to establish California’s booming agricultural fruit and vegetable growing industries.
Nagareda has been involved in history projects before. A well-known local photographer, he served as project manager for the creation of a 470-page book titled “San Jose Japantown—A Journey.” Released in 2015 and authored by Curt Fukuda and Ralph Pearce, the book proved to be a massive undertaking, 15 years in the making and is considered a definitive work on the history of San Jose’s Japantown.
Priced at $60, the book sold all of the 2,000 copies printed.
Nagareda said his book “San Jose’s Japantown,” priced at $22, is different in that it uses mostly photos with captions to tell a largely visual history. He started the project two years ago. It took a year-and-a-half to complete.
San Jose’s Japantown was released on April 17. The book has been selling.
“I think people enjoy it because they’re looking at photos that tell an interesting story,” Nagareda said.
One of the challenges was to find and compile photos most representative of the history of Japantown through the decades. Some of the earliest photos date from the early 1900’s.
“There were some surprise discoveries,” Nagareda said. “For example I found that two of the very first soy sauce factories in the Continental United States were located right here in San Jose’s Japantown.”
Originally called the Tsuruda Miso and Shoyu Manufacturing Co., the firm established by the Tsuruda family located a soy sauce factory in 1922 at 472 Jackson St., today the site of Grant Elementary School.
“They (Tsuruda family) were early-day business-minded people who were very active in the community,” Nagareda added.
San Jose’s Japantown was smaller than similar communities in San Francisco and Los Angeles and in some ways a more family-oriented community. Business owners often lived right behind (or above) their business.
Architecturally, though the central area retains much of its original look, one difference is in the type of businesses that called Japantown home. Before television, when radio or movies were the only entertainments, people were more apt to seek popular spots where they could visit and converse than they are today.
“In the old days there were lots of coffee shops with lunch counters where people could hang out,” Nagareda said. “There were also barber shops where people would gather to visit.”
Today, gift shops and restaurants are more prevalent. Some of the photos in the book were taken fairly recently, 10 years ago, allowing readers to compare them to old photos of the same locations.
Several photography studios once existed in the old days in Japantown. Today Nagareda’s studio located at 201 Jackson St. is the sole reminder.
In 1942 during World War II when the U.S. Government stripped Japanese Americans of their rights and citizenship and imprisoned them in concentration camps as suspected enemy agents the community came to a crashing halt. In some cases homes and businesses were held by non-Japanese Americans, Good Samaritans who preserved mortgages until those imprisoned could come back to claim them. Nagareda said that some of those imprisoned let non-Japanese Americans borrow their farms, which were given back when they returned. But it didn’t happen in all cases. Others lost everything and had to start again from scratch.
San Jose’s is one of only three Japanese American communities including San Francisco and Los Angeles to survive the war.
Historic photos for the book came from a variety of sources, including the archives of the Japanese American Museum, or from friends and acquaintances.
“The challenge was in knowing I had enough photos to fill a book,” Nagareda said. “You find rare photos from many different places, for example, a friend might say, ‘my aunt has a shoebox full of old pictures.’”
The discipline involved in producing the book not only included research, writing and compiling of materials, but consistently working on the project to meet the publisher’s deadline.
“Keeping track of everything was a challenge and all of the information and photos had to be sent into the publishing house at once,” Nagareda said. “I did the layout and decided what photos I wanted to use, what should go on what page. I printed out the photos and arranged them. It was like doing a puzzle.”
In addition to his photography studio Nagareda runs a popular gift shop Nikkei Traditions at 219 Jackson St.
He also recently took over as executive director of the Japanese American Museum located at 535 N. 5th St. The preservation of historic photos Nagareda said will be a major focus of the museum. The facility has a project in the works to archive all its photos, a complete inventory and cataloging.
“We have lots of volunteers at the museum and they need to know what we have to tell the story of Japantown,” Nagareda said. “We have an archive room and some old photos won’t be found until I search them out.”
“San Jose’s Japantown” is available at Nikkei Traditions Gift Shop, Nichi Bei Bussan, a clothes, fabric, décor and martial arts shop at 140 Jackson St., and the Japanese American Museum.
Another location where the book can be purchased is Kogura Co. Gift Shop at 231 Jackson Street. Kogura has the distinction of being one of the few shops that survived World War II to be run by the same owners who operated it before the war.
The book is also available at major book sellers like Barnes & Noble. Arcadia Publishing can be accessed at: www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781467125291