Japantown Atlas Maps

The Japantown Atlas maps a variety of California Japantowns as they appeared in 1940. Our maps include the three existing Japantowns (San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles, marked by red stars) and nearly two dozen historic Japantowns from Marysville to San Diego (marked by brown dots). Several additional Japantowns (shown in light gray) are under study. Japantowns not included in the Atlas are not shown on this map (see next map).


But that's not all the Japantowns there were! Our second map (below) shows the 43 Japantowns selected for study by our sister project, Preserving California's Japantowns (PCJ). Places shown with light brown dots and gray type are only documented by our sister project (some complete, some in progress). Check their website for detailed histories and interviews. Towns shown with dark brown dots and black type are also mapped on our Japantown Atlas website.

As hinted on the next map there were major Japantowns in Seattle and Portland, with their own networks of settlements and farms in the surrounding regions.
As in the Bay Area, Japanese American farmers provided a large percentage of local produce and dairy goods (some 90% of the farmers at Seattles Pike Place Market before World War II were JA). Although we did not map these communities in any detail, check our links page for local resources, or drop us a line for more info about resources in the Pacific Northwest. There was another big Nikkei community in and around Vancouver, BC, but that's another story.


Assembly Centers and Internment Camps

One of the motives of our project is to document the vibrancy of communities that were disrupted by the forced incarceration of 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast during World War II. So the Atlas would not be complete without mapping this period. Here's our modest start.

Initially, Japanese Americans were restricted from living within five miles of the coast; then east of US 99 in the Central Valley (Military Area 1). The exclusion zone later grew to include all of California (Military Area 2). The FBI took roughly 1200 heads of households and community leaders into custody by the FBI on December 8, 1941 and in the days that followed Pearl Harbor; clear-thinking observers believed this was sufficent to guard against any trouble. However by February 1942, forces opposed to Japanese Americans (including media, veterans and nativist groups and white growers), convinced the FDR administration to authorize removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast, and a larger removal began within months. Initially the administration believed that they could encourage Japanese Americans to relocate to inland states, however most had few connections outside of the exclusion zone, and most states (except Colorado) turned them away, so the government realized they would have to house people.

Terminal Island, CA, and Bainbridge Island, WA were evacuated in early 1942. In April/May 1942, all Japanese Americans on the West Coast were required to report to one of 16 "Assembly Centers." Assembly Centers were makeshift adaptations of existing facilities. Puyallup, Stockton, Fresno, and several other sites were fairgrounds. Portland's facility was a livestock exhibition grounds. Pinedale was a lumber mill on the outskirts of Fresno. Tanforan and Santa Anita were racetracks. In several of these places, unlucky families were made to live in animal stalls.

By summer's end, they were moved to 10 newly-constructed "Internment Camps" in remote areas of the American West (and two camps in rural Arkansas). The camps ranged in population from 800 to 30,000 men, women, and children. Heart Mountain, WY was the third largest city in Wyoming, and Poston's three camps made up the fourth largest city in Arizona. Most of the camps closed in 1945 (Tule Lake closed in 1946). There were numerous other, smaller sites used to confine particular individuals and groups (as described in the National Park Service report Confinement and Ethnicity, our source for this map)

Atlas homePCJ home