Prior to World War II, the Japanese-American community resided in an area 15 blocks north of Jackson Street, known as Nihonmachi (or Japantown). Their influence can be seen all the way back to the late 1800s, when Dearborn Street was named Mikado Street and Japanese-owned-and-operated businesses flourished in the area.
For half a century, Japantown thrived with bathhouses, dry goods stores, tailors and barber shops. This all changed, following the attacks on Pearl Harbor, when Executive Order 9066 forced residents of Japanese descent to leave their homes, businesses and communities and enter ramshackle internment camps. More than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, including adults and children, immigrants and citizens alike, were incarcerated. This compelling history has recently caught the public’s imagination with the best-selling novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. The book features the century-old Panama Hotel where, today, locals meet to sip fragrant teas.
Although Nihonmachi never returned to what it once was, its presence can still be felt today. The area is lined with other historic buildings, restored by the descendants of some of the original property owners. Together with other community-minded business owners, they have spurred a revitalization effort to continue its distinct cultural essence. Kobo has moved into the former Higo Variety Store, retaining the spirit of Nihonmachi through its shop and gallery, which features artists of the Pacific Northwest and Japan. The NP Hotel was restored and the new Nihonmachi Terrace built to house families and elders. Restaurants dot the area, featuring tatami rooms and sushi bars to enjoy traditional and contemporary Japanese cuisine.
For photos of Nihonmachi, click here.