Artist dedicates historic mural to Sacramento J-Town’s community

Reclaim Sacramento Japantown unveiled their mural May 29 at Fourth Street and Capitol Mall. photo by Kenji G. Taguma/Nichi Bei News


Karen Tsugawa painted the history of Sacramento Japantown in an oversized panel of hanafuda cards on a mural at the corner of Fourth Street and Capitol Mall in the city. Organizers held the unveiling May 29.

Group members spoke about the project, their family’s connection to Japantown and the ethnic enclave’s history.

Tsugawa and Reclaim Sacramento Japantown, a group aiming to help the community remember the ethnic enclave, have spent a few months working on the project.

A friend from San Jose State University introduced Tsugawa, who grew up in Roseville, Calif., to the group. Another friend introduced Tsugawa to Michelle Huey, a Reclaim Sacramento Japantown member, who wanted to do a public art project.

While in San Jose, Calif., Tsugawa got involved in the city’s Japantown through the Japanese American Museum of San Jose’s “Hidden Histories” project. This project used augmented reality to display the city’s Chinatown, Japantown and Pinoytown’s histories.

Tsugawa said she did not realize a Japantown had existed in Sacramento until a few months ago. She explored painting and fine art mediums in the past couple of years. This was the largest of the murals she’s created.

“I feel like it’s important to … showcase time and place, people and businesses or lack thereof, and kind of went with that,” Tsugawa, a Yonsei, told the Nichi Bei News in an interview.

The mural panels display historical images from Sacramento’s Japantown, including Sun Rise Laundry, the last day of Yorozu Co. and the redevelopment of the ethnic enclave.

Tsugawa grew up around many Japanese Americans, but she felt that everyone was “siloed within their family units or within their interests.” She hopes the mural will open the door for more community gathering, so it’s “less siloed and more open.”

She added that she was introduced to her Chinese and Japanese heritage through games, including mahjong and hanafuda. She said the hanafuda cards are “very graphic, they have striking colors, they feel very quintessential Japanese, but also somehow still modern, but also, set in time.”

Josh Kaizuka, co-president of the Florin chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, asked the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians’ permission to create a mural on their land. He noted the Native American and the Japanese American communities’ shared experiences, including forced relocation. Kaizuka added that the Native Americans, along with many others in Sacramento, did not know the history of Sacramento’s Japantown.

Ninety people have donated to the project, Kaizuka said. Donors exceeded their initial goal, and have thus far raised $34,000.

“It’s all because people cared, they remembered and they wanted to make sure that they were part of something educational and said, ‘You know what? We’re reclaiming our history of Sacramento Japantown, so people remember,’” Kaizuka said passionately.

Jim Tabuchi, the facilitator of Reclaim Sacramento Japantown, said the group’s first step is “raising the visibility and recognizing that Sacramento Japantown was super vibrant here.”

“It’s important for people to remember Sacramento Japantown, but it’s also just as important to remember this is the West End. This is the history of Sacramento here,” Tabuchi said.

The West End neighborhood included Americans of Japanese, Black, Hispanic and Filipino descent.

Japantown brought people from many different backgrounds together, Tabuchi said.

He said there were about 4,000 people and 500 businesses in Sacramento Japantown.

Tabuchi said his father’s store, Tabuchi Department Store in downtown Stockton, had to close after the family was incarcerated during World War II. The building was demolished because of redevelopment in 1967. He added that the family department store moved down the street and remained open for another 35 years.

“I want not only Japanese Americans, but all immigrant families … to know their story, right? Dig in, understand…be inquisitive, write the stories down, so future generations can know about it,” Tabuchi commented.

The Sacramento Japantown Art Mural is located on Fourth Street and Capitol Mall in Sacramento, Calif. Kenji G. Taguma and Greg Viloria contributed to this article.

One response to “Artist dedicates historic mural to Sacramento J-Town’s community”

  1. Alan Miyatake Avatar
    Alan Miyatake

    Hi Derek
    Alan Miyatake, from Toyo Miyatake Studio in LA.
    Great story! My family had a friend, Tosh Komura, who had a photography studio in Sacramento after WW2. He was working for my grandfather, Toyo, after the war in LA and wanted to return to Sac to open his own studio. He asked Toyo if he could have his blessings to use the name “Toyo Studio”. Toyo was honored and granted permission. I had heard Tosh eventually retired and turned his studio into a Japanese videotape rental store.
    Thank you for your story

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