The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1978, Volume 24, Number 4
Thomas L. Scharf, Managing Editor

Back to the article


Cover photo

Cover photo: Hasegawa Kinsaburo, an early farmer in the Vista area poses for his wedding portrait about 1913 with his new bride, Tsuneno. San Diego’s first Japanese probably arrived during the bustling boom years of the 1880s. These newcomers called themselves dekaseginin, a Japanese term used to describe individuals who left their roots in a home town or village while going elsewhere to seek employment.

This simple white stone monument is set in the high desert of California’s Owens Valley. Inscribed on the shaft in delicately powerful calligraphy are the words Ire To — Soul Tower; a tribute to both a people and a vanished way of life.

Railroad workers c. 1887

The Go Ban, Diego’s first owned and operated Japanese business

laborers in county's citrus groves

Many of San Diego’s early Japanese were employed in the county’s citrus groves like the laborers photographed.


Others began farms in Mission Valley Bonita and Palm City.

Japanese Congregational Mission

In 1907 a Japanese Congregational Mission was established on 8th Street which taught English at night along with religion.

Muraoka Fukutaro and Yamamoto Mitsusaburo made a significant contribution to local agriculture when they introduced winter celery to Chula Vista.

celery production in Chula Vista

The rich soil and good water of the South Bay were especially conducive to large scale celery production and quickly made Chula Vista the “Celery Capital of the World.” The crop was harvested by hand and loaded onto horse drawn wagons.

Nakamura Najiro

Nakamura Najiro, who had worked as a chef for both the University Club and John D. Spreckels, opened the Brown Bear restaurant on Prospect in La Jolla

The Formosa Tea Pavilion was a special attraction of the 1915 Exposition in Balboa Park. It was later managed by Asakawa Hachisaku, his wife and a cousin, Asakawa Gozo, who are all seen below in a gag photograph taken during the exposition.


Glen Curtiss welcomed the Japanese merchant marine training vessel Taisei Maru

An airplane flight by Glen Curtiss welcomed the Japanese merchant marine training vessel Taisei Maru on its 1912 arrival in San Diego.

Students at the flying school Curtiss operated on North Island

Local Japanese were among the early students at the flying school Curtiss operated on North Island. One of them, Kondo Motohisa, became the first Japanese in the country to obtain an international pilot’s certificate.

Shashin Kekkon

Shashin Kekkon, or picture marriage, became a practical method for many Japanese bachelors living in this country to obtain wives. Forwarding a photograph of themselves to family or friends in Japan, a woman would be found who was willing to enter into marriage. Later, arriving in California with passport in hand (below) and dressed in traditional kimono, she would be met by her new husband.


It was customary for such nuptuals to be concluded with a wedding portrait, like that of Ozaki Itsu and Ozaki Toraichi at the right, while wearing the latest in Western fashion.

As a result of the impact of two cultures, Nisei children could be dressed, like moto Asakawa, in the most recent of American children’s styles or…

…be attired in the more customary clothes of their parents’ native Japan.

In the long run, no matter how one was dressed, what really became important was that during the early part of this century families such as Owashi Sataro and his wife and three children had begun to sink their roots into the San Diego community as well as a new country.

Issei farmers sometimes banded together to market their own produce because Caucasian brokers often refused to take Japanese grown products. one of the earliest of these Issei cooperatives was the Vegetable Growers Market at 400 6th. Hashiguchi Kasuke, in the white shirt, become the company’s first driver and swamper.

An accomplished gardener, Hashiguchi Kasuke and two companions also landscaped and Japanese style garden at point Loma home of Joseph Sefton.

Japanese women in the canneries

The wives of Japanese fishermen generally found employment in the canneries.

Van Camp cannery

San Diego’s Van Camp cannery at the foot of Crosby Street.

Namiki San and children

Former fisherman Namiki San and children on a wharf near the canneries.

Koide Taju and his wife Miwa pose with their “Star Laundry” automobile and son in Balboa Park.

Fujii Yutaka

Fujii Yutaka and Asakawa Hachisaku organized to form the San Diego Fertilizer Company.

Nippon Shokai at 5th and Island

The Nippon Shokai at 5th and Island and its four partners, Kubo Kichita, Shima Hyonosuke, Suzuki Tokujiro and Imamura Shigenobu.

vegetable stand

An interior view of the vegetable stand at 9th and Broadway opened by Yato Tsuketsuru.

Chile peppers

Chile peppers grown on the successful north county farm of Yasukochi Kizo

Chile peppers bagged

Chile peppers bagged and trucked to market.

young girl

A young girl in Ochigo costume.

Exhibitions of sports

Exhibitions of such sports as Judo, Sumo (left) and Kendo were one popular form of entertainment for San Diego’s Japanese. Denied entrance to some San Diego theatres, others formed their own groups of amateur thespians and presented traditional theatre like the Shibai with Japanese costumes and settings.

amateur thespians Japanese costumes  

Members of San Diego's Holiness Church

Members of San Diego’s Holiness Church founded in 1930 by the Oriental Missionary Society.

Kiya family enjoying a picnic

The Kiya family enjoying a picnic at the ruins of Mission San Diego de Alcalá.

Nisei wedding

A Nisei wedding in the late 1930’s.