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Sacramento Japantown Mural Unveiled

By June 21, 2024July 8th, 2024No Comments

Pictured (from left) are Miko Sawamura, Jason Jong, Sharon Ito, Jim Tabuchi, Karen Tsugawa (the mural’s artist), Hach Yasumura, Barbara Takei, Michelle Huey and Josh Kaizuka. (Photo: Josh Kaizuka)

Thanks to community efforts, the project
is officially celebrated on May 29 to remember and
reclaim the history of the city.

Community members and dignitaries convened on May 29 on the corner of Fourth Street and Capitol Mall to celebrate the completion of the Sacramento Japantown Art Mural, a project spearheaded by Reclaim Sacramento Japantown and a donation drive led by the Florin JACL.

“This project is a way to celebrate and remember what was and reclaim the history of Sacramento Japantown,” said Jamie Katayanagi, head of the Reclaim Sacramento Japantown group.

Reclaim Sacramento Japantown members, who also include Florin JACL-Sacramento Valley members Michelle Huey, Roy Imura, Josh Kaizuka and Barbara Takei, along with Sacramento JACL members Miko Sawamura and Hach Yasumura, came together to see what could be done to reclaim the lost Sacramento Japantown.

Sacramento Japantown was part of Sacramento’s West End, a diverse and thriving cultural district. Japantown disappeared in 1942 when Japanese Americans were removed and sent to 10 U.S. concentration camps during World War II. Following the war, many returned to Sacramento, but as Japantown began to thrive once again, residents and business owners were removed again, this time in the name of “redevelopment.” Not only did Sacramento Japantown disappear, but also the cultural district known as the West End as well.

To reclaim and remember the history of Sacramento Japantown, the mural, created by Karen Tsugawa, an artist and designer from the Sacramento region, blended Japanese American art and history to create the educational piece of history and reflection.

“The mural design is based off of historical photos from Sacramento’s Japantown and combining them with the visuals from Hanafuda cards, along with origami birds and sakura trees to showcase the vibrancy of the community — including the hardships from having the entirety of this Japantown they loved being completely redeveloped by the city,” said Tsugawa, who also is a graphic designer and web developer. “As a mixed Japanese American with ties to Sacramento, I felt it was important to have the community be included in as many parts of the painting of the mural as possible since for many it depicts places and memories close to their hearts. It was an honor to have so many come out to help paint and support.”

The Sacramento Japantown mural, an installation spearheaded by Reclaim Sacramento Japantown and the Florin JACL, was officially celebrated on May 29. (Photo: Josh Kaizuka)

The project could not have been completed successfully without the support of the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians. The site of the mural was recently purchased by the group.

“I reached out to the tribal council explaining the project and the history of displacement and removal due to first WWII and then how racism resulted in the destruction of Japantown in the guise of ‘redevelopment,’ and within a few days, the council had met and gave us the green light to move forward.

It was amazing, and we are so appreciative of their support,” said Kaizuka.

Following the tribe’s approval on April 15, Reclaim Sacramento Japantown and Florin JACL began fundraising on April 24 with a goal of raising $20,000. The goal was met and exceeded thanks to donations from across the country, with 31 major donors, including Sacramento City Council Member Katie Valenzuela, who apologized on behalf of the city for its role in the demise of Japantown, and Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna.

Reclaim Sacramento Japantown anticipates using the excess funds for the project for educational and promotional endeavors. It is currently thinking about next steps to further reclaim Japantown’s history in Sacramento.

“This highly-visible mural has started a lot of conversations, and since starting the project, a lot more people have mentioned that they’ve heard about Japantown,” said Huey. “It’s been heartwarming to see so many people taking photos in front of the mural, learning about Japantown and acknowledging that redevelopment was harmful. … Karen’s vision was brilliant, and although the wall won’t stay up forever, her vision to have the removable panels means the mural will live on in some form. Reclaim Sacramento Japantown has garnered a lot of community interest and support. A lot of community groups are asking us to come to their next meetings to teach them about Japantown, and many people are asking what our next project will be. I’m excited to see what’s next.”