94 Year-old Jimi Yamaichi recalls San Jose’s Japantown & WWII Internment

Mar 7, 2017

Japanese en route to internment camps spring 1942

Japantown, located in downtown San Jose has been a vital part of Santa Clara Valley’s history since the 1890s. The insular Japantown neighborhood provided the Japanese with a safe-harbor place to shop and socialize. Within two months of the onset of WWII, Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 forced all Japanese to pack their bags and relocate to internment camps far from the Pacific Coast. A conversation with Japantown resident, 94 year-0ld Jimi Yamaichi recalls when he and his family were ordered to report to the San Jose State University Gymnasium and life in the internment camp.

Japanese boarding busses for internment camps following FDR's Executive Order 9066

The Yamaichi family boarded a train for Southern California, where they and the rest of San Jose’s Japantown community were processed and sent to various internment camps such as Manzanar, Tule Lake, and Heart Mountain

Japanese boys at the fence of internment camp

Memorial at Manzanar Internment Camp
Credit Thomas Wilmer / Thomas Wilmer

Manzanar internment Camp Remembrance
Credit Thomas Wilmer / Thomas Wilmer

When Jimi returned to San Jose in 1946, a brutal struggle to secure a union carpenter’s-card ensued.

He eventually went to work in the building trades as the first Asian carpenter accepted by the local union hiring hall.

15 years after World War II, Jimi was still confronting racism. In 1960, when Jimi tried to purchase a home in San Jose, his offer was flatly refused solely because he was of Japanese ancestry. 

Jimi Yamaichi
Credit Team San Jose