Portland, Oregon – The Japanese American Museum of Oregon and the Architectural Heritage Center are proud to present “A Forgotten Community: A Tour of Portland’s Lost Japanese American Community.” It is a digital storytelling map now available online. The collaboration was made possible through a one-time $25,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Telling the Full History Preservation Fund, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This grant program interprets and preserves historic places of importance to underrepresented communities across the US and demonstrates how preservation is a powerful tool for advancing justice and equity.
The interactive digital story map highlights 20 different locations which were core to the establishment of Portland’s JA community, especially in the area of Northwest Portland known as Japantown — Nihonmachi in Japanese — in the early 1900s. This area was home to hundreds of Japanese-owned shops, restaurants, hotels and services until 1942, when Executive Order 9066 authorized the imprisonment of all persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast. The 20 stories include key people and buildings that helped anchor Nihonmachi, some of which still exist today elsewhere in Portland. A companion walking tour includes the sites that are currently accessible in Old Town and will continue to be developed by the Architectural Heritage Center, a resource center for historic preservation, as a guided experience.
This project is particularly poignant at this time when the present-day JA community is mourning the demolition of the old Blanchet House, which was the Yamaguchi Hotel from 1921-1941. It was managed by Shigezo and his wife, Masae Yamaguchi, who also served as Japanese community midwife, providing much-needed assistance to women who were not getting the care they needed from hospitals (due to discrimination). When the story map project began, the building stood as a testament to Masae and the Yamaguchi Hotel’s legacy. One year later, the final project meeting occurred as the building was being demolished and its last bricks fell.
“It is a sad day watching the destruction of the Yamaguchi Hotel. The City’s condition to complete the work of a Stakeholders Task Force was ignored. With the lack of communication regarding the demolition, we felt disrespected and unheard, and the cultural erasure of our community’s history continues,” explained Chisao Hata, a local artist and community organizer. “The sudden destruction of the historical building was a tragic reminder of what is currently at stake, and why projects like this story map of Portland’s Japanese community are so vital.”
The digital story map and walking tour can be accessed online at jamo.org/storymap