Artist Heather Seavey with her mural depicting koinobori at the Japanese American Heritage Center.

MONTEREY — The Japanese American Citizens League of Monterey Peninsula will hold a special free community event on Saturday, Jan. 22, at the Japanese American Heritage Center of Monterey and the community is invited!

There will be self-guided tours of the JACL Museum with historian Tim Thomas, who will answer questions. This is the first museum that tells the story of the Japanese on the Monterey Peninsula.

The beautiful new mural at the Japanese American Heritage Center will be unveiled and muralist Heather Seavey will discuss her artwork. She0 is visiting from Mexico, where she currently resides.

The new Japanese Garden will be dedicated and Mitsugu Mori, owner of Hana Gardens Del Rey Oaks, will present his vision and design for the garden, which also incorporates two large iron fish baskets that came out of the San Xavier Cannery. The flowering plants in the baskets are the same kind of plants grown in Japan.

Taiko drummers from Shinsho-Mugen Daiko will perform outside at 1 p.m.

Light Refreshments will be served. COVID protocols will be followed.

The event will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. The Japanese American Heritage Center is located at 424 Adams St. in historic Japantown in Downtown Monterey. It is across from Jack’s Park on Adams between Franklin and Bonafacio streets.

For more information, call (831) 648-8830, email info@jaclmonterey.org or visit www.jaclmonterey.org. For special tours or school tours, contact Tim Thomas at timsardine@yahoo.com.

About Tim Thomas

Abalone diving exhibit at the Japanese American Heritage Center

A fourth-generation native of the Monterey area, Thomas is a popular speaker and lively tour guide. For 16 years, he was historian and curator for the Monterey Maritime & History Museum, and he has worked with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, California State Parks and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. He is the author of “The Abalone King of Monterey: ‘Pop’ Ernest Doelter” and “The Japanese on the Monterey Peninsula” and co-author of “Monterey’s Waterfront.” He is on the board of the JACL and serves as the curator of the new Heritage Center/Museum at the JACL.

About Heather Seavey

A world-renowned artist who was born and raised in Pacific Grove, Seavey studied art at Van Der Kelen Logelain in Brussels, Belgium, which is known for teaching the traditional techniques of decorative painting. She makes her home in Mexico City. She is the daughter of well-known historian and architectural consultant Kent Seavey.

About Hana Gardens

Hana Gardens is a local, independently operated retail garden center and landscaping supply source serving the greater Monterey Bay area. There are two locations in Del Rey Oaks and Seaside. For more information, go to:  https://hanagardens.com/

About Shinsho-Mugen Daiko

Founded in 1999, this is a group of drummers who are interested in studying the art of Japanese drumming. The founding director, Ikuyo Conant, emphasizes cultivation of energy, self-awareness and social and personal harmony in taiko drumming. The group introduces a contemporary style of taiko with movements and powerful sounds at community, cultural and school events in Monterey County and beyond.

A taiko is a simple instrument to create a simple yet fundamental sound. Taiko drummers enjoy this activity of utter simplicity. After prolonged drumming, the drummer is spent like a marathon runner crossing the finish line. Taiko is powerful, yet for those whose hearts are aching for depth in their lives, the sound of taiko is soothing and invigorating. This simple action of creating a convincing sound is extremely difficult, yet tremendously rewarding.

In times past, people lived in a world close to the spirits of nature and they were in awe of these powerful forces. Their symbol-based beliefs were naive but courageous. They were bound to the basic elements of nature, and in this way, their lives were in sync with the universal rhythms of nature.

About JACL

The mission of the Japanese American Citizens League is to protect the civil and human rights of all Americans and to preserve the culture and values of Japanese Americans by promoting, sponsoring and encouraging programs that develop an appreciation between all social and ethnic groups.

Serving the Community

In 1926, local Issei leaders envisioned and initiated construction of a Japanese Association Hall, which would serve as a center for community events, a general meeting place, and a venue for providing legal and social services to immigrants from Japan and community members.

The Monterey Peninsula Chapter of the JACL was founded by 18 charter members on Jan. 25, 1932, two years after the national organization was formed. In 1941, property title for the Japanese Association Hall was transferred to the local JACL and in 1942 the building was renamed the JACL Hall. It is now recognized as a historical landmark by the City of Monterey.

Salmon and Abalone by the Ton

The Monterey Peninsula has attracted people to its bountiful shores for thousands of years, and the Japanese were no exception. Around 1888, Otosabura Noda immigrated to California, later finding work as a lumberjack on the Monterey Peninsula. When the Pacific Improvement Company hired him as a labor contractor, he began bringing Japanese workers to the area.

The first of these workers arrived around 1896, many coming from fishing communities in Wakayama Prefecture. It didn’t take long for Noda and his colleagues to notice the potential of the bay’s resources, and he soon established a small fishing colony on what is today’s famed Cannery Row. In 1902, he opened the very first sardine cannery on that street.

Abalone divers from Chiba Prefecture also arrived and pioneered California’s abalone industry. For the next 20 years, the Japanese dominated the fishing industry in Monterey Bay, both in salmon and abalone. In 1909, more than a million pounds of king salmon were caught in just three months — the majority by Japanese-owned boats. By 1920, nine abalone companies were operating off the Monterey Wharf, bringing in thousands of pounds of red abalone each season.

Settling Into the Community

Men who originally came to Monterey Bay for seasonal work eventually sent for wives and families, finding the area to be similar to their homeland on the opposite side of the Pacific. They worked hard and built thriving businesses. Prior to World War II, most of the businesses on the Monterey Wharf were Japanese-owned fish markets and abalone processors.

By the turn of the 20th century, a small group of farmers from Hiroshima Prefecture developed farms just south of Carmel, growing everything from artichokes to potatoes. Later, Japanese farming expanded into the Salinas Valley

The heart of the community sat right across the street at Jacks Baseball Park. JACL fielded its own team, often playing against teams made up of local Sicilians. Though baseball rivals, they were also schoolmates, and often learned to speak a bit of each other’s language before they had mastered English.

Families Uprooted

In April 1942, Japanese American residents of the Monterey Bay area were instructed to report to the Salinas Assembly Center. Most were relocated the Poston internment camp in Arizona.

After the war, many of these families returned to Monterey, only to find that they were not welcome. Appalled by this treatment, a small group of local women began a petition drive to make sure that these Japanese Americans — their own former neighbors — would be welcomed home and receive their full democratic rights. Learn more about this unique Monterey civil rights story and the petitions signed by John Steinbeck, “Doc” Ricketts, and others.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.