Japantown, Salt Lake City

Over 2,000 Japanese people lived in the heart of Salt Lake for almost a century. From the community’s beginning in the late 1800s to Japanese assimilation in the late 1900s, Japanese people created a space where they could thrive despite living in a foreign land. Only a few landmarks provide visual confirmation of the Japanese community’s existence.

In 1969, the Salt Palace Convention Center was built. While the Salt Palace is now a historic building in Salt Lake, its creation destroyed the Japanese community that once stretched across 100 South in Salt Lake City. Now, only a small section of 100 South, west of the Salt Palace, claims the honorary title “Japantown Street.” Annexed and quiet, the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple and the Japanese Church of Christ are the last remaining landmarks to survive the community that lasted for a century.

Japanese immigrants came to Utah in the late-19th Century. First as Mormon converts, and later, as railroad, agricultural, and mine workers, the immigrants settled in Salt Lake City. In response to the growing Japanese community, Edward Daigoro established the E.D. Hashimoto Company near 100 South and supplied Japanese immigrants with imported food items and clothing. Additionally, the E.D. Hashimoto Company connected workers with new job opportunities as gang workers to the Denver, Rio Grande, and Western Pacific Railroads.

For easier access to Daigoro’s company, many Japanese immigrants moved and settled near or on 100 South in Salt Lake. The community’s popularity grew and by 1910 there were over 2,000 Japanese people in the area. Like many immigrant-labor populations, the community’s gender balance initially skewed heavily male. Slowly, Japanese men brought their wives to Salt Lake from Japan as they decided to make Salt Lake their permanent home. As more Japanese settled in the area, more community buildings began to be built. By 1918 both the Japanese Church of Christ and the Salt Lake City Buddhist Temple had been established. In addition to those still-standing remnants of the community, a Japanese school, a marketplace, a studio for Obon dance and kendo lessons, and two successful newspapers helped ground the growing Japanese community and give them a place they could call home.

As early as September 1942 after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, over 11,000 Japanese-Americans were relocated from San Francisco and other places in the Western United States to the Topaz Internment Camp near Delta Utah. Although the relocation camp in Topaz wasn’t officially closed until late 1945, Japanese residents were encouraged to leave Topaz and move farther inland. Many of these Japanese-Americans followed that direction and moved to Salt Lake City. Despite the displacement of Japanese-Americans from the West Coast during World War II, the Japanese in Salt Lake were not relocated, though most lost their jobs. Thus, the movement from Japanese in Topaz to Salt Lake ultimately tripled the population in Salt Lake City’s Japantown.

The Japantown Street community not only survived, but grew during World War II. So, how did a community of thousands of people become lost to Utah’s history? It wasn’t until two decades later. When plans were made to construct the Salt Palace in 1969, several members of the Japanese community assimilated into the wider Utah population with most of them choosing to stay in Salt Lake. The beginning of the Salt Palace’s construction forced the final members of Japantown out, leaving the street and the two religious buildings to tell the story of a once vibrant community.