Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Japantown Atlas: Marking Japanese pioneer history in Orange County

ABOVE: The Japantown Atlas notes the places where Japanese Americans lived and worked prior to World War II.  The Atlas includes the C.M. Furuta Goldfish Farm, Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission, and those that got their original start in Wintersburg, such as the Orange County Buddhist Church, the Tashima Store, and the Pacific Goldfish Farm. (Image courtesy of Japantown

   "In 1940, Orange County was growing but still fairly rural, with scattered towns separated by farms, ranches, orchards and sugar beet fields." the Japantown Atlas explains.  

   The Japantown Atlas notes the general locations of California's Japantowns, as they existed in 1940, memorializing the businesses, houses of worship and schools established by the Japanese community in their first decades in America.

    Viewing north Orange County's Japantown Atlas reveals the significant presence of the Japanese community in Huntington Beach, Wintersburg Village (present-day Huntington Beach), Smeltzer (present-day Huntington Beach), Talbert (present-day Fountain Valley), and into Westminster, the Presbyterian community whose clergy helped found the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission.  

LEFT: A stone pagoda at Huntington Beach City Hall, circa 1984, donated to the City of Huntington Beach by Anjo, Japan, Huntington Beach's Sister City.  The pagoda remains at this location at city hall today.  (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

   A few of the places on the Japantown Atlas remain, most have vanished through demolition and development, and information is still to be collected on some.

ABOVE: The Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission and Manse, March 8, 1910. (Photo courtesy of Wintersburg Presbyterian Church) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

   The Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission complex--the history detailed on this blog--still stands today, including the 1910 Mission building, the 1910 Manse (clergy home), and the 1934 Depression-era Church, at 7622 Warner Avenue.  These buildings recently have been recommended in a City-contracted historical survey as eligible for the National Register of Historic Places(Note the location is on the west side of Beach Boulevard).

    The Charles Mitsuji and Yukiko Furuta farm--the history detailed on this blog-- still stands today, including the 1912 bungalow and the earlier barn, thought to have been constructed prior to the home to support the farm's development. 

LEFT: The Furuta children to the east of the barn, still standing today on the C.M. Furuta Gold Fish Farm off Wintersburg Avenue in the Wintersburg Village, circa 1920s. (Photo courtesy of the Furuta family) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

   The Furuta's 1912 bungalow recently has been recommended in a City-contracted historical survey as eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.  Read more about the C.M. Furuta Gold Fish farm  at (Note the location is on the west side of Beach Boulevard, at 7642 Warner Avenue).

    The Smeltzer Japanese Association met in the second floor of the Asari Market (later Tashima Market) on the north side Wintersburg (Warner) Avenue at present-day Lyndon Lane, across from the Furuta farm in the Wintersburg Village.  The association served the communities of Wintersburg, Smeltzer, Bolsa, and surrounding areas.  

   The Japanese associations helped with local community issues, coordination of produce to market, and with civic and social activities.  Charles Mitsuji Furuta was president of the Smeltzer Japanese Association at the time of Pearl Harbor (resulting in him being one of the first interrogated by the FBI, along with teachers and clergy).

   The Mukai Nursery was located off Edwards Street, between Warner Avenue and Slater Avenue.  Today, there remains a "Mukai Court" near Edwards Street and Athena Drive in Huntington Beach.

   Hitoshi Toru Mukai was born in Venice, California in 1923.  His family moved to Huntington Beach in 1926 and Toru graduated from Huntington Beach High School in 1942. Prior to his high school graduation, Toru and his family were sent to the Colorado River Relocation Center in Poston, Arizona,   Huntington Beach High School administrators and teachers worked with their Nisei students so they could graduate with their class while at Poston.

   After the war, Toru and his family returned to Huntington Beach and resumed operating the Mukai Nursery. For most of his adult life, Toru--who passed away in March 2012--owned and operated Mukai Nursery with his wife, Sadako, their daughters attending school in Huntington Beach. In its early years, Mukai Nursery maintained a post office address of Route 1, Box 450-B, in Huntington Beach.

   The Japanese sewing schools offered domestic arts instruction to girls along with English tutoring.  The physical meeting location of the school is as yet unknown.  The Pacific Sewing School Branch maintained a post office address of Route 1, Box 616, in Huntington Beach.

LEFT: The Oda Barber Shop and Bath House in Fountain Valley's Heritage Park. (Photo courtesy of Preserving California's Japantowns)

   The Oda Barber Shop noted on the Atlas was located at Bushard Street and Talbert Avenue in Talbert (present-day Fountain Valley).  Its connection with Huntington Beach is Sam and Hattie Talbert, who lived next to the Kato family in Talbert and worked closely with the local Japanese community in Talbert, Wintersburg and Huntington Beach

   According to Preserving California's Japantowns, S.H. Oda converted the building at left in 1936 from its original use as the Talbert Bros. Real Estate Office to a barbershop.  The bath house was "complete with galvanized soaking tub and fireplace, that served as an ofuro (traditional Japanese bath) on the Oda Ranch."

   S. H. Oda kept his barbershop in this structure for four years until he erected a new building large enough to include a pool hall.   The Oda Barber Shop and bath house remain in Fountain Valley's Heritage Park at Slater Avenue and Brookhurst Street.  The Japanese barber shop in Wintersburg Village was part of the Asari Market (later Tashima Market), near the Furuta farm.

ABOVE: The original Rafu Shimpo office, 128 N. Main Street, Little Tokyo in Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy of

  The Rafu Shimpo remains today the oldest Japanese-English daily newspaper in Los Angeles, with over a century of history.  The paper began in 1903 as a one-page, mimeographed Japanese-language newspaper, with branch offices in Orange County, including in Huntington Beach where it maintained a post office box: Route 1, Box 629, in Huntington Beach.  Publisher H.T. Komai took over in 1922 and made the newspaper bilingual.

   The Little Tokyo-based newspaper shut down in 1942 when Japanese Americans were evacuated from the West Coast.  H. T. Komai arranged for the paper's rent to be paid during the war and hid the Japanese type under the floorboards.  Returned to publication after World War II, the Rafu Shimpo continues to cover events in the Japanese American community, including the recent visit by Consul General Jun Niimi to Historic Wintersburg

   When Huntington Beach dedicated its $70,000 pier in June 1914 (rebuilt after being destroyed by a Pacific storm), part of the celebration--also featuring legendary surfer George Freeth--included a performance by the Japanese Fencing Club.

   The Huntington Beach News reported 20,000 visitors came for the pier dedication and, in their June 12, 1914 edition, provides the June 20 events calendar with Japanese fencing and sword dance at 4:30 p.m., just before the band concert and pier "illumination." 

   Reverend Kenji Kikuchi of the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission belonged to one of the many Japanese fencing clubs, whose members were among the first questioned by the FBI after Pearl Harbor.  

   The Japanese Fencing Club maintained a post office address of Route 1, Box 100, in Huntington Beach.

Left: The June 12, 1914, Huntington Beach News lists events planned for June 20 to mark the dedication of the new concrete pier.

     The first Buddhist church in rural Orange County started with meetings in people's homes, then later over the Tashima Market (formerly Asari Market) in Wintersburg Village.  

   The Orange County Buddhist Church describes the early years, "Like many fellow countrymen in their adopted land, the early Japanese settling here near the turn of the century took up farming as a means of livelihood. They raised such crops as sugar beets, chili peppers, and celery. Later years saw an increase in truck farms which furnished a variety of fresh produce for the dinner tables of the southland."

   "Some early Japanese names in the Smeltzer area, now part of the city of Huntington Beach, included Tsurumatsu Asari (editor's note: one of Wintersburg's three goldfish farmers), Yusei Egawa, Shigeru Nishimura, and Zenjiro Nishio. From about 1920, howakai (dharma talk gatherings) were held in private homes with ministers coming from Los Angeles 40 miles away."

   "In the late 1920's, Sunday School was started for a few youngsters at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Toichi Kodama in Santa Ana. Ministers from the Los Angeles temple conducted the services in the Japanese language. Later, the services were held in a hall above a grocery store operated by Mr. and Mrs. Gunjiro Tashima of Wintersberg (sic). The community is now part of the city of Huntington Beach."

 LEFT: A beautiful outbuilding on the property of Mr. and Mrs. Taikichi Kato in Fountain Valley, where the Buddhist Church moved after meeting in Wintersburg.  Historical marker No. 21 notes the location of the Buddhist Church established in Talbert on the Kato property, about 400 feet away from the homesite of Sam and Hattie Talbert, historical marker No. 10 on Bushard Avenue.  (Photo, April 2013) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

   In May of 1936, the church was established as a branch of the Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, constructing a building on Bushard Avenue in Talbert (Fountain Valley) on land owned by Mr. and Mrs Taikichi Kato.  The Kato family still owns the land today.  

   In the immediate vicinity (Talbert and Bushard avenues), there was a blacksmith shop, the campsite of the Escalante Circus, Talbert's first post office and school, and--about 400 feet from the Buddhist Church--the Country Church of Talbert, which today still stands as the All Saints Anglican Church.

    With the evacuation of Japanese on the West Coast during World War II, the majority of the Buddhist temple's Sangha (assembly) were incarcerated at the Colorado River Relocation Center at Poston, Arizona.  The church building was reopened in 1946 as a hostel for returning Japanese Americans without a place to live. 

LEFT: The historical marker in Fountain Valley (formerly Talbert) on Bushard Avenue notes the Buddhist Church's location after they moved from Wintersburg, where they met above the Tashima Market.

   Orange County's first Buddhist Sangha spent its early years in Wintersburg and maintained a post office address of Route 1, Box 630-B, in Huntington Beach.  The Buddhist Church is now in Anaheim, California.

ABOVE: Joe Akiyama, son of Henry Kiyomi Akiyama, at the Pacific Goldfish Farm off Goldenwest Avenue at the site of today's Westminster Mall, circa 1961.  Henry Kiyomi Akiyama married Yukiko Furuta's sister, Masuko.  The first goldfish ponds were on the Furuta farm in Wintersburg Village. (Photo, War Relocation Authority)

   The Pacific Goldfish Farm started as an experimental goldfish pond on the Furuta farm at Warner Avenue and Nichols Lane in Wintersburg Village, with a few small ponds created by Henry Kiyomi Akiyama and his brother-in-law, Charles Furuta.  Akiyama, married to Yukiko Furuta's sister, Masuko, went on to develop more goldfish ponds in partnership with the Cole family at Cole Ranch (in the area of present-day Oceanview High School off Warner and Gothard avenues).  

   After goldfish farming proved profitable, Akiyama bought land through his son, Joe in present-day Westminster.  The history of the 40-acre Pacific Goldfish Farm is included on the official website for the City of Westminster"the world’s largest goldfish farm ...where the Westminster Mall stands today."

  Read more about the Akiyama family's Pacific Goldfish Farm in "Goldfish on Wintersburg Avenue," at, "Goldfish on Wintersburg Avenue Part 2" at and "Voices from the Past: Part Three" at

ABOVE: Outside the Tashima Market - This Tashima family photograph, identified as "Gunjiro, Hal & Nori Tashima ride to the store in the Duesenberg 1919-1920."  Unknown if this is outside the Wintersburg or the Tashima's later Garden Grove store.  (Photo courtesy of Eugene Tashima) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

   The first Japanese market in Wintersburg was started by Tsurumatsu Asari around or before Yasumatsu Miyawaki opened the first Japanese market in Huntington Beach in 1907.  Asari was a crop and later goldfish farmer in Wintersburg, a member of the first Buddhist Church, and a founding supporter of the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission.

   Asari signed the circa 1904 "Prospectus" document used for County-wide fundraising to build the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission.  Oral histories note the Buddhist community supported and contributed to the Mission-building effort at Wintersburg, and the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission congregants later support the building effort for the Buddhist Church.  

LEFT: Oral histories place the Tashima Market (originally the Asari Market) on Lyndon Lane, a five minute walk from the Furuta home near Nichols Lane.

   This civic and interfaith community support continued when Gunjiro Tashima bought the Wintersburg market.  From the 1982 oral history with Yukiko Furuta with Professor Emeritus Arthur Hansen, California State University - Fullerton, located the Tashima Market "on the north side of Warner Avenue and east of the railroad tracks, near what is now Lyndon Street (Lane)." 

   "Mr. Tashima was an outgoing man and he was quite a leader in the community, taking part in organizing Seinen Kai, Young Men's Club, and he bought the grocery store from Mr. (Tsurumatsu) Asari," explained Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission congregant Clarence Nishizu in his 1984 oral history for California State University - Fullerton.  

    "Around 1915 or so, he built a two-story building with a grocery store on the first floor and a hall for social gatherings on the south side of the street, then called Wintersburg Avenue but known as Warner Avenue today," remembered Nishizu.  

   "The second story above the Tashima store was used by the community as a meeting place," explained Nishizu.  " Since there were many young Issei in the area at that time, every year at the end of the year before New Year's, the Seinin Kai held what is called Bonen Kai, which consists of singing, Japanese plays, samurai dancing called Kembu, et cetera, to commemorate the sending off and forgetting the old year."

   The Tashima children attended Huntington Beach High School.   The Tashima's second oldest son, Noriyuki, was drafted into the U.S. Army prior to Pearl Harbor.  He was later awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded in France.  Noriyuki's brothers, Takayuki, Masayuki,  and Yoshiyuki later also served in the U.S. Army.  At one point, four Tashima brothers were serving in different parts of the world.

   Read about the Tashima family at 

Missing from the map, a spot we hope will be added to the Japantown Atlas.

ABOVE: A view of the Longboard Restaurant and Pub (wooden structure on right) from the alleyway between 5th Street and Main Street, Huntington Beach.  This was the first Japanese market in Huntington Beach, circa 1907. (Photo, 2012) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
ROCK BOTTOM STORE (Sun Rise Market):
   Yasumatsu Miyawaki opened the first Japanese market in Huntington Beach in 1907 in the Talbert-Leatherman building, which still stands today.  The oldest wooden structure at 217 Main Street in Huntington Beach, it is now the Longboard Restaurant and Pub.  

   Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission congregant Clarence Nishizu recalled, "Mr. Miyawaki must have been a shrewd and prudent businessman because he named the store Rock Bottom Store--how much lower can you sell?

   The Miyawaki family later moved their store next to the Oda Barbershop off Bushard Avenue in Talbert.    In the rural countryside of 1900s Orange County, Miyawaki used to deliver groceries to the Japanese farms by horse and buggy.  Yasumatsu Miyawaki's son, Leonard, was born in the house behind the grocery store in the year 1911.

    Along with Tsurumatsu Asari, Yasumatsu Miyawaki--owner of the Rock Bottom Store on Main Street in Huntington Beach--also was one of the founding signators on the circa 1904 "Prospectus" document used for County-wide fundraising to build the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission.

View the full Orange County Japantown Atlas map at

© All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Wintersburg blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.    

1 comment:

  1. Have lived here 20 + years and just now learning this important history of Huntington Beach. Very interesting and so important to support it's preservation.
    Hope to see more pictures too.


The Historic Wintersburg blog focuses on an overlooked history in Huntington Beach, Orange County, California, in the interest of saving a historic property from demolition. The author and publisher reserves the right not to publish comments. Please no promotional or political commentary. Zero tolerance for hate rhetoric. Comments with embedded commercial / advertising links or promoting other projects, books, or publications may not be published. If you have an interesting anecdote, question or comment about one of our features, it will be published.