Published on March 16th, 2013 | by Michael Sullivan


Before the Fall: The Japanese in Tacoma


In this photo, it is July of 1940, in the heart of what was known then as “Japantown”.

It seems everyone is celebrating the opening of the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge. There are festive parades, concerts, and speeches, with a shared community pride and sense of marvel at the elegant new suspension bridge.

So much would change so soon.

Nearly all the people in this photo would journey out to the narrows on a windy day to witness the bizarre galloping of Tacoma’s bridge before it fell.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor the next year, they would board a train at Union Station and be interned at a government relocation camp for most of the war.

Strictly enforced immigration laws championed by Tacoma’s Congressman Albert Johnson had already hindered property ownership for most of the Japanese American families living downtown, so almost none returned.

But on this fine sunny July day, none of that mattered yet. I like the saddle shoes and high school hair styles – so tellingly all-American.

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One Response to Before the Fall: The Japanese in Tacoma

  1. David A. Rash says:


    What most people don’t realize in regards to Tacoma’s Japantown, was that when the Tacoma Buddhist Church (1929-31) by G. W. Bullard was completed Mayor Tennant congratulated the congregation on completing the church structure, much as he would have if the congregation had been non-Asian. Part of the reason may have been that by 1 March 1931, very few construction project were being completed regardless of the racial composition of the owners; however, it was still rather unusual prior to World War II. In addition, even though Bullard was the architect of record, it is possible that the church was actually designed by A. K. Arai of Seattle. During the week in 1929 when the church held the groundbreaking event for the church, Arai was documented as being in Tacoma–unfortunately it does prove design authorship, but it was a very curious coincidence considering that it is the own instance that I can document that Arai was in Tacoma.

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