JACL Monterey


After the United States imposed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882*, the number of Japanese immigrants to the West Coast increased in large numbers. One of those immigrants was a man named Otosaburo Noda, who settled in Watsonville (about 25 miles north of Monterey) in 1895. One day, while working in Monterey as a lumberjack for the Pacific Improvement Company (precursor of the Pebble Beach Company), Noda noticed the incredible variety of fish and red abalone in the Monterey Bay. Nobody was utilizing this vast resource. He quickly gave up his lumberjack days, moved to Monterey, and started a small fishing colony made up of fishermen from the Wakayama Prefecture of Japan. Noda was so taken with the Monterey area that he even wrote to the Japanese Agriculture and Commerce Department about this marine abundance. Almost immediately, abalone divers from the Chiba Prefecture arrived and for the next twenty years, the Japanese dominated the fishing industry in Monterey Bay. By the turn of the 20th Century, a small group of farmers from the Hiroshima Prefecture came and develop farms just south of Carmel. By the mid-1930s, 80% of the businesses on the Monterey Wharf were Japanese owned, fish markets and abalone processors.

The Japanese fished for abalone, salmon and sardine. They also farmed strawberries, potatoes, corn and artichokes and ran small business all around the Monterey Peninsula. But fishing ruled and salmon was king. In August of 1909, the end of salmon season, the Monterey Daily Cypress reported that there were 185 salmon boats fishing the bay; 145 of these boats were Japanese- owned. Monterey is most famous for sardines. Everyone knows that it was Sicilian fishermen who fished for sardines. This is only part of the story. Around the turn of the last century, the salmon fisheries along the Sacramento River were not doing very well. But due to some fishing gear changes, coupled with the arrival of the pioneering Japanese fishermen to the Monterey Bay, large salmon landings began in Monterey. Salmon processors on the Sacramento River heard of those large landings and sent F.E. Booth to investigate. Mr. Booth was so impressed he opened a small cannery at the foot of the Monterey Wharf. Unfortunately for Booth, the Japanese fishermen already had good contracts with the fish markets in San Francisco. Booth stuck around though and eventually got his contract to buy salmon from the Japanese fishermen. By 1900, there was a great deal of anti Japanese sentiment in the United States, coming mainly from Caucasian workers who were afraid the Japanese would take their jobs. In 1905, Booth said that he would not hire Japanese fishermen anymore, an easy call for him considering that salmon was fished only in the spring and he was interested in developing a sardine fishery in Monterey for the fall and winter months. And every spring he continued to buy his salmon from Japanese fishermen.

There were also many Japanese families that lived in Monterey year-round, which created a need for other businesses like fishing supplies and general merchandise and food markets, hotels, restaurants, barber shops, shoe repairmen and dry cleaners, every kind of business that can be found in almost every town in the USA except these were owned and operated by Issei (first generation) and Nisei (second generation). All these small businesses, be it fishing or farming or radio repair, made up a community. Monterey had its own nibon-machi, or Japan Town bounded by Alvarado, Adams and Pearl Streets. The Monterey Japanese referred to this community as a “colony.”

On January 25, 1932 eighteen charter members organized the Monterey Peninsula Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, two years after the national organization was formed.  The chapter was originally formed for the same purposes as the parent organization of fighting against discriminatory legislation, racial prejudice, and to help first generation (Issei) with navigating through the American bureaucracy in such legal matters as alien registration and property contracts.

Throughout the 1930’s, the chapter involved itself in the larger community.  In 1937, to take part in the Independence Day parade, the chapter made a giant American Flag to carry.  The rationale was that only a few people could ride on a float, but it took 60 to carry the flag.  Another way for the community to assimilate was to participate in organized sports.  The JACL sponsored Monterey Minato established a formidable reputation and records in several sports because of its gifted athletes.  From 1934 to the outbreak of World War 2, the Monterey Minatos virtually dominated all other teams within the Central California Coast Counties Athletic Association (4CAA).  One year, 1938, just three Minato trackmen won 9 of the 11 events at the YMCA Olympics at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco and took the whole meet.

The chapter, today, continues to fight for tolerance and diversity, looks after its members to preserve their cultural heritage, and to assist new immigrants to assimilate into society. 

Monterey has always been a special place. After WWII, the Monterey Peninsula heralded the return of its Japanese citizens, even placing a full page ad in the Monterey Peninsula Herald welcoming them all home.

Today, the Monterey Japanese community is as strong as ever and very active in the community. They are a vital part of what makes the Monterey Peninsula what it is today.