Ogden’s Japantown disappears

Story and multimedia by TAUNA LYNNE PRICE

Listen to Raymond Uno narrate a mini-documentary about Japantown


The world came to Ogden, Utah, with the completion of the Union Station Depot for the railroad in 1850. A few decades later, in the late 1800s, the Japanese people began migrating. The Union Pacific Railroad brought in hundreds of railroad workers, and many of them were Japanese, according to Hub Tours, which has dedicated a page on the Web site to Ogden Japantown Day of Remembrance.

They began building their own businesses close to the Union Station and 25th Street. They began replacing the cheap restaurants, beer and gambling halls and the reoccurring red-light district and reinventing the area, according to the site.

Raymond Uno was born in Ogden and raised on 25th Street. Both parents came from Japan, making him a Nisei, or a first-generation Japanese American.

The concentrated area in Ogden that soon became known as Japantown was 25th Street to 24th Street and Grant Avenue to Lincoln. Most of the Japanese Americans lived around or on 25th Street, Uno recalled.

Uno witnessed first-hand the growth of Japantown on 25th Street and saw his people develop into a community and thrive as a culture. He recalled the many businesses that were established during his childhood.

A hospital, staffed with Japanese doctors, was established for strictly Japanese railroad workers. No safety regulation existed during this time, therefore injuries were common, Uno said. The hospital stayed open for a number of years while the Japanese railroad workers were still active.

Merchant owners began opening their own shops, which included restaurants, a barbershop, fish market and cafés. The first Japanese dentist had an office on 25th Street and Grant Ave on the second floor of the building. The Japanese Association was established to assist people with problems and eventually a Japanese school opened up adjacent to the Japanese Association, Uno said.

A men’s boarding house opened up. Rooms were available to single men; it was a place for them to stay, be surrounded by their culture and eat Japanese food.

In February 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 and an influx of Japanese from the West Coast flooded Utah by the hundreds to avoid internment.

According to an article in the Utah Humanities Council Newsletter, “Not all Japanese citizens in Ogden welcomed this influx of people, suddenly competing for jobs and housing.” But in time, they too became contributing members of this community, eventually taking part in the establishment and growth of Japantown.

The Japanese had a language barrier, a religious barrier, a cultural barrier and most of all a racial barrier, and all these worked against them, Uno said. Those who originally moved to Ogden stayed in Ogden for some time. But the business opportunities were slipping away.

Unlike the tradition of taking over the family business, parents pushed their children to want better than they had, through education, said Marion Hori, creator of a photo display for the Japantown Reunion in Ogden, in a phone interview. Hori is also involved with her culture and community in preserving the history of Japantown.

“One of the things the Japanese always did, was they stressed education. They wanted the kids to go to school. They didn’t want them to go through the same things they went through when they became immigrants…. [They] had to fight for everything that they got,” said Uno, who was the first minority to sit on Utah’s Third Judicial District Court.

Uno said these families owned the barbershops, beauty parlors, restaurants and shops. They farmed and worked at Hill Field. As the children grew up, job opportunities for Ogden’s graduates were scarce. As the children migrated away, Japantown began to disappear, Uno recalled.

“From the heydays of 1940 to about 1948, there were a lot of Japanese in the community and things were pretty active,” Uno said. “The churches were active and everything. And from that time on, things have slowly diminished, because people like myself, after graduating out of Weber College in ’52 migrated to Salt Lake City.”

Uno added, “As the Japanese progressed economically, the housing market opened up. The restrictions of the racial covenants that prohibited people from living in certain areas were stricken down, so the Japanese were able to move into other areas. … The Japanese community just disintegrated along with the businesses because people quit coming to 25th Street and living on 25th Street,” Uno said.

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