100 years of Japanese legacy in Balboa Park

By Katherine Hon

May is National Preservation Month, and the North Park Historical Society will celebrate with a special presentation at the monthly meeting on May 21 at 6:30 p.m. in the second floor Fellowship Hall at Grace Lutheran Church, 3967 Park Blvd.

Historian Linda Canada will tell the fascinating story of Japanese presence in Balboa Park that started with an ornate teahouse built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. Because the teahouse was torn down in 1955, many San Diegans are unaware of this Japanese presence in the Exposition. After the Exposition closed, the Asakawa family lived in the teahouse and operated it as a concession from 1917 to1942. Imagine the adventures that the two Asakawa boys experienced growing up in Balboa Park!

Throughout 2015, the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego (JAHSSD) and the Japanese Friendship Garden are presenting “Garden of Unity: Balboa Park’s Japanese legacy” at the Japanese Friendship Garden. The exhibition tells about the families and community leaders who were responsible for 100 years of Japanese presence in Balboa Park. Artifacts, photographs and personal stories from many lenders are shown together for the first time to illustrate the work of the San Diego Yokohama Sister City Society, the House of Japan, and the Japanese Friendship Garden in assuring that the post-World War II friendship with Japan and the early presence of a teahouse in the 1915 Panama-California Exposition are not forgotten.


Members of the Asakawa family are pictured circa 1919. Moto Asakawa (lower left) will share childhood memories of living in the Japanese tea house in Balboa Park in a presentation.
(Courtesy of JAHSSD)

“Garden of Unity” will be open through December 2015 in the Exhibition House at the Japanese Friendship Garden. Visit the JAHSSD website or the Japanese Friendship Garden site at for more information about the exhibit.

It is a sad historical fact that North Park’s Japanese-American residents were among the 120,000 people forced to leave the West Coast in 1942 after the U.S. entered World War II. They included the Sato family, who operated a fruit stand at 3794 30th St., and the Kaneyuki family, who worked at Ishino Fruits at 3009 30th St. before starting their own business on 30th and Beech streets in 1930. They and many other families, including the Asakawa family, were sent away to the Poston, Arizona, incarceration camp. When Japanese-Americans began returning to San Diego following World War II, not many were able to return to their old homes and businesses, and the community was dispersed throughout the county. Most families who lived in North Park before the war found other places to live and work.

At the same time that families were getting settled, there was a growing attempt to formulate friendly relationships between the people of Japan and San Diego, which culminated in the creation of the San Diego Yokohama Sister City Society. Members of that group hosted cultural, business and student exchanges throughout the 1960s and ’70s, and eventually the Japanese Friendship Garden Society of San Diego was formed. This new organization worked with the House of Japan and other organizations to create the superb Japanese garden in Balboa Park now enjoyed by San Diegans and visitors from around the world.

The Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego was founded over 20 years ago by a group of San Diegans who were held in the Poston III internment camp during World War II. Since that time, the organization has hosted many exhibitions and lectures and produced a pictorial book titled “Japanese Americans in San Diego,” published in 2008 by Arcadia Publishing.

Our speaker for the May meeting, Linda Canada, has been affiliated with JAHSSD since 2004. A historian of San Diego history with a research interest in San Diego’s early immigrant groups, she has served as the president of JAHSSD, and continues to serve as the organization’s archivist. She’ll share some stories that didn’t make it into the exhibition, and talk about the related documentary that will premiere in May 2015. The presentation on May 21 is free and open to all.

—Katherine Hon is the secretary of the North Park Historical Society. Reach her at or 619-294-8990.

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