Facing Lodi’s recently revitalized downtown from across the railroad tracks are two blocks of historic structures that served as the hub for Japanese immigrants from the late 19th century up until WWII. Beginning with small numbers of immigrants in the 1880s, local Nikkei numbered over fifty residents by 1902. Four years later, they established a Japanese Association tied to headquarters in San Francisco and branches throughout the state. Connections between Japanese immigrants were reinforced in places like Lodi, where the Japanese enclave served local Nikkei and those who were engaged in agricultural work throughout the fertile San Joaquin Delta region.
By 1910, Lodi’s Japantown was thriving next to the Union Pacific railroad tracks, icehouses and packing sheds that shipped the area’s fruits and vegetables across the United States. On Main Street, Nikkei hotels, stores, restaurants, pool halls and bathhouses were intermingled with establishments run by Chinese immigrants. Japantown businesses offered an economic base for the town’s Nikkei and familiar goods and services to the thousands of seasonal grape pickers who worked in regional vineyards. By 1940, the area’s approximately 800 Japanese residents had created a Nihonmachi that included a Buddhist Church and many social organizations, four general stores and a fish market, a drug store, six restaurants, a pool hall, a tofu maker, a laundry, and five hotels.
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