Chapter 9
Post-War Resettlement:
The Santa Clara, Salinas, and Pajaro Valleys and the Central Coast Region

By Wendy Ng, PhD, San Jose State University, and Christina Lim, KTEH

Posters like these were put up in the Japantowns as well as the downtown areas of cities where people of Japanese ancestry lived or shopped. National Archives.
The signing of Executive Order 9066, the forced evacuation and imprisonment in the camps, and then the eventual hardship of resettlement, have deeply affected generations of Japanese Americans. These events not only caused huge economic changes to the once tightly knit farming communities, they also caused fragmentation of the families, and profound social change within Japanese American culture. Although the camp experience and the politics that surrounded the imprisonment are now being examined and documented, not much has been done about the resettlement experience—a time that many historians have called the "other half of the internment story."

At the conclusion of World War II, thousands of people of Japanese ancestry still remained in the internment camps awaiting their release. However, they were mostly the old and sick or families with young children. The War Relocation Authority had allowed Japanese Americans to go to the Midwest and eastern states to work on the farms and in businesses deemed critical to the war effort. Beginning in 1943, many younger Nisei in their late teens and early twenties had applied to leave and get jobs. The money they sent back to camp often was all that kept their families going during this time. Another large group, able bodied young men between eighteen and thirty-six years of age, had also left the camps—to serve in the US Army in integrated units or the 442nd/100th Infantry and MIS units. So, in early 1945, when the Pacific Coast was reopened to the Japanese Americans, the fragmented community—without their most able-bodied youth—were free to return home.

The Nisei Take Over Rebuilding

For years, the community had depended on the strength and wisdom of the Issei to guide them. But 1946 found many of the Issei were old, tired, or disheartened and unable to withstand the rigors of rebuilding. It was the Nisei generation, a group made up of the young people who had left camp for jobs, returning veterans, and parents with young families—who now shouldered the responsibility of supporting their Issei parents while raising their own children.

Issei father, Yuwakichi Sakauye in his fruit orchard in the 1920's. Eichii Edward Sakauye Collection, California History Center Archives.

Nisei son, Eichii Edward Sakauye in the same fruit orchard after the war. National Archives.

The Nisei were generally different from their parents, not content to accept their assigned place in society, and always trying to do better so that their children, the Sansei, would have all the advantages that the Nisei themselves had been denied. Some Nisei tried to return to farming strawberries, vegetables, cut flowers, or specialty crops, but the majority soon found that farming was too expensive and labor intensive. A small five, ten or fifteen acre farm could not support a family in the post-war era. In addition, many men had learned a trade in the workshops at camp and significant numbers of veterans took advantage of the Montgomery GI Bill to attend college or trade school. Nisei men, despite the lingering anti-Japanese sentiments and discriminatory hiring practices, eventually either opened their own businesses or found work in the booming home building and manufacturing industries. Others turned to gardening and landscaping — a niche that started also to boom in the post-war economy.

Monterey: Fishing Is Over

From the left: Hiroko Nishiguchi and Larry Oda, share their memories of Monterey in the KTEH documentary, Return to the Valley, KTEH.
For the fisherman at the three major fish processing ports in California — San Francisco, Monterey, and Terminal or Fish Island (also known as East Los Angeles) there was virtually no way that they could raise enough capital to return to their former occupation. In 1940, an average trawler with a special net called a "purse seiner" cost about $30,000 to $40,000. Most of the men had lost their boats during the forced evacuation, sold for pennies on the dollar, and they found it impossible to start all over again as common deckhands. Only one family, the Manakas, resumed fishing in the Monterey region. However, over the following decades, as fish stocks plummeted, even they found it unprofitable to continue large-scale fishing.

The Women
With so many men either incarcerated separately or serving in the military, the women had assumed leadership roles during the internment—accepting the responsibilities of taking care of the families and earning much needed income working in the mess halls, kitchens and laundries. When they returned home, women often were the first to find jobs as domestics and in childcare. They began to earn equal salaries as their husbands and in some cases became the major support of the family. The growing post-war economy also gave women additional opportunities as slowly, secretarial and office jobs began to open up. More and more began to attend college and eventually attaining professional jobs, something unheard of in the Issei generation. These women were not content to stand in the background, quietly pushing their children forward. Instead, they became equal partners with their husbands, with equal say in how the family finances were managed and more importantly, on how the children were raised.

Redress and Remembrance

Kitako Izumizaki and Helen Nitta Mito discuss the changing role of women in Return to the Valley Return to the Valley, KTEH.

The post-War Japanese American community struggled to gain acceptance again—building up their businesses and lives that were so tragically taken away from them during the war years. Their hopes and dreams rested upon the next generation—the Sansei. Little did anyone know that the Sansei would be motivated by dramatic social changes in U.S. society such that they would be a part of and create a movement that would seek to repair the wrongs that their parents and grandparents had been subjected to. The Sansei, with their Nisei parents, worked to recover the past and document the history of Japanese Americans so that future generations would remember the importance of civil rights and liberties even at times of war. This grassroots activism, which started in communities with the Nisei and on the college campuses like UCLA and San Jose State University with the Sansei, eventually led to landmark legislation &#nbsp; the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (see the chapter on Redress and Reparation.) President Ronald Reagan formally signed the Civil Liberties Act, which gave each Japanese American a $20,000 one time payment and a formal apology from the United States government. For many of the Issei, it came too late.

From left to right: Sen. Daniel Inouye (HI), unidentified observer, Rep. Patricia Saiki (HI), Sen. Pete Wilson (CA), President Reagan, Rep. Don Young (AK), Rep. Robert Matsui (CA) and Robert K. Bratt, Justice Dept. Administrator. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

Resource Materials

The forced evacuation and internment of World War II are some of the most documented and studied topics in Japanese American history. However, scholars, researchers, writers and filmmakers are beginning to create new material on other areas of Japanese American history. These topics will continue to generate study and resources in the coming years.

Books for younger students:

Uchida, Yoshiko (1996) Journey Home, Scott Foresman, ASIN: 0663592194. Uchida's book, the sequel to Journey to Topaz, is about returning to their home in Berkeley, California. The family's experiences are told in a manner that children can understand.

Houston, Jeanne, 1983, Farewell to Manzanar, Bantam, ISBN: 0553262165, Reading level 5th through 12th grade. Houston's book has become a standard part of school reading west of the Rocky Mountains. It is the story of her family's incarceration at Manzanar and their return to the Los Angeles area. Available through and the Asian American Curriculum Project (

Books for older students and researchers:

Daniels, Roger, Taylor, Sandra C. and Kitano, Harry, Arrington, Leonard, editors (1992) Japanese American From Relocation to Redress. University of Washington Press, ISBN: 0295971177. The editors present material of the Japanese American experience from the evacuation order of World War II to the public policy debate over redress and reparations.

O'Brien, David J. and Fugita, Stephen (1991) The Japanese American Experience. Indiana University Press, ISBN: 0253206561. This is a scholarly work and does have extensive footnotes and bibliography.

Tamura, Eileen (1994) Americanization, Acculturation, and Ethnic Identity: The Nisei Generation in Hawaii (The Asian American Experience), University of Illinois Press, ISBN: 0252063589. This book describes the Nisei generation and culture in Hawaii both before and after World War II.

Yoo, David (2000) Growing Up Nisei: Race, Generation, and Culture Among Japanese Americans of California, 1924-49 (The Asian American Experience), University of Illinois Press, ISBN: 025206822X. Yoo examines the Nisei generation and how their experiences growing up in the 1920s and 30s ultimately helped them to adjust to camp life. Forward by Roger Daniels.


Resettlement to Redress: Rebirth of the Japanese American Community, Don Young, Producer (2005) This film takes a close look at the long and difficult journey Japanese Americans faced as they transitioned from being forcibly removed from their homes and imprisoned in concentration camps during World War II, to readjustment to society upon their release. Some never returned to their previous homes, settling instead in other parts of the U.S., including Salt Lake City, Denver, and Seabrook, New Jersey. Eventually though, pilgrimages to relocation centers and the empowering activist climate of the 1960s played a key role in bringing people together, building increasing momentum to seek redress from the U.S. government. (55 minutes) available at the Japanese American National Museum store, or through CAAM at

Return to the Valley (2003) from KTEH San Jose PBS. Available from KTEH as a DVD with many additional features, this documentary is about the experiences of Japanese Americans returning to the Santa Clara and Salinas Vallies and Central Coast region after the war. The DVD has a bonus feature of Dave Tatsuno's Topaz Memories, the only full color film shot at camp by an internee. Return to the Valley focuses on the Japanese American community and the inability to resume large scale farming and fishing. (57 minutes)

Forced Out (2003) from KVIE Sacramento PBS. Available as a VHS, this documentary is an accompaniment to Forsaken Fields. It focuses on the Japanese American business district in Sacramento before and after the war. (30 minutes) It is available from KVIE (

Starting Over (1996) a film by Diane Fukami for KCSM San Mateo PBS. This program is about the Japanese American community resettling in San Francisco, San Mateo and the Eastbay. Available from Center for Asian American Media (CAAM for school use. (60 minutes)

Websites and Organizations:

Densho Project, The Japanese American Legacy Project. This archive tells much of the story of Japanese Americans in the Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane region. There are many great photos as well.

Japanese American Museum of San Jose, a great community-based museum and web site. KTEH's educational partner on the Return to the Valley documentary and educational project.

Japanese American National Museum, located in Los Angeles and the repository of a great deal of archival material on the Japanese American experience in the United States.

The Japanese American Network. This web site has links to many other sites focusing on the Internment experience.

National Japanese American Historical Society, located in San Francisco's Japantown, also has a small exhibit area. This organization has put together a teacher site with lesson plans and the Japanese American internment documents issued by the government at

National Archives This on-line area is specific to the Japanese American experience during World War II. Included are many links to a database listing the names of most of the internees (based on 1940s records), Nisei military records, and twenty days of Congressional testimony which eventually led to the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) formerly National Asian American Telecommunications Association,

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