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AAPI Heritage Month Legacy Business spotlight: National Japanese American Historical Society

A Laborfest program inside the National Japanese American Historical Society’s headquarters at 1684 Post St. in 2015.

Since 1980, the National Japanese American Historical Society, Inc. (NJAHS) has been dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage and Japanese American history through its extensive collection (13,000 objects, documents, photos), exhibitions and public programs, and its participation in festivals, traditions and advocacy. At the heart of Japantown’s commercial corridor, NJAHS is not only a symbol of this enduring community but is also the neighborhood’s only historically-based interpretive center.

Jimbo’s Bop City and Uoki Sakai Co. on Post St. (Collection of the National Japanese American Historical Society). NJAHS’s Japantown headquarters is located at the former site of the Uoki Sakai Fish Market at 1684 Post Street. In many ways, the story of the Sakai family reflects the broader story and resilience of the Japanese American community in San Francisco. Due to Executive Order 9066, the Sakai family was forced to close its business during WWII. Even after returning and reopening, their business was again disrupted by urban renewal; the original building was demolished and replaced by a two-story building on the same site.

The organization was originally founded as ‘Go for Broke, Inc.’, and aimed at promote the military exploits of the Japanese American veterans of the 100th battalion/442nd regimental combat team and the military intelligence service during World War II in Europe and the Pacific. In 1983, ‘Go for Broke, Inc.’ rebranded themselves as NJAH, which reflects their broader mission to collect, preserve, interpret and share the Japanese American experience for national and global audiences.

In 2013, after two decades of planning, NJAHS opened the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) Historic Learning Center in Building 640 (640 Mason Street) at Crissy Field in the Presidio. It is significant as the original site of the historic U.S. Army Intelligence Language School, where Japanese American military linguists secretly trained one month before Pearl Harbor (November 1, 1941) and were deployed to the Pacific theater of war after graduating in May 1942.

Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center, Building 640.

From 2001-2016, NJAHS played a critical role in the Japantown Taskforce, Inc., with Executive Director Rosalyn Tonai serving on the board and executive committee. The taskforce developed the groundbreaking Japantown Cultural Heritage and Economic Sustainability Strategy (JCHESS), the product of a 15-year community-led process and the first document in San Francisco created to focus specifically on how to preserve and promote a neighborhood’s cultural heritage. NJAHS continues to serve on the Japantown Taskforce, a community board that guides community planning, development, and cultural heritage preservation efforts.

Tonai helped the organization join the San Francisco Legacy Business Registry in 2019. It is recognized

Its two sites remain closed due to Covid restrictions, but they are offering virtual programs such as an upcoming book launch with Densho and a program on the Nisei writing experience with the Hayward Area Historical Society.

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Legacy Businessesjapantowncultural heritage

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