JAPANESE. Cleveland's Japanese-American community began after World War II, when significant numbers began settling in the area. Prior to this, only a few Japanese called Cleveland home (18 in 1940). Most Japanese immigrated to the Pacific Coast between 1890-1924, developing "Little Tokyos" in West Coast communities. The Japanese Exclusion Act of 1924 halted further immigration. But Pearl Harbor forever altered Japanese-American life. In 1942 aliens (35%) and citizens (65%) alike were removed from their West Coast homes to 10 concentration camps in interior locations, disrupting individuals' lives and destroying Japanese communities. Some college students, aided by the Natl. Student Relocation Council of the American Friends Service Committee, left the camps to resume their education. However, they could enroll only in institutions east of the Rockies and even then only certain institutions would accept them. For instance, in Cleveland Japanese-Americans could not enroll in Western Reserve Univ. until 1944, supposedly because a navy research contract so specified.
Most Japanese came to Cleveland through the War Relocation Authority, the civilian agency that ran the camps. Employers sent job notices to the WRA, which relayed them to the relocation centers. Once interested workers arrived, they went to temporary residences, such as the Baptist House Mission, the two WRU fraternities secured by the WRA to house single men, or less expensive downtown hotels. The newcomers took mostly industrial and clerical jobs. In addition, the Cleveland Resettlement Committee (1943-45) facilitated the arrival of the Japanese through a publicity campaign designed to increase the willingness of community members to accept the Japanese. Generally, the young 2nd-generation, or Nisei, males left the camps first to "test the waters" because of internees' apprehension about their reception. Fortunately, most who came to Cleveland found the local community generally receptive. The returnees' most serious problem was housing because of war shortages, compounded by discrimination. Most Japanese initially settled in HOUGH in the vicinity of 79th St., because that is where they found housing. A few others resided in GLENVILLE and on the near west side. The Japanese community in Cleveland never attempted to build a "Little Tokyo," partly because the official policy of the WRA was to spread families out to avoid creating a "visible target"; partly because of the Japanese's own conviction that they would be better off not recreating pre-World War II enclaves; and partly because of housing availability. The Greater Cleveland community reached its peak immediately after the war, at an estimated 3,000-3,500. By 1959 this number was only 2,000, by 1978 1,500, and by 1995 1,000. Most returned to the West Coast; those who remained often had their own businesses or were comfortably employed. A significant number of Japan-born female Japanese came to Cleveland as the brides of American servicemen.
Almost immediately upon arriving in Cleveland, the Japanese began creating voluntary associations. By 1946 Les Debonaires (female), Keen Tyme, and the Young Buddhist Assn. had been formed. The Issei Christian Fellowship (Issei is the Japanese term for 1st-generation immigrant) began holding services in Japanese every other Sunday in the Old Stone Church. The Nisei Fellowship, most of whom were already members of neighborhood church organizations, gathered every Sunday evening at the First Methodist Church. The Young Buddhists met at FIRST UNITARIAN CHURCH. Also numerous softball, basketball, and bowling leagues had been formed. Fairway Golf Club, still active, was formed in 1946. Other groups were the Cleveland Nisei Tennis Club (still active), Femway Golf Club (defunct), and Young Buddhist Bowling League (still active). To inform people about community events, the newsletter Kaleidoscope was started by volunteers. Now the Cleveland JACL Bulletin, published bimonthly with volunteer labor, handles that function.
Religious institutions were important to the Japanese community. The CLEVELAND BUDDHIST TEMPLE was dedicated on 7 Jan. 1945. The Christian Issei did not purchase a church building, but did form the Japanese Christian Fellowship in 1945, which met at the HOUGH AVE. UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST. The Japanese Christian Fellowship moved to the CHURCH OF THE COVENANT. Due to advancing age and illness, the Fellowship was disbanded in 1985. However, its annual memorial services continue under the leadership of the Nisei. After emotional discussions held soon after their arrival, the Japanese community decided not to form an English-oriented Japanese Christian church for 2nd- and 3rd-generation Nisei and Sansei, deciding instead that assimilation ought to be promoted by attending neighborhood churches.
The umbrella association that best represents the community is the Cleveland Chapter of the Japanese American Citizen's League, a national organization started in 1930 to protect the civil rights of the Japanese and develop the capabilities of Japanese-Americans to contribute to society. The Cleveland Chapter was organized in 1946; it membership was 356 in 1959. The organization operated an antidiscrimination committee immediately after World War II. In the late 1960s-early 1970s it successfully worked to repeal the Emergency Detention Act and spearheaded the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 to obtain redress for World War II incarceration. Over 250 Cleveland Japanese Americans who were incarcerated in World War II American concentration camps were among the 80,000 persons who received letters of apology from the President of the U.S. and token reparations. An education and research fund was created by the act.
The Cleveland JACL has always sponsored many community activities, such as an annual scholarship dinner for high school and college graduates of Japanese extraction (started in 1959) and the Holiday Fair, held at Euclid High School (initiated in 1970). As the Nisei who were young adults at the end of World War II aged and their children, the Sansei, grew up, the character of community activities changed. Many sports club disbanded, few dances were held, and most of the special-interest groups ceased functioning. A culturally oriented group, the SHO JO JIs (1955), continues preserving the Japanese dance form, performing public-relations functions. An annual community picnic, started in 1947, brings together all elements of the Japanese community.
The Japanese in Cleveland have never been geographically identifiable. Although there was some concentration in the Hough area immediately after World War II, the Japanese have spread throughout the city and suburbs. A new group of approx. 150 persons called the Cleveland Area Retired Persons was formed in 1985 to promote the social interests of retired Cleveland-area 2nd-generation Japanese-Americans. With the increase in bi-racial, bi-cultural marriage among the 3rd and 4th generations, programs are sponsored by the Cleveland Chapter JACL to meet their varying needs and interests. In 1990 the Japanese Assn. of Northern Ohio (JANO) was established in response to the growing number of native Japanese who live and work in the area. This is a group of mostly young adult families. Japanese language instruction was organized for their children. Thus, although the nature of the Cleveland Japanese community has changed dramatically since it was "created" immediately after World War II, it continues to be an important element in most members' lives.
Stephen S. Fugita
Santa Clara Univ.
Henry T. Tanaka
Fugita, Stephen, et al. Asian Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland (1977).