The Japanese American History Archives - Seizo Oka Collection


The Japanese American History Archives - Seizo Oka Collection (JAHA) is one of the most extensive community-owned collections of rare Issei (first-generation Japanese immigrants) primary documents that survived the tragic loss of property due to Executive Order 9066. The JAHA collection includes personal diaries, newspapers, journals, manuscripts, memoirs, one-of-a-kind books and photographs. Many documents illuminate similar experiences of political fear, anti-immigration, suspicion, mistrust, hostility, civil rights and racist laws faced by immigrant and new communities today.

 “The Japanese American History Archives is an incredible treasure trove of primary source books, personal papers and original art documenting the Japanese American experience in California”  -  Gary Kurutz, Curator of Special Collections of the California State Library

The archives are approximately 1,000 linear feet plus eight four-drawer filing cabinets with over 10,000 historical items. The collection contains primary source materials and very rare and valuable documents from the pre/post-war Japanese American community. Most of the collection is focused on Issei history and materials on the early Japanese community from the mid-1800s through 1950. Also included in the collection are original crafts, paintings and artifacts made by Issei in the concentration camps. Other notable items include original paintings by Gertrude Farquharson Boyle Kanno, Chiura Obata, Hisako Hibi and the desk used by Dean Acheson at the Japanese Peace Conference 1951.

Background

Mr. Oka was a Kibei Nisei born in San Francisco who moved to Japan at age 12. In Japan, he studied English and law at Tokyo University and, after graduation, became a banker. Upon returning to the United States (U.S.) in 1948, Mr. Oka taught Japanese and English languages until he joined the Bank of Tokyo in 1957. He began collecting historical documents on the Issei generation as far back as 1952, a year after the signing of the Peace Treaty between the U.S. and Japan following World War II.  This was not an easy task, given that most Issei had thrown away most of their documents and archives following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Academics and universities would not start collecting these historical documents for at least another decade. Initially formed in 1977 as the Japanese American History Room (History Room), it was a project of California 1st Bank, formerly the Bank of Tokyo and now Union Bank, where Oka worked as Vice President.  Under the bank’s sponsorship and Oka’s direction, the History Room started to amass an extensive collection of primary source material on the Issei generation.  

When Mr. Oka retired from banking in 1986, California 1st Bank donated the entire collection of the History Room to the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California (JCCCNC/the Center). Oka renamed the History Room the Japanese American History Archives (JAHA) and continued acting as its executive director and curator. Under his leadership, the collection continued to grow in both material and prestige. The archives became recognized as a comprehensive research facility for scholars, students, businesses, government agencies and universities both in the United States and Japan.  JAHA’s primary source material on the Issei became a resource for other higher education institutions, including U.C. Berkeley, UCLA and Stanford University.  Over the years, the archival collection became a resource for books, research material, educational textbooks, documentaries and even feature films.

In 2004, Seizo Oka passed away, and Japantown lost its most knowledgeable and recognized community historian. He spent half a century chronicling, archiving, preserving and sharing his knowledge about the Japanese American community and the Issei generation. JAHA is his legacy, and the collection of historical archives is a treasure for our community.

On November 7, 2019, JAHA officially changed its name and dedicated the space to the Japanese American History Archives-Seizo Oka Collection.