First Japanese American agricultural laborers

Guadalupe-Javanese businessGuadalupe is a small, picturesque farm town along Highway 1 on the Central Coast, at the northwest corner of Santa Barbara County. Its history goes back to the Mission period, but it came into prominence with the arrival of the standard-gauge Southern Pacific Railroad and the sugar beet plant in Betteravia around the turn of the 20th century.

The first Japanese American agricultural laborers arrived in the Santa Maria Valley around 1899, and by 1909 there were some 500 Nikkei residents in the Guadalupe area. By the 1930s there were many Japanese farmers in the area, and Guadalupe had a thriving Nikkei business district..Although the Sanborn maps label an area of “Japanese dwellings” in the low-lying area south of the bend in Guadalupe St., Nikkei hotels and businesses appear to have existed both north and south of this bend, at least by1940. At the south edge of town was a busy produce packing district. At least two of the packing sheds were Japanese American-owned; it’s possible that some of the other firms also dealt with Nikkei farmers. The adjacent cemetery is the final resting place for residents of diverse cultures, including Latino, Portuguese, Anglo, Swiss-Italian, and Japanese. The somber, black Japanese grave markers contrast with the white, marble angels of the Swiss Italian section.

The Buddhist Churches of America 75-Year History (1974) recounts that Guadalupe’s Japanese association decided in 1909 to write both the Buddhist headquarters in Los Angeles and the Christian church mission in San Francisco – whichever group responded first would be invited to establish a local church, thereby avoiding dividing the community amongst multiple churches. The Buddhist Church’s letter arrived a day before the Christians’ reply. The Buddhist Church and school were built at the north end of town; today’s church was built in 1961.A Tenrikyo Kyokai church was established in the 1920s, but Japanese American Christians worship in Santa Maria.

Guadalupe still functions as a farm town, with working-class residential hotels for Latino farm laborers, as well as numerous restaurants and businesses (including labor contractors, pool halls, laundrmats, and family clothing stores). There are no longer local Japanese American farmers (though there are several substantial operations in southern San Luis Obispo County, near Oceano and Nipomo). The major remaining JA business is Masatani’s Market, a marvelous country store which has adapted to changing times, selling Asian, Mexican, and Central American groceries, plus fresh meats, produce, bandanas, piñatas, and other essentials.

From Japantown Atlas


Above: The old Japanese section of Guadalupe, looking southwest from the Royal Theater. Today’s Masatani’s Market (a) is at far left. In 1940, Taco Loco (b) was Wakimoto Seed Store, and the yellow building (c) was Oishi Dry Goods. The parking lot (d) used to be the Japanese Social Hall. The big, brick hotel housing La SImpatia Restaurant (e) used to be the Kashiwagi Hotel. Upstairs is still a rooming house. Next door, the green fence (f) marks the site of the Kumamoto Hotel










1. Don’t miss Masatani’s Market. 2. Early morning view south from Guadalupe and 11th Sts. (Druid’s Hall and map mural on right). 3. Santa Florita Hotel and Veterans’ flagpole (original Masatani’s Market site).

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