The mission of the Japanese American Museum of Oregon is to preserve and honor the history and culture of Japanese Americans in the Pacific Northwest, educate the public about the Japanese American experience during WWII, and advocate for the protection of civil rights for all Americans.
The Japanese American Museum of Oregon in Portland is charged with preserving and sharing the history and culture of the Nikkei community—Japanese emigrants and their descendants. Formerly known as the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, JAMO is a venue for culture and research as well as an invaluable resource for exploring Nikkei experiences and their role in Oregon’s multicultural community. Our permanent exhibit space highlights Issei immigration and early life in Oregon, Nihonmachi (Japantown), and the experience during World War II through Nikkei life today.
For many years we have been searching for a property to purchase that would allow us to expand our exhibit space within the bounds of Portland’s historic Japantown. Through an opportunity with Prosper Portland, we acquired the first floor of the Old Town Lofts on the corner of NW 4th and Flanders Street in Old Town, ensuring our presence in this culturally significant neighborhood. Our grand opening at this site—renamed the Naito Center—was May 6, 2021.
The Japanese American Museum of Oregon is located on the homeland of the Chinook, Cowlitz, and Clackamas nations.
From the Dreams of Many, One Reality
The first significant effort to document the history of Oregon’s Japanese immigrants began in 1973 with the Issei Appreciation project, which led to a collection of slides documenting the achievements of the Issei (first generation) pioneers who settled in Oregon before discriminatory laws halted further Japanese immigration in 1924.
In 1990, the Japanese American Historical Plaza was completed at the north end of the Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Conceived and guided by the Oregon Nikkei Endowment, the Plaza—along with its narrative of sculpted and engraved stones—stands as a permanent memorial to the lives of Oregon Nikkei and their determined pursuit of liberty, equality, and justice as American citizens.
Also in 1990, Portland hosted its first reunion of Oregon Nikkei who lived in the state before the start of World War II. Over 900 people attended from all over the world. The program focused on life in Japantown, a once-thriving section of Northwest Portland, where many attendees had lived, worked, and raised families. It was here that the idea of initiating a broad-based effort to document the story of Oregon Nikkei was born.
In the spring of 1992, the Nikkei community marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066. It was under the authority of this document that the military was directed to incarcerate all persons of Japanese ancestry living along the West Coast. A half-day dramatic program recounted the fear, grief, indignation, and bewilderment that swept through the Nikkei community in 1942 as entire families were herded into makeshift quarters at the Portland Assembly Center, formerly the Portland International Livestock Exposition. An extensively researched videotape documenting this tragedy was also produced for the anniversary event.
With funding from the Meyer Memorial Trust and support from the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, the Oregon Historical Society, and the Portland Nikkei community, an exhibition honoring the first Issei pioneers in Oregon was developed in 1993.
It was while researching In This Great Land of Freedom: The Issei Pioneers of Oregon that the Nikkei community was alarmed to find that historical documentation relating to these early settlers was rapidly disappearing. Cause for even greater concern surfaced in 1995 when 700 Nikkei residents of pre-WWII Oregon came together for a second reunion. Only five surviving members of the original Issei who settled in Oregon attended the reunion. Five years earlier, there were closer to 20.
The prospect of losing forever the legacy of their Issei forebears quickly moved the community to action. A committee was formed, and work began in earnest to locate a site for what would one day become the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center.
The vision for the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center initially adopted by the Oregon Nikkei Endowment Board in 1995 featured a multi-purpose facility: a place where items of historical importance to Oregon Nikkei could be preserved and where the unique character and traditions of its culture could flourish and find space for expression.
By 1996, with the help of the late Bill Naito, the committee had located a potential site owned by the H. Naito Corporation on Northwest Front Avenue across from the Japanese American Historical Plaza. Negotiations for acquiring the property and bringing it up to city building codes began but were suspended upon the untimely death of Mr. Naito. Subsequently, Sam Naito and the H. Naito Corporation proposed an alternative site in Old Town on NW Second Avenue. In September of 2004, the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center relocated to 121 NW Second Avenue in the historic Merchant Hotel building.
In January 2020, the organization changed its name to the Japanese American Museum of Oregon, and in May 2021, JAMO opened its new museum at the Naito Center, 411 NW Flanders Street.