Japanese community never came back

by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News

Japanese farmed land leased from The Irvine Co., growing celery, tomatoes and other vegetable from the 1920s until World War II when they were banished from the area. Photo courtesy of the Orange County Archives

The forest of transmission towers at the electrical substation on the northeast corner of Bryan and Browning gives little indication of what once occupied that space.

During the 1920s, 1930s and early 1940s, this corner was home to a small Japanese settlement of approximately 35 families who leased land from The Irvine Co. to grow vegetable crops such as celery and tomatoes. Their farms were on Irvine land abutting Tustin as well as in nearby canyons, including Peters Canyon and Rattlesnake Canyon. The Irvine Co. allowed the Japanese, who were prevented by law from owning land, to lease farms, but prohibited them from living on the land.

Children from the six families living in the Bryan/Browning community attended Tustin schools. Families living farther out on the Irvine Ranch sent their children to Irvine Grammar School. Everyone came by bus to Tustin High and many continued their education at Santa Ana Junior College.

Although there was little socializing outside of the classroom, these young people were an intricate part of our school lives. They ranked among the brightest and most athletic. They participated in clubs and student government and made their letters in sports.

The Bryan/Browning settlement was the center of activity for all Japanese families living on the Irvine Ranch because it had a large wooden hall which was used for the Irvine Japanese Language School called Gakuto. Founded in 1929, this school held Japanese classes for the young people on Saturdays in addition to offering evening classes for adults.

The hall, which faced Bryan Avenue, also was used for meetings of the Young Womenís Association and the Young Menís Association. These groups held annual events such as a Motherís Day Tea, a Fatherís Day celebration and a Sports Day.

The nearest Buddhist Temple at that time was in Los Angeles. Most Irvine families made the trip to attend it only on special occasions. Children from at least one family attended Tustin Presbyterian Church Sunday School.

The small wooden houses were basic; primitive by todayís standards. Windmills provided energy to pump water from a well on the property and generate some electricity, but many homes used oil lamps. Indoor plumbing was limited to a water faucet. Because Tustin was the nearest town most families patronized the Tustin Hardware store, First National Bank and the downtown grocery stores. Small trucks known as shopping wagons came from Los Angeles with special provisions such as tofu and rice.

The settlements were abandoned when the families were forced to leave the area after the start of World War II. A few former residents eventually returned to Orange County, but the small Japanese communities never reformed.



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