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Japanese Hospital: A Community Civil Rights History

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Opening day at the Japanese Hospital in Boyle Heights on Dec. 1, 1929.

By KRISTEN HAYASHI

The Little Tokyo Historical Society (LTHS) will host a celebration of the 90th anniversary of the Japanese Hospital in Boyle Heights on Sunday, Dec. 1, from 2 to 4 p.m. at Tenrikyo Mission Headquarters, 2727 E. First St. in Los Angeles.

The celebration will include presentations on the history of the hospital and the surrounding neighborhood of Boyle Heights, recognition of former patients of the hospital as well as those who worked there, a taiko performance by Yoki Daiko, and birthday cake.

Parking for the event is available in Tenrikyo Mission Headquarters’ lot on North Saratoga Street at First Street. Admission to the event is free and open to the public. To RSVP for the event, email [email protected]

The Japanese Hospital illuminates an ethnic community’s attempt to create a health care facility as a means to combat racial discrimination that barred Japanese immigrants from receiving care at many mainstream health facilities in early 20th-century Los Angeles. Itinerant Japanese midwives and doctors crisscrossed the region to attend to patients.

During the 1918 influenza epidemic, the need for more adequate health care facilities was critical. By the 1920s, Japanese Angelenos determined that a hospital was needed to serve their burgeoning community. As a result, in 1926, five Japanese immigrant doctors attempted to incorporate the Japanese Hospital on property they acquired at First and Fickett streets in Boyle Heights.

The California Secretary of State denied their application for incorporation on the grounds that the doctors were ineligible for citizenship and therefore could not own or lease property. When the physicians contested the decision, the case went to the California State Supreme Court and ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1928. Both courts ruled in favor of the doctors and the hospital opened on Dec. 1, 1929.

The bravery of the immigrant doctors to fight for the betterment of their community despite not having the rights of citizens is remarkable. The civil rights victory that resulted from their efforts is a significant accomplishment that all Angelenos can be proud of.

The Japanese Hospital reflects the dejure and defacto discrimination that restricted Japanese Americans (and other ethnic groups) for decades as well as ways in which they successfully navigated these challenges. Despite the ethnic-specific name of the hospital, it has also served a diverse group of Angelenos since its founding, developing a reputation for providing good care.

In recognition of this rich history, the LTHS applied for historical-cultural monument status from the City of Los Angeles for the Japanese Hospital. In 2016, the city designated the hospital as HCM #1131. Earlier this year, the LTHS applied for National Register status for the Japanese Hospital. Recently, the Keeper of the National Register determined the Japanese Hospital eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Since 2006, the LTHS has been committed to documenting and verifying history of locales, sites and buildings, as well as preserving and sharing the history and personal stories of Little Tokyo and its residents. The LTHS obtained HCM status from the City of Los Angeles for the Aoyama Tree (HCM# 920) and is currently awaiting approval for the Sakai-Kozawa Residence/Tokio Florist and Pole Sign.

The LTHS has developed naming sites for Rev. Howard Toriumi, Sei Fujii, Toyo Miyatake, and The Finale Club in various locations throughout Little Tokyo. The LTHS also captures the spirit of Little Tokyo through its annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest.

For more information about the Japanese Hospital 90th anniversary celebration as well as the LTHS’additional upcoming events, email [email protected]

LTHS Seeks Individuals with Japanese Hospital Connection 

The Little Tokyo Historical Society is interested in identifying individuals who have a connection to the hospital. There will be an opportunity at the program for attendees to share that they were born at the hospital, received health care at the hospital, or are a descendant of a former staff members. Additionally, attendees are encouraged to bring in photographs, documents, or any other ephemera for scanning.

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1 Comment

  1. I was born at the Japanese Hospital on April 1, 1949 and will attend the ceremony on December 1, 2019.

    Mark Hirata, 626-780-4844

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