Japanese immigrants began arriving in the Yakima Valley in the 1890s, first to the Lower Valley towns of Wapato and Toppenish, where they worked on the land, clearing sagebrush and digging irrigation canals and then farming land leased to them on the Yakama Reservation.
Another community of Japanese immigrants and their families developed in what is now downtown Yakima. The neighborhood bordered by Yakima Avenue, South First Street, Chestnut Street and South Front Street and packed with hotels, restaurants, stores and other businesses owned and operated by residents of Japanese ancestry.
Despite legal barriers, widespread racism, and occasional violence the Japanese immigrant community grew through the 1910s and 1920s. The community sponsored several churches, civic groups, and a baseball team.
On June 4-5, 1942, a total of 1,017 Yakima Valley residents of Japanese ancestry were forced to travel by train to the Portland Assembly Center as a result of President Franklin Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066. They were there for three months before being taken to Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming, where they lived in hastily constructed barracks until the end of World War II.
Only about 10 percent returned to the Yakima Valley, almost all to the Wapato area. Yakima's Japan Town district never recovered as former business owners, operators and residents relocated to Southern California, Chicago, St. Louis and other urban centers.