Small building shares big history of Nebraska’s Japanese settlers

Originally published on 10/11’s Pure Nebraska Program

Japanese Hall is located now at the Legacy of the Plains Museum, and John Miyoshi is serving as the construction manager for the project. The building didn’t always sit near the base of Scotts Bluff National Monument and the Legacy of the Plains Museum. It once sat at 1705 Avenue C in downtown Scottsbluff. It was a gathering spot for many Japanese Americans through the years who emigrated from Japan to the U.S. to work on the railroad, or in the sugar beet industry.

We recently visited with Miyoshi about the importance of Japanese Hall. He says his mother is from Hartington, Nebraska, and she met his father at the University of Nebraska. “Dad was from Hershey,” Miyoshi said. “In Nebraska, there were three Japanese settlements around the early 1900′s. All three of those settlements involved people who worked on the railroads. When the work was over, they ended up staying in the communities where they settled. The North Platte area, the Alliance area, and the largest settlement would have been the Scottsbluff area. Many Japanese immigrants came to work the sugar beet farms as well.”

Japanese Hall was very important to the immigrants who were living in the Scottsbluff area. “It was a social hall,” Miyoshi said. “Weddings, events, bazaars, summer school, just any time of event or celebration, this hall was used. This building was located in downtown Scottsbluff. It was built in 1929. Over the years, there just became a situation where there was not enough people to support the use of the building, so the decision was made to sell the building and the ground. Once that occurred, there was an uprising from people who said we needed to save Japanese Hall. An agreement was reached with Legacy of the Plains Museum to move it out to this location. It’s a great location for this building. To move the building, it was a 4.6-mile distance as the crow flies. But we actually had to move it 14.5 miles by road. It was a dramatic move, because we had to go around town, and come through the pass at Scotts Bluff National Monument. There are some great pictures of the building being moved in 2019.”

“We are about 99% complete with the renovation,” Miyoshi said. “It took us quite a bit longer with the COVID stops, but we are pretty close to being finished. We are working with a company from Denver now on the exhibits. Phase 1 of those exhibits is just about complete. We will have three phases. We hope to have the grand opening a year from right now.”

Miyoshi says the building will primarily be used as a museum. “We will look at the history of Japanese Americans not only in Nebraska, but in the High Plains. When you come into the museum, we hope to run you through a timeline of when those original immigrants came, and a lot of them came in the early 1900′s. My grandfather came in 1909. The railroads were flourishing. They had a lot of construction going on. Japanese men came over to work on the railroads, and many of them thought they would return home. However, most of them ended up not going home and decided to build a life here. Hopefully, we can walk people through that history. A lot of business and commerce started in Nebraska because of the Japanese. There’s a pretty big tie between the two countries.”

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