San Jose’s Hidden Asian History Explored in Museum Program

By April 26, 2022April 30th, 2022Press Releases

LOS ALTOS, CA (April 26, 2022) San Jose Japantown, once called Chinatown, is one of three in the country that survives, now threatened by development and gentrification. Throughout its more than 130-year history, San Jose Japantown has been home to several immigrant communities including Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino. In honor of Asian American Pacific Heritage Month, local community history activists Tom Izu and Susan Hayase will share “Hidden Asian Histories of San Jose: Japantown,” an online program hosted by Los Altos History Museum, Thursday, May 12 at 7pm.

What started as a quest for Izu and Hayase to preserve the stories, sounds, and images of Japantown, turned into a community art project using augmented reality to make history visible to the masses. Tamiko Thiel, an internationally-acclaimed augmented reality artist, and her husband, engineer and artist Peter Graf, designed an app that allows visitors to use their mobile phones to see art images overlaying places in the neighborhood. The project, titled “Hidden Histories of Japantown,” debuted June 2021, and includes nine art installations produced by specially-selected local artists from diverse backgrounds.

“Susan and I didn’t know much about the three Asian American communities and their overlapping histories in San Jose and the South Bay,” Izu said, although his grandparents owned a home in Japantown. “It represents a community that endured and survived racism, segregation, and forced removal. Japantown has a distinctive character and feel to it, where you feel part of the community when you walk around it.”

He finds it ironic that virtual experiences can build deeper connections between people. “Those who have been involved with Japantown for years and people who know nothing about it connect and have social interaction through the use of augmented reality.” The experience also makes history relatable, rather than something abstract that happened long ago and far away.

Tom Izu has been involved in the San Jose Japanese American community for many years, including in the grassroots movement for redress during the 1980s. He was executive director of the California History Center at De Anza College, and currently coordinates its civil liberties education project. He serves on the Advisory Board of the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, and on the Diversity Advisory Group for Los Altos History Museum.

Susan Hayase is a long-time activist in the San Jose area Japanese American community. She was appointed in 1995 to the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund Board by President Clinton, and has worked on projects for the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMsj), including the #DontExcludeUs series.

With Hidden Histories of Japantown, we’re demonstrating how to use easily-accessible technology to transport people to the past, and let them see there is history all around them that is hidden,” Izu said.

The work of the Museum’s Diversity Advisory Group is supported by a grant from the County of Santa Clara to tell untold stories about the diverse community. The grant is a major source of public support for the Museum’s newly reimagined permanent exhibition, slated to open in early 2023.

To find out more about the Hidden Histories of San Jose Japantown project, visit To register for the Museum’s free program, go to

Los Altos History Museum began in 1977 with the opening of the J. Gilbert Smith House historic farmhouse, built in 1905. In 2001, the Los Altos History Museum opened its modern building next door, which houses the Museum’s collections, < lang=”FR”>permanent and changing exhibits, store and administrative offices. The Museum and its grounds are available for rent during evenings and weekends. Its collections are owned by the City of Los Altos and are managed by an independent nonprofit organization, whose staff and volunteers are responsible for all programs and operations.

The Museum is open Thursday through Sunday, from noon-4pm. Admission is free. Tours of the J. Gilbert Smith House are available during open hours subject to docent availability. The outdoor agricultural exhibit, gardens and picnic area are accessible beyond Museum hours. For more information, visit:, email, or phone 650.948.9427 x14.

Media Contact:

Los Altos History Museum: Elisabeth I. Ward, 650.948.9427 x10,