The first Japanese settlement in North America is the 272-acre Gold Hill Ranch in Coloma, California, approximately one hour from Sacramento. It is the location of the Wakamatsu Colony, settled by Japanese immigrants in 1869 as a hub for tea cultivation, silkworm farming and other traditional Japanese agricultural practices. The property, acquired in 2010 by the American River Conservancy, is also the only community outside Japan that was settled by samurai; the birthplace of the first naturalized Japanese American; and the location of the grave of the first Japanese woman buried on American soil.

First generation Japanese (Issei) immigrated to Sacramento, found work, raised families, and developed roots in their communities. By the 1930s, Sacramento had one of the largest Nihonmachis, or Japantowns, in California.  

Nisei, the second generation, diligently obtained an education, owned businesses, and served in the military. In 1942, Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, led to the forced evacuation and confinement of over 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry into incarceration centers, marking one of the darkest chapter in Japanese-American history.

During World War II, the Crocker Art Museum stored hundreds of art and artifacts owned by the local Japanese artists and their families who were sent to these incarceration centers. This history was recently discovered as the Sacramento City Council officially repealed a 70-year City Council resolution supporting the incarceration.

In 1947, as the Japanese rebuilt their community following their forced evacuation from the West Coast by Executive Order during World War II, the Sacramento Buddhist Church held its first bazaar—and the event has continued ever since. The Bazaar was primarily a social festival where church members and the local Sacramento Japanese and Japanese-American community shared food, memories and friendships.

The Sacramento Japanese Film Festival began as a one day festival, Japanese Movies at the Crest, in 2005. In 2010 it grew to a three-day festival with five films. In 2011, it had expanded to six films. Seven feature films and a documentary short were screened in 2012. Sacramento Japanese Film Festival is one of only four film festivals in the continental United States which dedicates itself exclusively to Japanese cinema.