Japantown Task Force executive director passes

Robert “Bob” Hamaguchi photo by Mark Shigenaga, courtesy of San Francisco Japantown Foundation

Japantown Task Force, Inc. Executive Director Robert Hamaguchi passed away peacefully in the early hours of Sept. 4 at his home surrounded by family members, after a more than year-long battle with cancer. He was 70.

The Japantown Task Force hired Hamaguchi in 2006 as its executive director. He helped formulate and implement the Japantown Cultural Heritage and Economic Sustainability Strategy, a 2013 planning document endorsed by the city of San Francisco, that was designed to guide the city and its Japanese American ethnic enclave toward a culturally and economically vibrant future. Most recently, the city, with help from the Japantown Task Force, also passed the Japantown Community Benefit District July 25, which Hamaguchi started organizing in late 2015.

“That was his career, his goal was to insure there was sustainability in Japantown,” Alice Kawahatsu, board president, said. Kawahatsu said she is working to ensure the organization will have a smooth transition. “Bob will be dearly missed but we know that his spirit will be guiding us.”

“San Francisco is fortunate to have a beautiful Japantown community that is economically thriving and culturally rich, and we owe so much of that vibrancy to the tireless efforts of Bob Hamaguchi,” San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee said in a statement. Lee went on to describe Hamaguchi as a “visionary executive director” of the task force.

The San Francisco Japantown Foundation also mourned Hamaguchi, who sat on its board.

“Bob is one of the reasons why the San Francisco Japantown Foundation not only exists today but has grown each year, enabling us to annually distribute tens of thousands of dollars in grants in support of Japantown,” Donald K. Tamaki, president of the board of directors, said in a statement to the Nichi Bei Weekly. “He was an effective leader because of his charisma, wisdom, common sense, integrity, genuine affection for others and self-deprecating sense of humor. He was universally liked and respected — that’s kind of rare in a community wherein internecine battles are not uncommon. We mourn his passing, but we are so grateful for the legacy he has left behind.”   

Hamaguchi was born March 30, 1947 and raised in Los Angeles and attended Whittier College in Whittier, Calif. During his professional career, he spent  33 years working in real estate banking and corporate real estate for Bank of America, retiring as a senior vice president. He was a past president of the Bay Area Mortgage Association and a former member of the board of directors of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, according to the Nichi Bei Times.

Hamaguchi is survived by wife Carolyn; children Kristi Hiatt, Scott Hamaguchi and Staci Byrne; and grandchildren Camden Hiatt, Mason Hiatt and Madilyn Byrne

A gathering for Hamaguchi will be held Saturday, Sept. 23 from 3 to 7 p.m. at the JCCCNC at 1840 Sutter St. in San Francisco’s Japantown. The family suggests casual attire of “golf shirts and aloha attire.”

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