Published in the Nichi Bei Times Weekly Sept. 10-16, 2009
By KATHY AOKI, Nichi Bei Times
The impending closure of the Nichi Bei Times on Sept. 30 feels like a death that has occurred in my family. Although I knew this day probably would come sooner than later, it’s still hard to accept after spending half my life working for the same company.
My journey working as a community journalist began more than 24 years ago, several months after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from San Francisco State University. At that time the Nichi Bei Times published daily issues of both the English and Japanese sections. My three co-workers in the English section were my boss, Michi Onuma, June Kawaguchi and Mas Sano.
Before I began reporting, I learned the routine of producing a daily newspaper, including editing and writing stories, typesetting and laying out the second page of our two-page English section. There was one machine I dreaded because if one word was typed incorrectly, the process had to be started all over again. Shortly thereafter I was allowed to start covering stories in the community.
My father asked me if I was interested in attending law school but at that time I naively answered, “I’d rather become a sportswriter than a lawyer.” When I had the opportunity to cover sporting events, including writing about the Oakland Athletics baseball team, I realized being a sports reporter was not an easy job and not something I necessarily wanted to do all the time.
When I began working at Nichi Bei Times, competition with the Hokubei Mainichi seemed to be more intense compared to now. I remember being told not to even say “hello” to any of their reporters and to stick with the Nichi Bei Times reporters when working on assignments. This seemed strange to me since reporters do help each other out occasionally and many people have friends who work in the same profession.
Like many of my co-workers past and present at Nichi Bei Times, most of us grew up outside of San Francisco’s Japantown community. I knew nobody and had to start from the ground up. Thanks to Michi, who took me under her wing, I began to meet the movers and shakers in the community besides many other people whom I had the pleasure to interview and write about. It took me several years before I had a firm understanding of San Francisco’s Japantown community, a place that would become my second home.
The highlights during my time at Nichi Bei Times include meeting the Emperor and Empress of Japan during their visit to San Francisco in 1994 and attending a special program in Japan geared for Sansei and Yonsei in the U.S. and Canada sponsored by the Japanese Foreign Ministry in 1988.
Stories that stand out include being one of several reporters allowed to interview Michael Yamaguchi when he became the first Asian American to become a U.S. attorney, meeting Japanese movie director Juzo Itami, being inside the operating room of Brookside Hospital to see Dr. Ronald Sato operate on a woman who was burned in a house fire, and learning how to make manju from Benkyodo’s master manju-maker Ricky Okamura.
The toughest period at Nichi Bei Times was when my current boss Kenji Taguma and I were a two-person English section after one staff member decided to leave. As tough and stressful as it was for us to publish a daily newspaper, we did not miss a beat in covering all the important stories in the community and completing our work in the office.
One thing I do miss is the printing press. It was interesting to watch how the workers prepared the presses to print the paper. Many people, including school children, enjoyed visiting our newspaper’s office and seeing the huge printing press. Although it was noisy when the presses were running, I felt there was something special about being part of putting the newspaper together.
Special thanks yous to Iwao Namekawa, who hired me and recommended me to be selected to attend the program in Japan, Michi Onuma, whose grace, kindness and sharp mind will never be forgotten ? she seemed like another grandmother to me ? and Mikio Okada, the current president at the Nichi Bei Times, whom I have worked the longest with, and who has always given me much encouragement and support in my work.
I also would like to thank past and present Nichi Bei Times employees who played a vital role in helping make our paper what it is today. Thank you to everyone in the English section past and present ? Kenji Taguma, Rodger Takeuchi, Heather Horiuchi, Alec MacDonald, Billie Lee and April Elkjer ? for being supportive and helping me in my endeavors.
Thank you to all our readers for your support of the Nichi Bei Times. I also would like to thank everyone I have crossed paths with in my job who has helped me acquire much knowledge and grow as an individual.
Kathy Aoki, a Yonsei from the East Bay, is a Nichi Bei Times staff writer.