“THE NICHI BEI CLOSING: How the Paper Incubates Leaders”: Farewell letters in the Nichi Bei Times Weekly

Published in the Nichi Bei Times Weekly Sept. 3-9, 2009.

THE NICHI BEI CLOSING: How the Paper Incubates Leaders

Over the years, we have had the privilege of having so many young and talented interns and contributing writers here at the Nichi Bei Times. Several of them are represented on this page. From the Nichi Bei, many have moved on: the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, a Yokohama Ambassador, graduate school, a few law school students, a medical school student and even a Cherry Blossom Queen. We are proud to have served as a launching pad for such youth, who will continue to serve the Japanese and Japanese American diaspora in various ways. In this second-to-the-last issue, we give them one final voice, and thank them for their contributions.

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Reflections on the Times

By TOMO HIRAI

In the documentary “The Corporation” (2003), directors Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott describe the flaws found in modern corporations as human flaws. They label the modern corporation as a cold and unfeeling psychopath. The Nichi Bei Times would be the exact opposite. It would be the old regular who sits at May’s Coffee Shop all day and is recognized by all the locals.

It was here that I started writing about manga and anime professionally. The Nichi Bei gave me the spark to start writing about otaku, which led to my current position as a commentator and writer on Japanese pop culture. All along, the Nichi Bei let me take the reigns and helped me write what I want.

Not just that, I was introduced to Asian American studies here. The Nichi Bei drove my interest and taught me much more than any college class could. Without them I would not have bothered to look into who Vincent Chin was, or bothered to buy a Secret Asian Man T-shirt.

This experience was all about cultural and social enrichment. It was the Nichi Bei that taught me how the best things in life are free; I loved the free books and meals I got while on the job. It was here that I found out anything can happen anytime, such as the time I just missed a crazed man who ran down 15 people in San Francisco.

While I was worked to the bone, I thought most of it was worth it. I sacrificed my school breaks to work on special editions. I suffered three nights in a capsule hotel to cut costs and found myself wandering the streets of Tokyo in a wrinkled suit trying to find story ideas. Despite all of this, I think I profited. I was compensated for my work and when I drop my name on occasion, people at least wonder if they have heard of me.

When the announcement came, Kenji told me that he planned to build the Nichi Bei Foundation. His words gave me hope.

“Out of the ashes, we shall prevail.”

I could only think of Osamu Tezuka’s “Phoenix.” A phoenix chick can only be born after the fiery demise of her mother. The mother whose life was cut short by circumstance is mourned, but we can only watch over the newborn chick.

With the influence of the old Nichi Bei, I hope a new generation both inside and outside the newsprint is born from these ashes. Though the new incarnation will differ, I hope that the nostalgia in the name will not be the only memory the Nichi Bei Foundation evokes. It is my hope that the new incarnation presents the same sense of journalism and culture it has always had.

In any case, thank you readers; I’m always happy to know that people actually read me. Thank you co-workers; both the Japanese section and English section over the span of three years have changed, but everyone was always great to work with. Thank you Kenji and Mr. Okada, both for your leadership skills and willingness to take me on as an intern for so long. Finally, I thank the Nichi Bei; both its history and its current state have influenced me in many ways, and without it, I would not be the writer I am today.

Tomo Hirai, who received his start with the Nichi Bei Times as an intern while in high school, is a junior at UC Davis majoring in communications and Japanese. He has written a vast amount on anime and manga.

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Sharing My Life Experiences

By STEPHANIE KIYOMI SATO

I was deeply saddened to hear the news about the closing of the Nichi Bei Times. The Nichi Bei has been a part of my family’s life for years; my mother recalls her parents’ subscription arriving in their home in Salt Lake City, Utah when she was growing up.

Nichi Bei has been a part of my own life since 1998, when I wrote my first article. Through various articles over the years, I have shared my experiences starting out as a senior at UC Berkeley; later, as a teacher in Japan, the 2002 Northern California Cherry Blossom Queen, a law school student, and more recently, a married attorney. I have grown up and shared the significant times of my life with the community through Nichi Bei.

Of all the articles, my favorite was the column I wrote on my experiences living and working in Japan, “My Japan Journey.” I was a Yonsei who did not speak much Japanese and had never before visited Japan. For a year, I wrote a regular column sharing my experiences with Nichi Bei’s readers. To my surprise and pleasure, readers from different states would send me e-mails with comments and encouragement. In addition, I would receive e-mails from readers with questions about working and living in Japan, and I would write back to them with advice. It was very fulfilling because I felt like I was helping my community across the seas, and my community was also supporting me in turn. It is this give-and-take dynamic that makes community service rewarding to me. I am thankful to the Nichi Bei for providing me with this opportunity and for teaching me the value of community service.

That is what the Nichi Bei means to me. Its readers, the community, become more informed, inspired and entertained. And those who contribute to the Nichi Bei also become more informed, inspired and entertained by writing the articles and sharing with the readers. I am hopeful that this legacy will continue by means of the Nichi Bei Foundation.

Stephanie Kiyomi Sato, a Yonsei attorney born and raised in San Francisco, currently lives in Alameda, Calif. with her husband Brandon Carbullido.

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Growing Up at the Nichi Bei

By TAKENO (CHIYO) SUZUKI

It was difficult to get the “big news” from Vice President and English Edition Editor Kenji G. Taguma about the closure of Nichi Bei Times, as I had hoped the “big news” would be the expansion of the company.

As a young Shin-Nisei, I was basically out of the whole community, feeling like I didn’t belong or could have any similar interests with fellow JAs my age. And to be honest, I can’t remember why my mom wanted to introduce me to and get me involved with NBT. Perhaps because I was such an outsider of the community she loved living and working in, she wanted me to embrace it more, which I did after becoming an NBT intern. Whatever the reason behind it, I am forever grateful for my time at NBT.

I first started as an intern at 16, shy as ever. I hated to even say one word to anyone. The editor had me shadow him around community events and learn different reporting techniques. He even threw a camera at me and got me involved as a “photographer.” After awhile, I helped write articles, and soon I was given the go ahead to write my own articles.

Kenji also knew the importance of learning the JA history as well as the Shin-Issei history, so he made sure I was informed and introduced me to important people from our community. And that made me realize that despite my status as a Shin-Nisei, I had so much in common with the JAs and Japanese-speaking communities.

Today…I am proud to say that I was an NBT writer and proudly share with the people in Miyagi Prefecture the JA and Shin-Issei culture and history. I also have great friends and family in the San Francisco JA community because of my time at NBT. And because of the confidence the NBT had in me, I went on to open my mouth so wide that I was heard all the way from Laguna down to Webster Street as the youngest Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival co-chair. And now as a coordinator for international relations in Miyagi, I work my red pen on government documents, similar to what Kenji once did with my articles.

Even after moving to Japan, the NBT Website was my source to staying connected. The community has certainly lost its “glue to the community.” However, we have to respect the decision made, and only hope that this significant publication will exist again.

Thank you Kenji, Okada-san and the rest of the NBT staff for having the confidence to take in that once-shy, ignorant kid, and for believing in me after I left the comfort of my Japantown home for Miyagi.

Takeno (Chiyo) Suzuki, a former Nichi Bei Times intern spanning four years, previously served as the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival co-chair. She currently serves as a coordinator for international relations (CIR) in the JET Program. Born in San Francisco, Suzuki currently lives in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan.

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The Glue That Holds the Community Together

By JEFF ASAI

One of the mantras of Kenji G. Taguma, the editor of the Nichi Bei Times, was that “The Nichi Bei Times is the glue that holds the community together.” This seemed like a bold statement to me at the time, when I had first appeared at the door of the Nichi Bei Times in a short interview for an intern position back in 2002.

But now, I see how the NBT has been the “Facebook” of the Japanese community. It kept friends in touch after the camps dispersed, and disseminated information about bazaars and festivals. And since the new weekly format, the paper has expanded its focus to different aspects of Nikkei culture that are relevant and interesting to today’s readers.

I feel that many of the young Nikkei today are having more and more of a disconnect with their Japanese heritage. After all, five generations is enough to water down cultural roots and traditions. And so I think of the NBT also as the grandmother or grandfather who actually knows why we’re eating all those weird things at New Year’s. Or the knowledgeable Japanophile cousin who is up-to-date with Japanese culture.

And in the end, I see how the Nichi Bei Times brought important issues to light. How it rallied the community together, whether it was to fight for reparations or to save Japantown.

How it celebrated the festivals and taiko performances that large papers threw in their back pages. How it mourned the passing of friends made in the camp days, by having obituaries that reached out not just locally but across Nikkei communities all over America.

And it proved to me that my boss and good friend Kenji was once again right. That the newspaper is the glue that holds the community together.
Best of luck for the new venture; I hope to read many more stories about the Nikkei community in the future!

Jeff Asai, a Yonsei originally from the South Bay, writes from the town of Asuka, Nara Prefecture, Japan, where he is teaching English in the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program. He was instrumental in the launch of the Nichi Bei Times Weekly edition in January of 2006.

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What the Nichi Bei Meant to This International Student

By MAHO WATANABE

For a young journalism student like me, the first real assignment means a lot. Leaving the messy but comfortable newsroom, you find yourself alone on the street with a pen and notepad, trembling with a little fear and anticipation for getting good quotes and writing a decent story.

It especially means a lot when you have to interview big names. When I was sent to Yoshi’s in Oakland to cover Japanese singer Kosetsu Minami on his first U.S. concert tour, I was scared of asking awkward questions to the legendary folk figure in Japan.

But the then-52-year-old singer sincerely answered all of my questions with a friendly smile and appreciated us for writing his story. That week, my first-ever story was printed on the front page of the Nichi Bei Times, and I had never been happier when I found copies of the paper in Japantown grocery stores.

While juggling assignments at SF State and Nichi Bei, I took advantage of working as a student reporter on campus and also in Japantown.

A feature story on Olympic judo gold medalist Tadahiro Nomura was made possible by approaching him on campus and persuading him to be portrayed as another young international student who came to the U.S. to study English and to think about his life. Nomura said he was “honored” to be featured both in the campus paper and in Nichi Bei’s New Year edition.

A story on the construction of a Japanese rock garden on campus gave me the chance to study the history of Japanese Americans and the hardships they had to endure. Through interviews with several Japanese American gardeners based in Northern California, I learned their challenges to pass on its legacy to younger generations, who are leaving the prominent ethnic businesses.

Nichi Bei’s assignments also developed my understanding of Japan and its history by giving me new angles. Through a story on Colma’s Japanese Cemetery, I was educated about the pioneers from Japan who made strenuous efforts to establish themselves in the U.S. I was shocked that I left Japan with almost no knowledge of what the Nikkei had been through.

When the 50th anniversary of the signing of the U.S.-Japan Peace Treaty was celebrated in 2001, I was assigned to do a story on a conference that was held concurrently in opposition to the celebration, aiming at a formal apology and redress from the Japanese government for its wartime responsibilities. I remember the conference room was filled with anger and resentment toward the Japanese government, and it was not an easy assignment for me.

The next morning, Nichi Bei readers found two stories in their paper — one on the celebration of the Peace Treaty and the other on the opposing conference. I appreciated Nichi Bei’s editorial judgment to equally print two stories, bringing diversity and fairness to the event.

I thank Nichi Bei for giving this Japanese student a chance to study an important part of Japan’s past and report on issues affecting the present Japanese American community. What I learned at Nichi Bei will never fade and always push me forward.

Lastly, I want to thank Kenji for giving me challenges and making me believe that I could act as a bridge between Japanese and Japanese Americans with my little pen and notepad.

Maho Watanabe, a former Nichi Bei Times intern while attending San Francisco State University, went on to be a translator on the Peace Boat before being selected as a Yokohama Ambassador, promoting that city around the world. She currently works at the Yokohama Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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Fighting for a Friend

Dear Editor,

I see the response to Nichi Bei’s trouble and I hear one thing in my head: Baka-ero! What is wrong with our people? Are we as squishy, disloyal and worthless as we appear?
So, if your friend is sick, what do you say? “Bummer — bye bye?” No, you fight! With genki, damn it! Nichi Bei Times is my friend; I need it. So, give, out of duty if you can’t muster a higher desire; you are not paying for a funeral, but a new birth. My check to the Foundation is made out; is yours? Or, can you not be counted on as a friend? I hope that you are made of better stuff.

James Kodama Schmerker

Bethel Island, Calif.

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Former NBT Branch Manager Encourages Foundation

Dear Editor,

The closing of the Nichi Bei Times has been received with much dismay and sorrow. Many sent in heartfelt eulogies. Each indicates how… valued and loved the publication has been. Beyond initial emotions, however, is the realization that the end of the old can be the beginning of the new.
The English section of the Nichi Bei Times is to be published as Nichi Bei Weekly by a new nonprofit entity. They deeply felt need for the weekly in the Nikkei community is the reason for it. The impeccable professionals under the helm of able veteran editor, Kenji Taguma, are ready to work, most of them pro bono.
But there is a snag. Staggering costs of printing and postage and rent threaten the existence of the weekly. A vigorous show of support in the form of subscriptions and donations is urgently needed.
Sixty some years ago, people who were released from the concentration camps with only $25 each to rebuild their lives somehow managed to start and support the award-winning bilingual newspaper. Their children and grandchildren today are well assimilated into mainstream, making the Japanese edition obsolete. Can we say the same for the English weekly with the proven record as the vibrant forum for the Nikkei community? It deserves a chance to survive this traumatic time and thrive into yet another life of distinction and service.

Kimi Takemura
Former Nichi Bei Times Berkeley Branch Chief
El Sobrante, Calif.

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Goodbye to an Old Friend…Hello to a New One

By KATHY SAKAMOTO

An old friend (63 years old) will be closing with its last shout out on Sept. 10…

In Japantown San Jose, we know the work of the Nichi Bei Times. Visitors, community members and residents look to the timely publication of Japanese American events and news, Japanese news from Japan in English and updates on Japanese pop culture, Asian civil rights issues, governmental policy debates and opportunities for business and community. If you really wanted a scan of Obon festivals here, you’d find it in the NB Times.

If you wanted schedules and activities of Cherry Blossom Festivals — you’d find it in the NB Times. There were more community listings there than anywhere else if you were looking for something Japanese or Japanese American related. Even if you couldn’t find it by Googling, the NB Times would know and if you read the paper you’d know. If you wondered about something after reading the paper and called, they’d give you what they knew.

With a legacy that dates from 1946, when Japantown San Jose was still in the process of being re-inhabited by Japanese and Japanese Americans who were forced out during WWII, it’s one more end to a great stream of history. We all know that if you don’t pay attention to lessons in history, that history can repeat, and slap you strongly in places you don’t want to think of.

But when I spoke to Kenji Taguma, he was nothing but determination and energy. The Nichi Bei Foundation will be represented at the Spirit of Japantown Festival on Sept. 26, 2009, so please stop by their booth.

Gain a bit of historical perspective of the “minority” in the American landscape, the small ethnic paper and with guts and glory — maybe even try supporting the new foundation.

They’ve supported people in this area for some 63 years.

Kathy Sakamoto is the executive director of the Japantown Business Association in San Jose’s Japantown.

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Thank You, Nichi Bei Times

By MAS HASHIMOTO

For the past 60 years the Nichi Bei Times kept our Nikkei community of Northern California fully informed and totally united.

Re-starting in 1946, it carefully guided us through the difficult post-WWII period. It boosted our morale when we needed it the most; it championed the causes we hold dear to our hearts; it announced the arrival and passing of our community leaders; and it promoted our community’s many festive events.

And, it was our window to Japan — to her history, culture, people and politics — at a time when we couldn’t witness it for ourselves.

We are deeply saddened with the closing of this phase of its history. Only the Chicago Shimpo, North American Post in Seattle, Rafu Shimpo in Los Angeles, Hokubei Mainichi and Nikkei West in the SF Bay Area and JACL’s Pacific Citizen remain.

We, however, are delighted that Editor Kenji Taguma will head a new nonprofit organization, the Nichi Bei Foundation (NBF), which will publish a community-serving newspaper, seeking to keep the community connected, informed and empowered.

To help, please visit www.nichibeifoundation.org, e-mail Kenji Taguma at kenji@nichibeifoundation.org, or write to Nichi Bei Foundation, P.O. Box 15693, San Francisco, CA 94115.

“Without a free press, there can be no free government.”

Mas Hashimoto writes from Watsonville, Calif.

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A Matter of Need

By ALEC YOSHIO MacDONALD

Last spring, I visited the small Central Valley town of Dos Palos to write a story about historic Koda Farms for this newspaper. Third-generation rice grower Ross Koda took me on a tour of his fields and processing facilities, patiently answering my questions all the while. Afterward, as I was about to leave, I asked him what would be required for the practice of farming to continue on as a tradition in the Japanese American community. His reply: “Well, you just have to keep honing your business skills and make sure that what you’re doing is needed by people. If you’re just doing something that’s not needed by people, then your business doesn’t need to be around.”

Right now, as the Nichi Bei Times prepares to shut down operations after 63 years, my mind keeps returning to that moment. The blunt logic of Koda’s statement cuts through the sentimentality I feel about this end of an era. As much as I believe this publication does need to be around, my belief will not stem the tide of our community’s collective will.

I should have comprehended as much long before I heard the announcement we would be printing our final issue next week. In a piece that ran in this commentaries section last January, I asked rhetorically if “the Japanese American community has a diminished need for a newspaper dedicated to its own concerns and interests?” I proceeded to wax poetic about why the response should be no, outlining impassioned reasons for the Nichi Bei Times’ value. Then I invited readers to communicate with our organization — give us guidance, criticism, any contact at all to indicate folks felt engaged by our mission. This exhortation generated letters from a grand total of three individuals, one of them a coworker’s mother.

And so we prepare for the end. Nichi Bei Times staff members mull over their prospects in a bleak job market, with some also having to face visa and immigration complications. A few of us have signed on to assist with the emerging Nichi Bei Foundation, which hopes to continue “to publish a community-serving newspaper in the same vein as our predecessors, seeking to keep the community connected, informed and empowered.” I’ve volunteered to help out with this effort, but given the fate of the original, I can’t predict how the new version will be received. All I know is we better take to heart one farmer’s advice and keep honing our business skills.

I wish I could offer a more uplifting take, a gracious eulogy, a profound message — but at a time when livelihoods are being lost and a decades-old legacy is being extinguished, I just don’t have it in me. But I think that’s probably okay. A bunch more words doesn’t seem to be what people really need these days.

Alec Yoshio MacDonald is a staff writer/editor at the Nichi Bei Times.

Published in the Nichi Bei Times Weekly Aug. 27 – Sept. 2, 2009.

Mourning the Times, Hope for the New Paper

By PAUL KANEKO

To the Nichi Bei Times, which I think has become one of the finest newspapers oriented toward the many aspects of being a Japanese American in a unique community, and beyond:

I write with extreme sadness and disappointment regarding your decision to have to discontinue publishing the Nichi Bei Times in its present form. Perhaps it’s not only a reflection of our increasingly shrinking Nikkei community, but the sign of the times that the entire publishing industry is going through now or is about to experience on a worldwide scale.

In a few years, I suspect that newspapers as we know them today will be a thing of the past. (I suspect that as the electronic age takes over in each of our lives, even the postal service will some day be a thing of the past. Won’t that be a sad day?) All communication will be done electronically and our own personal relationships will be adversely affected and we as individuals and as a community will become ignorant strangers, and cultures will be lost forever.

I do hope that some form of the Nichi Bei Times will certainly continue to keep our community together and informed as to what’s happening and where we can connect with each other and maintain important traditions that we all have grown up with and cherish — because that’s who we are — as well as to share it with the rest of the community in general. Whether it’s through a non-profit foundation supported by the community and other organizations, as a subscriber I would be more than happy to support any means of keeping this important vehicle alive if at all possible through an online presence, through a Website or other means.

As a member of the older generation, otherwise referred to as a “dinosaur” by some, keeping up will be quite a challenge and probably result in an increased isolation by all of us.

In the meantime, we at the Japanese Cultural Fair in Santa Cruz will still try to keep going with keeping old traditions alive and available to the population, but even we are having trouble keeping up with the changing times. Many of these same cultures are escaping from Japan… which is very disturbing in itself. We still happen to believe as our Executive Director (who is from Tokyo) likes to put it, “The Cultural Fair has become one of the most comprehensive presentations of traditional Japanese cultural on the West Coast.” We intend to keep it up that way as long as we can and we have been extremely grateful to the Nichi Bei Times’ co-sponsorship and help for the past several years and especially to Kenji Taguma’s part in making that happen.

Thank you very much for the many years of enjoyment and support of the JA community. We will all “die” a little because of its absence after Sept. 10. I hope the “Times” will find an even more effective and long-lasting way of communicating and bringing to us the goings-on in the community as you always have.

Good luck and best wishes.

Paul Kaneko is the president of the Japanese Cultural Fair in Santa Cruz, Calif.

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JA National Museum Head Mourns Loss of the Nichi Bei Times

Dear Editor,

I was extremely disappointed to receive the news about the closing of the Nichi Bei Times. I am personally an avid reader of the Nichi Bei and feel that our community at large will lose an important voice and perspective.

The only consolation is that the Nichi Bei Foundation will continue the work of the newspaper and will hopefully fill the large void left by the closing of the NBT. Please let me know how we might help move these plans forward.

Also, my deepest regards and appreciation to Kenji Taguma and the staff of the NBT for the terrific services they’ve provided to our communities throughout the 63-year history of the newspaper.

Akemi Kikumura Yano
President and CEO, Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles

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Sad Day for the Community

Dear Editor,

Greg Robinson, a very good friend of JAVA (Japanese American Veterans Association), relayed the sad news about NBT. It is very tough at this time for the business community. You have published an excellent newspaper and it will be a great loss for the Japanese American cause, which you have espoused so persuasively.

Terry Shima
Executive Director
Japanese American Veterans Association
McLean, Va.

***

The Death of a Nikkei Paper

Dear Editor,

I have mourned, reflected and come to understand how tenuous and fleeting the Nikkei newspaper’s life is in spite of the sense of invulnerability most us seem to have. How the passing of a newspaper [is] treated is a hallmark of civilization, and for eons, evidence suggests that they were usually treated with some measure of honor and respect.

At that point the reality of a transition for the passage of the Nikkei press and the continuity of life for the survivors has become a stronger effect. Of course, passage of a Nikkei press is finality, a closure, a material end. Sudden closure, a staggering blow, conveys both shock and sorrow; caring bystanders are compelled to reach out to those whose lives have been altered by the change and mourn with the families when an irreplaceable newspaper is lost in the defense of our free press.

I wanted to tell the readers that I will never be sorry for subscribing to the Nichi Bei Times. I’ll never regret one single article which I wrote because [what] we had was very special. Maybe if we didn’t go into the concentration camps, it would have worked out differently. Maybe…

One joy of life comes through the complex web we weave over time, and at the end of our weaving we will be remembered for whom and what our lives have meant to those with whom we have linkage. Nichi Bei Times was that vehicle for the linkage. This is a lament for a lost newspaper which will return only in old files; bringing to life those who were changed into history.

We can see on them quiet reflection, the joy of family life, a smile that manifest[s] belief in a changed world. I enjoyed reading Nichi Bei Times immensely; a fond farewell.

Takasumi Kojima, Berkeley, Calif.

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