Hokubei Mainichi, the Last Bilingual JA Newspaper in Northern Calif., to Close

Hokubei Mainichi photo by Vivien Kim Thorp/Nichi Bei Weekly

The Hokubei Mainichi Newspaper, one of only two Japanese American bilingual newspapers left in California, will halt publication after its Oct. 30 issue, said Hokubei President and CEO Don Yamate in a statement that was posted on the newspaper’s Website late Oct. 27 and printed in their Oct. 28 issue.

The newspaper’s board of directors made the decision at its Oct. 26 meeting, the statement reported.

While the various departments involved in the daily production of the newspaper will close, “the company will continue to seek investors and make every effort to once again become a media outlet serving the community,” the statement said.

According to the company, subscribers will be sent a letter that will provide further details.

Hokubei’s History

Founded in 1948, the Japanese-English bilingual San Francisco-based newspaper was started with $30,000 donated by Buddhist church members in Northern and Central California, Hokubei reported in their 60th anniversary/New Year’s issue in 2008.

According to Hokubei, Ryotei Matsukage, the head of the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA), which was headquartered in San Francisco; Joshin Motoyoshi, publisher of the BCA’s monthly newsletter, Hojyo; and community leader Sasato Yamate were among the newspaper’s initial leaders.

Staff members included President Kakuzo Ichimaru, Editor Iwao Shimizu and Saburo Kawai, who headed the printing department.

Staff members, Hokubei reported, were former employees of the Shin Sekai Asahi (New World Sun), a prewar San Francisco daily. That newspaper was the result of a 1935 merging of the Shin Sekai Shimbun and the Hokubei Asahi.

After the war, Hokubei borrowed a printing press and equipment from the Shinshin Shimbun (Progressive News and Press).

Michi Onuma, daughter of Shigeki Oka, who started the Shinshin Shimbun, led Hokubei’s English section.

The newspaper was initially published six days a week (Monday through Saturday), with three pages in Japanese and one in English.

The office was originally located at 1737 Sutter St. in San Francisco’s Japantown. In 1977, however, it moved one street over to 1746 Post St.— then located next to Japantown Bowl — as a result of the city’s redevelopment of Japantown, Hokubei reported.

Shogakukan, a Japanese publisher, purchased the Hokubei building in August of 2005, the newspaper reported. The building was demolished in 2007, and Viz Media’s New People — also known as the J-pop Center — currently resides in the Post Street building.

The Nichi Bei Times had previously reported that — according to an informal agreement — Hokubei would be one of New People’s tenants, with the newspaper paying rent at below market rate. Hokubei, however, currently operates out of the Buddhist Churches of America building, 1710 Octavia St. in San Francisco’s Japantown.

Economic Hardships

In the midst of a global recession, ethnic media, including Nikkei press, have not been immune to financial woes.

At the beginning of the year, there were three bilingual Japanese American newspapers: Hokubei Mainichi Newspaper, Nichi Bei Times and The Rafu Shimpo.

Both the Hokubei and the Rafu, however, reduced their printing to four times a week earlier this year.

Hokubei made the decision to go from printing five times a week to four on July 11.

A Loss to the Community

Community members were at a loss at the news of Hokubei’s closure, with the announcement having occurred less than two months after the Nichi Bei Times reported its own closure.

“It’s sad and such a loss for our community,” said Patty Wada, a former Hokubei English section editorial staff member. “It is through these newspapers that we stay informed and connected as a community and as a people. It is the Nikkei press that shares and records our struggles, our victories, our losses and joys. These papers keep us informed of what’s going on around us, but also serve to document for future generations what life was like for Japanese Americans in this time and place.”

On Sept. 10, the Nichi Bei Times, formerly the oldest Japanese American bilingual newspaper in Northern California, printed its last editions of the English and Japanese newspapers. The company closed on Sept. 30.

In order to continue the Nichi Bei’s legacy, a group of community leaders, some Nichi Bei Times staff and contributors formed a new nonprofit organization, the Nichi Bei Foundation, which publishes the Nichi Bei Weekly.

The loss of Northern California’s sole English-Japanese bilingual newspaper will be particularly difficult for the “Japanese-speaking elderly,” said Seiko Fujimoto, the executive director of the Japanese Benevolent Society of California, which runs the Japanese cemetery in Colma.

“They’re going to be completely isolated,” Fujimoto said.

JK Yamamoto, Hokubei’s English section editor, has said that the newspaper’s Website “will continue for the time being.”

However, many seniors don’t access their news online, Fujimoto said.

Rosalyn Tonai, executive director of the National Japanese American Historical Society, called Hokubei’s impending closure “tragic.”

Tonai expressed concern for the newspaper’s staff, adding that they have “a lot of talent.” Tonai hopes that the paper will “find ways to continue in some capacity.”

The loss of the last Japanese-English bilingual newspaper “makes our success even more crucial,” said Nichi Bei Foundation board member Kerwin Berk.

The closure “leaves a huge void for the Japanese-speaking community,” said Nichi Bei Foundation President Kenji G. Taguma, who also serves as the Nichi Bei Weekly’s editor-in-chief. “It is incumbent upon us to look for ways to serve and engage that segment of the community, and we are open to any ideas.”

Taguma paid tribute to his counterpart at Hokubei, acknowledging the “hard work, long hours, dedication and leadership of JK Yamamoto, who unfortunately does not always get the credit he deserves for his role in documenting the community’s history.”

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