Last Bilingual Japanese Newspaper in SF ‘Suspends’ Operations


The recent closure of two bilingual Japanese American newspapers reflects not only demographic shifts in the community but also a time of reinvention for newspapers serving the Japanese American community, according to ethnic media experts.

With its last issue Oct. 30, the Hokubei Mainichi became the second bilingual Japanese American newspaper in Northern California to shut down in the last two months. Its competitor, the Nichi Bei Times, folded in September.

In a statement published in the newspaper and on its Website earlier in the week, Hokubei publisher and CEO Don Yamate said the newspaper will halt publication because of economic hardships. In another statement in its final issue, however, Yamate said the newspaper’s publication has been “suspended” and will resume “using a different format and publishing frequency,” and he urged subscribers to continue their support.

“It’s just one of those tough things to absorb right now,” said Michael Komai, publisher of the Los Angeles-based Rafu Shimpo. Published four times a week, it is the last bilingual newspaper in California serving the community.

“It shouldn’t come as a surprise because of the economy, but in your heart, it’s a surprise because you don’t want any of these organizations that do news and serve the community to close,” he said.

The closure of Hokubei Mainichi and Nichi Bei Times signals the end of an era, as the bilingual newspapers served to unify a “distinct” and “unique” generation of Japanese immigrants, according to Jon Funabiki, director of the Renaissance Journalism Center at San Francisco State University.

“They are the remnants of the initial pioneering Japanese American community that came at the turn of the century in the 1900’s,” said Funabiki. The immigrants bonded together at a time when anti-Asian immigration laws limited their numbers.

“Contrast the Japanese American population to the Mexican American population,” Funabiki said, “where there is ongoing immigration from Mexico to the United States that has caused a constant replenishment of the community, constant growth in the size of community, constant re-energizing of the culture and history of the community.”

The isolation has resulted in a kind of stagnation that has left out young members of the community, Funabiki added.

“[Young people] have many more interests. They are less bound to the newspaper and more accepting of other kinds of cultures and experiences,” he said. “They want to experiment and have a much more globalized world view.”

“Imagine your kids. They would read the Chronicle and not the ethnic paper,” said Komai of the Rafu Shimpo. The generational trend means that advertisers will look to mainstream publications to reach subsequent generations of Japanese Americans, Komai said.

As the Hokubei Mainichi struggles to remain relevant to younger generations and shore up its business side, the Nichi Bei Times has evolved a different news model.

A nonprofit foundation now publishes an English-language weekly geared to the Japanese American community.

“This model helps to fill the gaps that are lost through a decrease in revenue from ads and subscriptions,” said Kenji G. Taguma, president of the Nichi Bei Foundation and editor-in-chief of the Nichi Bei Weekly. “Grants and donations are another revenue stream. We’re more engaged with the community and truer to our mission to serve the community.”

Funabiki said Hokubei Mainichi could choose to broaden its audience to include newer Japanese immigrants, businesspeople and non-Japanese Americans. The other approach would be to become even more “hyperlocal or hyper-focused,” he said, for example, to focus on Japantown news.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *