Japantown 2010 – The Last Hurrah?

This is a commentary by a former “San Francisco boy” who attended the June 16, 2010 Japan[town] meeting which was designed to provide an update on the status of ongoing proceedings with “City Hall” staffers assigned by the San Francisco Planning Department. The meeting was to provide official oversight and gain an understanding of the Japanese community’s concerns relative to the future real estate development of Japantown which would primarily involve the construction of new condominiums.

There would be tremendous collateral damage in that the small businesses such as restaurants and shops that comprise the current business community within Japantown would be forced to leave. It was reported that if this eventuality occurs, there are no plans for any sort of financial restitution from the developers or the City of San Francisco, given the economic climate within all sectors of government and private enterprise.

These were the underlying facts and prognostications by dedicated volunteers who have comprised the ad hoc community steering group and sub-groups that have been actively working with City Hall.

The June 16 meeting introduced a new City Hall staffer who has been designed to work with the community on the Japantown development. The new staffer invited questions from the attendees who voiced some basic [statements] such as “We don’t know who is working on the various committees and we do not get a sense of what we are trying to accomplish.” Attendees were asked to divide into discussion groups to summarize what thoughts (ideas) they had on how to keep the community informed and how there would be more community interest and attendance by more people beyond the “same old faces.”

Unfortunately, when Nichi Bei Times went out of business, an important communication media for the Japanese community was lost. A general idea was instead of getting people to come to community meetings, “we” should go out to the people.

There would also be another kind of collateral damage in losing the cultural legacy that is embodied in Japantown if new condominiums replace the current businesses. Last year, the now defunct Nichi Bei Times published my article titled, “So Dad, Where is the Japantown You Told Us About?” In the article, I wrote from the perspective of a Sansei who grew up in San Francisco’s Japantown, and wanted to pass on to my Yonsei kids and their kids (Gosei generation) a living intergenerational cultural link through the vibrant San Francisco Japantown that my parents (the Nisei) worked so hard to develop and preserve after the war (World War II). This would be the other collateral damage beyond the disappearance of Japanese businesses in a concentrated area. When future visitors come to San Francisco, they too would not know that the Japanese community grew from the difficult post-war days into the Japantown as we know and enjoy today.

I left the meeting unsure of what all the hard work to date will realistically achieve. Budget restoration appeals will include not only what is needed for Japantown but also other needs that the public and politicians would be more inclined to recognize and be sympathetic towards such as senior citizen needs, social service needs, educational needs, etc.

We really need to rethink a better way to accomplish what was originally intended. I frankly am not sure what the basic goal was/is and how best to move toward those goals. Thanks to all of you who have worked so hard to this point. May you find strength and wisdom to continue this noble cause.

A former San Franciscan who currently resides in Camarillo in Southern California, Wayne Tada is planning to relocate back to San Francisco soon.

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