COMMENTARY: What IS the future of SF’s Japantown?


Dear Editor:

San Francisco’s Japantown is one of three recognized Japantowns left in the United States. San Francisco’s Japantown in the Western Addition area of the City was decimated twice — first during WWII when Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals were sent to concentration camps; and second in the 1960s when the Redevelopment Agency declared the Japantown area a blighted area and the Japanese were again basically forced out.

The Western Addition included the Fillmore District, which was a vibrant African American community, and Japantown, which was a vibrant Japanese American community. Forty years later, the two communities have yet to fully recover. Many Japanese Americans moved elsewhere. Today, San Francisco’s Japantown serves as a Japanese cultural and business center for the entire Bay Area and Northern California.

In 2006, Kintetsu sold two of the three Japan Center malls, the present Kabuki Hotel, and the present Hotel Tomo, and the present [Sundance Kabuki Cinemas] to 3D Investments of Beverly Hills. The Japanese community was alarmed that their community would again be adversely affected by uncontrolled development.

The Planning Department established the Japantown Better Neighborhood Plan to help plan for future development. After two years, the Japantown BNP Draft plan was submitted to the Planning Commission for “Endorsement.” Many in the Japanese community objected that the community was not given the opportunity to review the Plan and provide input; others objected because it was Planning Department’s Plan and not the community’s Plan. The Planning Commission “acknowledged” the Plan and allowed the process to continue.

In 2009, a new Japantown Organizing Committee was formed with the assistance of Supervisor Mirkarimi and the Planning Department planner, Paul Lord. After almost a whole year of revamping the Draft Japantown BNP, the Organizing Committee will make recommendations on the goals and objectives for the future of San Francisco’s Japantown based on input given by the public at Town Hall Community meetings [that] were held on June 1, June 27 and July 31. These meetings covered the following areas:

• cultural heritage which considered areas of historic or cultural significance;

• community and economic development via consideration of creating a Community Land Trust;

• land use and built form with recommendation on highrises;

• open space for youth and seniors;

• expand Japantown Special Use District;

• public realm issues via sidewalk, street, pedestrian and landscape features; and

• transportation and circulation, Geary BRT project, connect with The Fillmore.

It is critical that a new plan be adopted to save Japantown’s cultural heritage and the Japan Center as a key community destination point.

The recommendations in this new Japantown Plan will be submitted to Planning Department in late September 2011 for Planning Commission review around October 2011. One of the next steps is to create a Japantown Design Guidelines/Standards (Land Use) booklet which will determine what the community wants Japantown to look like.

The next “LUBF Work Session on the Draft Japantown Design Standards” meeting is on Thursday, Sept. 15, at 6 p.m. at the Nihonmachi Little Friends building, 1830 Sutter St. in San Francisco’s Japantown.

The next Organizing Committee meeting will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 21, at the National Japanese American Citizens League Headquarters, located at 1765 Sutter St. in San Francisco’s Japantown. The schedules of meetings will be discussed.

All committee meetings are open to the public. For meeting dates/times contact anyone on the Japantown Organizing Committee (meetings occur periodically). …

The public may contact Sawako Kubo — to get added to an e-mail list for meeting dates and times — or Robert Hamaguchi at for a master meeting schedule.

The San Francisco Planning Department rep assigned to the Japantown project is Paul Lord. He can be reached at

Rose Hillson and Hiroshi Fukuda
BNP Organizing Committee members


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