Festival promotes San Jose Japantown’s culture and businesses

LET’S GET IT STARTED! — Spirit of Japantown awardees Yoshihiro Uchida (left, in blue happi coat) and Lynne Santo Yamaichi (in pink happi coat) break a sake barrel to start the festivities as dignitaries (left to right, in back) City Councilman Sam Liccardo, Rep. Mike Honda, Consul General of Japan in San Francisco Hiroshi Inomata and Mountain View City Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga cheered them on. photo by Erin Yasuda Soto/Nichi Bei Weekly

SAN JOSE — The pounding beats of San Jose Taiko drums ushered in the Spirit of Japantown Festival in the ethnic enclave on Oct. 1. Thousands converged to partake in food, live entertainment, the Kids Activity Zone and arts and crafts, among other highlights.

Robert Handa, a KTVU reporter and master of ceremonies, said that the festival aims to highlight the vibrant Japantown, including its shops and restaurants.

“The reason the festival is held is to promote, support and maintain the culture and feel of San Jose’s Japantown,” he said.

The festivities featured the renowned drumming group San Jose Taiko. Other entertainment included hula, the Wesley Jazz Ensemble and hip-hop/rap group the ScoJourners.

Taiko is interwoven into the community of San Jose’s Japantown. They have been great ambassadors for the Japanese and Asian American community,” Handa said.

The festival is hosted by the Japantown Community Congress of San Jose (JCCsj), which aims to preserve the culture and history of Japantown.

Roy Hirabayashi, president of the JCCsj, said, “Of the three Japantowns, this is one of the most intact.”

The nation’s other remaining Japantowns are located in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose) said that San Jose’s Japantown is unique from the others in that it incorporates religious, residential and commercial areas.

“Japantown has been around for about 120 years. We want to make sure it remains prosperous and vibrant,” he said.

The festival included the Japan Recovery Live Art Auction, which aims to assist the survivors of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Artists painted during the day, as buyers were able to bid on the work. A booth was also set up at the festival for donations to be given to the Japanese Red Cross.

Spirit of Japantown Awards were given to businessman and community leader Yoshihiro Uchida, who is also well known for coaching judo at the Olympics, and Lynne Santo Yamaichi, the director of Lotus Preschool at the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin.

Hirabayashi said that Uchida earned the honor for his dedication to the community. “He’s kind of like the ‘Godfather’ of Japantown,” Hirabayashi said. “When I first went to San Jose State, I took judo there. I was happy to take it from such a renowned coach. He’s been involved in the Yu-Ai Kai, Japanese American National Museum, San Jose Sports Authority and others.”

Hirabayashi also presented the Spirit of Japantown Award to Yamaichi, saying, “There’s no replacement for what Lotus Preschool and Lynne do.”

She has been overseeing Lotus Preschool for the last 25 years. During this time, hundreds of students have gone through the program.

“She’s taken students outside the classroom to visit different businesses. They learn what Japantown is all about,” he said.
Students in the Lotus Preschool program have been involved in programs at Fuji Towers and Yu-Ai Kai Japanese American Community Senior Service.

“Having the Lotus students engaged in the community is a special part of the Lotus curriculum,” said Yamaichi. “Being part of the community means a lot to me.

“The award is special because I live near Japantown. I support the importance of the culture and enthusiasm for Japantown,” said Yamaichi, who has two daughters.

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