S.F. J-Town restaurateur, performer Shogo Yamada dies

Shogo Yamada. photo by William Lee

Shogo Yamada. photo by William Lee

Shogo Yamada, a restaurateur who was also known for his love of singing, passed away March 26 after having been ill. He was 76.

Yamada was first the owner of the Izumiya restaurant in the Kinokuniya Building in San Francisco’s Japantown. Combining his two passions, he opened YamaSho in 2010, a restaurant with private karaoke booths and art on the wall painted by his wife Hiroko Yamada.

According to a recent newspaper profile, Yamada was born Aug. 20, 1944. He hailed from Sakai, Japan, south of Osaka. His Japanese was laced thick with his Kansai accent. Yamada was a major proponent of the Kawachi ondo, his local folk dance. He promoted the unique dance and music through the Kawachi Ondo YamaSho Kai, which operated out of his restaurant.

“Him just singing that type of music was a way of dispersing that Osaka culture to San Francisco. I definitely would not have known about Kawachi ondo without Yamada-san,” Ken Takeda, co-founder of the Osaka Matsuri, said.

Takeda said Yamada would sing and ask people to dance the unique Bon odori from Osaka when he performed it at San Francisco’s Cherry Blossom Festival, the Nihonmachi Street Fair and Osaka Matsuri.

“He did so much for Osaka Matsuri, and a lot of that was because, he said modestly, that he can’t do anything for Osaka, so he really appreciates that a bunch of kids not from Osaka are helping out with an event called Osaka Matsuri to spread Osaka culture. He always mentioned that he was so appreciative that people like us were willing to do that,” Takeda said.

Takeda said Yamada had donated food to Osaka Matsuri, notably serving okonomiyaki (savory Japanese pancake) for fundraisers. He also donated food to the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California’s Tabemasho event. Takeda also said

Yamada had funded a stand for the mikoshi (portable shrine), which plans to be used by the San Francisco Taru Mikoshi Ren during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival parade.

Yamada also provided practice and storage space to the San Francisco Awakko Ren, which performs a folk dance from Tokushima Prefecture.

While Takeda was unsure if anyone will take over YamaSho-Kai with Yamada’s passing, he expressed his hope that Yamada’s contributions would not be forgotten.

“He was a great person, he was doing so much for everybody that I’m sure a lot of people want to continue what he started,” he said. “So, it would be a shame if it didn’t continue and I think a lot of people feel that same way.”

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