The San Francisco chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League held its fifth public meeting Jan. 30 on the proposed history mural at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California in San Francisco’s Japantown. Advisory committee members announced a slate of 12 people that they suggested the chapter board consider depicting on the 2,200 square foot mural on the Geary Boulevard-facing wall of the Peace Plaza.
Beverly Ng, deputy director of policy and public affairs at the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, moderated the meeting due to the “enthusiasm” attendees of the Jan. 12 meeting expressed, where community members questioned the project’s process and selection of community’s notables to be depicted on the mural.
The Advisory Committee for the Japantown History Mural Project announced the slate of finalists, which Emily Murase, a San Francisco JACL board member, said the chapter board will consider. Following the announcement, the meeting took comments from the general public. Some in the community questioned the final slate, asking why certain nominees were not considered over other nominees, or over the criteria that all finalists had to be deceased.
Murase said some nominees could be recognized as part of a larger group, including Citizens Against Nihonmachi Eviction or a multi-generational family business like Benkyodo. She also acknowledged that only one Black notable was nominated, but said the mural could also depict Japantown’s connection to the African American community through other symbols such as the Buchanan YMCA.
“There are other symbols that we are entertaining, and hope that you will suggest additional elements, separate from the people,” she said.
Others protested the selection of the “notables” itself. Paul Osaki expressed support for a mural depicting Japantown’s history, but called the “notables” selection process a “popularity contest” that omitted some of the most important figures in the ethnic enclave’s history. He noted Lincoln Kanai, a former leader of the Buchanan YMCA who dodged the wartime incarceration orders, as well as Fred Hoshiyama, a Nisei leader from before and after the war, were not among the initial roster of 70 nominees.
“Japantown is not about a few people, it’s about a community. These aren’t even the most significant people in our history,” he said.
Murase said the selection process, however, was not a popularity contest.
“We chose to appoint a mural advisory committee to make recommendation (based upon public nominations) and there are other people in this room who (were) invited to be on the advisory committee but declined,” she said. Still, others expressed their support for the endeavor, and asked the process to continue even with the criticisms.
“I want it to be perfect. I wish it could be perfect, but we’re all part of this community. We know that’s impossible,” Scott Hamaguchi, a Japantown Task Force board member, said. “So I would challenge those of you that object to this (to) engage. I think we definitely need a good communal process. We need the right people on that wall so we can tell cool stories. Like the one Paul just shared? Those are great, but we also need to keep moving it forward because we need this mural.”
Meanwhile, SF JACL member Mary Ishisaki questioned why artists from within the Japantown community were not first consulted before Rigel “Crayone” Juratovac. However, Murase and others noted the Korean American street artist had lived in San Francisco’s Japantown since the 1970s out of the Golden Gate Apartments. Juratovac, who made a name for himself as a muralist, also works for the San Francisco Fire Department as an inspector.
“I was trying to be a firefighter and one of the main things about Steve Nakajo (a San Francisco fire commissioner), was that he vouched for me to get into the fire department and it was one of the proudest moments. So I owe Steve Nakajo a lot, and I owe this community a lot, and it means a lot to me,” Juratovac said.
Nakajo also criticized the notables selection process earlier in the meeting.
Whether the San Francisco JACL accepts the final list of nominees or not, more community meetings are expected in the future, especially to discuss a still undeveloped draft of the mural’s layout by the artistic team. Murase said a public review of other elements to be integrated into the mural aside from the notables will also be considered. Ng said the city will ultimately require full support of the project from the community before they allow Juratovac to paint on the city-owned wall.
“I do want to reiterate, this is still in its early infancy in terms of community process,” Ng said.
Accuracy is fundamental in journalism. In the Feb. 2, 2023 issue of the Nichi Bei News, the article entitled “Committee presents 12 notables for history mural as community debates” mentioned the group Citizens Against Nihonmachi Evictions. Their name was Committee Against Nihonmachi Eviction. The Nichi Bei News regrets the error. To contact the Nichi Bei News about an error, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, write to P.O. Box 15693, San Francisco, CA 94115 or call (415) 673-1009.
Committee presents mural finalists to S.F. JACL
By TOMO HIRAI
Nichi Bei News
The Advisory Committee for the Japantown History Mural Project, comprised of Kenji G. Taguma, president of the Nichi Bei Foundation; Rosalyn Tonai, executive director of the National Japanese American Historical Society; Ben Kobashigawa, a retired professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University; and Darcy Nishi, member of the San Francisco Japantown Rainbow Coalition, narrowed down the field of 27 semifinal candidates for the Japantown History Mural to 10 finalist nominees. They presented the nominees at the Jan. 30 public meeting for the project.
The nominees included two couples, a total of five women, seven men, three Issei, six Nisei, two Sansei and one Black person.
The committee considered three criteria in considering the finalists: 1. Established and built San Francisco’s Japantown and made significant contributions to continue to build and preserve it; or 2. Advanced the community’s diverse stories and history through education, the arts and culture; or 3. Played a leadership role in social justice and civil rights issues.
Nominations were accepted through the month of December and closed Dec. 31, 2022.
The finalists are:
Kyutaro Abiko was the first publisher of the Nichi Bei Shimbun from 1899. He also started a labor contracting company to bring Issei laborers to America and purchased land to establish the Yamato colony in 1907. Yona Abiko was the first woman to own a Japanese language newspaper in the U.S. and was a chief fundraiser for the Japanese YWCA.
Archbishop Nitten Ishida was the founder of the Nichiren Hokke Buddhist Church of America and founder of the Japanese American Religious Federation, which also built the Nihonmachi Terrace and Hinode Tower. He is also known as a master calligrapher.
Jimbo Edwards was the founder and proprietor of Jimbo’s Bop City, a Black-owned jazz club that featured performances by John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and others.
Clifford Uyeda was a Nisei and former president of the National JACL, and a former president of the National Japanese American Historical Society.
He was also known for his work establishing the Center for Japanese American Studies at San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies Program and was on the JACL National Committee for Iva Toguri (a.k.a. “Tokyo Rose”).
Ruth Asawa was a Nisei artist and sculptor whose origami fountains adorn the ethnic enclave’s Buchanan Mall. Her works are also on display at the DeYoung Museum and the San Jose Federal Building.
Janice Mirikitani was a San Francisco poet laureate. Her poem adorns the California Japantown monuments placed in the three historic Japantowns in California. She was also an activist raising awareness against the atomic bomings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Yori Wada was a longtime director of the Buchanan YMCA and the University California’s first Asian American regent. He is credited with helping to build bridges between the Black and Japanese American community.
Tsuyako “Sox” Kitashima, a redress activist, was involved in organizations like the San Francisco JACL and Kimochi. She helped hundreds of people get the redress.
Henri and Tomoye Takahashi ran the Takahashi Trading Company, which dealt in home goods from Japan. Their family foundation has served as a major source of philanthropic donations funding various initiatives, including documentary films.
Jeff Adachi was a Sansei and elected public defender of San Francisco, who initially became an activist working to free Chol Soo Lee as a college student in the 1970s. He also helped found the Asian American Arts Foundation with Kitashima and was a filmmaker.