Is new news good news for NikkeiWest?

Denise Matsuzaki Hayashi (L) and June Yasuhara. courtesy of NikkeiWest

When June Yasuhara heard the NikkeiWest was about to close, she told her best friend Denise Matsuzaki Hayashi about it.

“I’m like, oh my God, let’s buy it, because my dad loves this paper,” Matsuzaki Hayashi said. “… We had no clue what we’re doing or what we’re getting into, because that’s just kind of our personality. And then little steps here and there, and we made it work, or we’re trying to make it work.”

Yasuhara said they approached Jeffrey Kimoto, the previous owner who had moved to Hawai‘i some 10 years ago, last November and completed the purchase in March of this year, but the transaction did not come with much. The paper did not have any staff or office space. Clients hadn’t been paying for a number of the ads running in the paper for years.

“It was pretty much the name and a canopy,” Yasuhara told the Nichi Bei News.

Despite that, the best friends have made a number of changes to make the paper theirs. Matsuzaki Hayashi contacted a lawyer and accountant to file the paperwork to become a nonprofit and received their exemption status in February, while Yasuhara took on putting together the newspaper, working on a redesign and a new focus on original content.

“Before, it was a lot of press releases and we wanted personal stories and human interest stories, because we thought that’s what our readers would probably enjoy and we’re already getting some feedback that they’ve noticed a difference,” Yasuhara said.

While the women are new to publishing, they are both known within San Jose’s Japantown. Matsuzaki Hayashi had spent some 25 years in administration at a private school, but also served on various boards for San Jose CYS and Suzume no Gakko, as well as worked for the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. Yasuhara, meanwhile considers herself a “June-of-all-Trades,” having worked for Yosh Uchida’s lab, Jim Nagareda’s photo studio, Lotus Preschool and Nikkei Traditions. She currently bakes cookies sold at Roy’s Station and decorates cakes for Baskin-Robbins, as well as does social media for the ice cream shop. She also serves on Nikkei Matsuri’s board and cares for her mother.

“I’m weird. I’m all over the place. So I don’t have an identity. My name is June. I was born in May. That just explains it right there,” she said.

While Matsuzaki Hayashi chides that Yasuhara is unable to say “no” to anything, the two complement one another.

Matsuzaki Hayashi enjoys working outside the spotlight, dealing with administrative work at the paper, while Yasuhara takes on the more creative role of putting it together.

Under their ownership, Yasuhara said she hopes to continue being a Northern California-focused newspaper, although she admitted that she and Matsuzaki Hayashi mostly only knew people in San Jose.

She hopes the announcement that they now own and operate the paper in the May 10 issue of the NikkeiWest will help them connect with community members in Sacramento, Stockton and beyond.

While the NikkeiWest’s new proprietors continue to develop their paper, they said the community reaction to their ownership has been positive, though it was mixed from Matsuzaki Hayashi’s parents.

“My mom, when she got the paper, she was actually really mad, because she thought all this was gonna take time away from her, because I help take care of my parents. And it’s hard for her, she has dementia, so it’s hard for her to understand that I have been doing this for five, six months now,” she said. “And my dad was actually really excited, and then told me all the things that we should do.”

Still, she said she has enjoyed taking calls from readers to discuss the paper’s new direction. Mostly, she said the oldest readers were concerned about whether the paper would continue to publish obituaries, but feedback has otherwise been positive, she added.

“I spent so much time on the phone with so many callers, subscribers, because, if they’re like my parents, who’s going to want to e-mail somebody? They just pick up the phone and call,” Matsuzaki Hayashi said.

Yasuhara meanwhile admitted that the paper is currently losing money since the cost to subscribe does not cover the cost of printing. Because of this, while people have helped their efforts, she and Matsuzaki Hayashi are currently the only two staffers.

“It doesn’t make sense to do that right? But we can’t change a bunch of things all at once, because our subscribers are used to $45,” Yasuhara said. “A lot of this has been coming out of pocket since we started.”

Still, Yasuhara said she wants to give back to the community. She said both her parents suffered from dementia and Alzheimer’s, her father passing away two years ago and her mother now in hospice care.

She said San Jose’s Japantown community helped her with caring for them over the years.

“So of course I want to give back as a thank you and then also because it feels good to be within this bundle of people who have the same motivation to keep Japantown alive,” she said. “We only have three remaining left, so I think it’s important to be involved. And that’s what we want to do with the paper too. We want to try to get more of the younger generation in and stories about people who help out, so it encourages other people as well.”

NikkeiWest publishes every 10th and 25th of the month. For more information, visit

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