Preserving and revitalizing Japantown is essential as a manifestation of Japanese American history, a celebration of current cultural expression and an inspiration to future generations about Japanese American cultural heritage.

              - Concepts for the Japantown Community Plan, November 2000



In mid-1998, faced with the imminent closure of Redevelopment Projects A-1 (2002) and A-2 (2009), 50 volunteers representing the different constituencies and factions that form the San Francisco Japantown community formed the Japantown Planning, Preservation and Development Task Force (JPPDTF).  With the support of the Mayor’s Office, the JPPDTF and its consultants engaged the community in an empowering public planning process toward the development of a proactive preservation and development plan for San Francisco’s Japantown.  Phase I included extensive community outreach and analysis of neighborhood physical conditions, resulting in the adoption of specific future goals and objectives; Phase II analyzed a range of economic programs and urban design concepts.  At each stage, conclusions were presented for community response at a series of public forums.  Phase III involves the elaboration of community development and organizing strategies, focused on religious institutions, cultural institutions, the arts, social services and children, youth and families – in short, planning for the preservation and development of our cultural heritage.


Through the pilot study funded by California State Senate Bill 307, authored by Senator John Vasconcellos, and signed into law in October 2001, the non-profit Japantown Task Force, Inc. (JTF), created in 2001 to institutionalize the community planning process, is engaging the San Francisco Japantown community in the process of defining cultural preservation.  Since the SB307 mandate is to promote the preservation of California’s three remaining Japantowns (Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose) through a public planning process, it falls to each community not only to consider its own definition of cultural preservation but also to identify those elements – tangible and intangible – deemed essential to the community’s culture in such a way that the State and the Nation may gain a framework for appreciating their existence and supporting the preservation of ethnically-specific communities/ neighborhoods.  The results may also serve as a model for other historic communities to maintain for themselves and future generations the cultural contributions unique to their own heritage. 


The report generated by the Japantown community and presented to the State of California will be developed in concert with the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and the San Francisco Planning Department to serve as a template for resource allocation for the State of California to sustain our neighborhood by identifying and prioritizing potential preservation targets in San Francisco’s Japantown.   Through harsh experience, the State’s Japantown communities have learned we must be proactive in determining our future.  Through the empowerment of sharing its culture with the greater community, the San Francisco Japantown community invites the broader population to embrace, understand, value and help preserve it.

Definition of the Study Area


For the purposes of this study, Japantown's boundaries are defined by the areas within and along California (north), O’Farrell (south), Gough (east) and Fillmore (west) Streets. Historically, many Japanese residences and businesses also existed beyond these boundaries, although this is considered the core.  Historical linkages to the area also extend to other sections of San Francisco, including the South of Market and Chinatown districts.


Constituents include those who live, work in, or rely on Japantown to meet cultural, social and commercial needs: residents, former residents, small business owners, large corporations, merchants, restaurateurs, community-based service organizations, members of the Japanese American ecumenical religious community, property owners, recent immigrants and those to whom Japantown, though they live elsewhere is still their neighborhood (Japantown residents total: 11,613 based on the 2000 U.S. Census) .  Demographically, the greater Japantown area has an older population.  In 2000, seniors aged 65 and over comprised 24% of the greater Japantown’s neighborhood, with young adults aged 25 to 34 making up a quarter of the area’s population.  In terms of race and ethnicity, whites make up 44% of the neighborhood’s population, followed by Asians at 30%, African Americans at 17%.  Within the Asian population, Chinese are slightly larger than Japanese with 31% and 30% respectively, of the Asian population.  Koreans make up the third largest APIU subgroup at 21%, with Filipinos following with 7% and Southeast Asians at 6%.  The Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standard for low income for a four-person household in San Francisco is less than $81,450.  According to this measure and the 2000 U.S. Census, Japantown is approximately 75% very low to low income.


The following maps illustrate how the geography and demographics of Japantown have changed over the nearly 100 years of its history.



Historic Context


It is for the contemporary and future generations not to replicate history but to understand their community historically and to use this knowledge in the creation of their own communities in terms of their future contexts.  So when we are talking of preservation, it is to preserve not only the icon, but also to preserve the context within which these symbols operated and how they represent the cultural process of community development and to make this information available for the benefit of the community.

- Dr. James Hirabayashi, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor

Anthropology and Ethnic Studies,

San Francisco State University



The following historic context statement for San Francisco’s Japantown describes the neighborhood, its genesis, development, modifications, and continuing significance.  This context statement concerns itself with Japantown essentially from extrinsic points of view, i.e., it asks how Japantown was significant to San Francisco history, and to regional and national history.  [Note: recognition of Japantown as a Nikkei neighborhood does not deny the dynamic flow of peoples within the community which is an invaluable part of its urban complexity.]. [1]  


From Nihonjinmachi to Japantown

San Francisco’s Japantown, 1906-1986


The time period is 1906, the approximate beginning of Japanese occupancy of the area, to 1986, through Urban Renewal and A-2 Redevelopment, which resulted in the demolition of most of the existing historic Japantown.  The unifying theme is the cultural significance of Japantown. Any evaluation of the significance of Japantown necessarily extends beyond the architectural merit of individual resources.  Japantown’s cultural and social themes are vital in understanding the value and importance of the neighborhood. These include:

·        historical events that shaped Japantown, including pre-Japanese-American settlement, the earthquake and fire of 1906, the California Alien Land Law restrictions on property ownership by Japanese, World War II internment and return, and impacts of the Redevelopment Agency and urban renewal;

·        social and cultural identity of the area;

·        buildings and sites built during the period of significance that represent the community;

·        associations with other neighborhoods of San Francisco which include Chinatown, South of Market, Pacific Heights, Fillmore[2],  as well as Japantowns outside of San Francisco in the East Bay, San Jose, Sacramento, Fresno, Los Angeles, and the Pacific Northwest, among many others.[3].


Japantown remains a distinct and coherent place despite significant demographic and even more extensive physical changes during the course of its history. The area has been, and is, defined by its cultural significance more than its architectural identity. However, the built environment does reflect the history of the Nikkei (individuals of Japanese ancestry) from initial occupancy of existing infrastructure by predominantly Japanese and Japanese Americans to the eventual construction of purpose-built community institutions and other structures. These events are also followed sequentially by dramatic contraction due to World War II wartime internment, and the specific impact of post-war redevelopment policies and urban decentralization.



General Background.


Urban neighborhoods commonly experience demographic shifts as a continuous process that may accelerate or decelerate at times due to various factors, both economic and social. In this country, race and immigration have historically been two of the most powerful of these factors.


As the concentration of a particular racial or ethnic group increases in an area, the commercial and institutional makeup of the neighborhood can be expected to shift in order to serve the expanding population group. Distinctive changes may include the early emergence of ethnic food suppliers offering foodstuffs required for the traditional cuisine, as well as sources for other culturally significant goods, e.g. wedding or funeral needs. Culturally supportive social institutions may be commercial, such as hotels, restaurants, bars, cafes, etc., or non-commercial, such as churches, specifically cultural organizations, or language schools. In addition, businesses serving a broader clientele, e.g. restaurants, drug stores, hardware stores, tobacconists, clothing stores, etc., may come under ownership by members of the group, and by virtue of linguistic and cultural affinities may develop a specialized ethnic patronage.


At some point in this process, the neighborhood comes to be experienced as the home of and by the cultural group—the place where members of the group can most fully experience their cultural identity. This perception may or may not be shared by other groups, either from outside the enclave, or even within. In many cases, the true ethnic makeup of a perceived racially uniform area is actually diverse.


In dense urban environments, the granular structure of cultural neighborhoods may be very small —certainly block-by-block, often even smaller. Given this structure, it is difficult to determine historic boundaries from standard sources. Census tabulations are often based on much broader areas. Cross directories are more helpful, but are generally not available for San Francisco until 1953. However, pre-war and post-war annual directories published by the Japanese immigrant newspapers in San Francisco provide useful data for reconstructing areas of concentration of the ethnic community by street and block on the basis of addresses of Japanese residents, businesses, and institutions[4].

Occupancy by the new cultural group may involve few outward changes to the existing built environment of an urban neighborhood. In many cases, the most prominent will be the addition of signage appropriate to the group. More extensive alterations may take place inside, with reconfiguration of spaces to suit new requirements or expectations. Eventually, purpose-built institutional and other structures may be designed or altered to reflect architectural or ceremonial traditions of the cultural heritage, but local building codes often restrict such expressions.


If the ethnic neighborhood becomes attractive to others in the larger society, whether for cuisine, special goods, entertainment, or general ambiance, more extensive changes or additions may be made to the built environment in order to enhance its marketability. Often departing from actual ethnic traditions, these changes may signal a shift from the construction of an ethnic enclave, whose purpose is to provide shelter and other necessities for the group, to the creation of a marketplace that trades commercially on the notion of exoticism, in response to the forces of assimilation and cultural evolution. Alternately, or perhaps in addition, the cultural makeup of the neighborhood can shift once again, with a new group displacing the first, or the old group simply dispersing, or becoming culturally assimilated.


Nihonjinmachi: Historical Background.


San Francisco’s Japantown was originally known as “Nihonjinmachi,” “Japanese people’s town.”  It is the oldest of its kind in the continental United States[5] and one of only three remaining Japantowns in the U.S.  Until 1906, San Francisco, chief U.S. port of entry for Asian immigration, had the largest Nikkei population of any mainland American city.  Numerous social, economic, and political organizations originated in the city, including several churches, such as the Japanese Reform & Evangelical churches, the Buddhist Churches of America, the Presbyterian Church, the Japanese Young Women’s Christian Association and Young Men’s Christian Association, the Japanese Salvation Army, and civic organizations such as Japanese Benevolent Society, Japanese Association of America, and the Japanese American Citizens League.


The first Japanese immigrants arrived in San Francisco in 1869.  This first generation – the Issei – was small in number and consisted mainly of young men. As their ranks gradually increased, social institutions arose to serve them.  In 1877, the Fukuin Kai (Japanese Gospel Society) believed to be the first Japanese organization in the U.S., began meeting at the Chinese Methodist Mission, in Chinatown.  In the late 19th century, several more Japanese Christian organizations were founded and grew here; these spread to a growing number of other Japanese communities along the West Coast, through the Central Valley, to the Pacific Northwest, Midwest, South, and eventually the entire U.S.  By 1898, San Francisco was also the headquarters for Buddhist churches and social organizations located throughout the West.  . Other important institutions included prefectural associations, or kenjin-kai, and newspapers.


By the turn of the 20th century, as the size of the community continued to increase, racist opposition to Japanese immigration began to coalesce, led by San Francisco Mayor and later California Senator James D. Phelan, and involving existing labor unions. Hostility worsened after the Japanese victory in the 1905 Russo-Japanese War raised fears of Japanese military power.  However, much of the animosity was still couched in terms of economic rivalry between Japanese immigrants and surrounding communities.


San Francisco was a center of this antipathy.  Following the 1906 earthquake, the San Francisco Board of Education adopted a policy intended, for the first time, to restrict Japanese students to the segregated school previously established for Chinese American students. When the Japanese government protested, an international dispute arose. President Theodore Roosevelt intervened to urge that the policy be rescinded, and the school board agreed in return for a promise by Roosevelt to stem Japanese immigration. In response, Roosevelt negotiated the 1908 “Gentlemen’s Agreement” between the United States and Japan, by which further immigration of Japanese laborers was drastically reduced.  Some immigration, most importantly of Japanese women, continued until the passing of the Immigration Act of 1924, which completely curtailed immigration from Japan until 1952.[6]


In 1913, California law, in the form of the Heney-Webb Alien Land Act, forbade property ownership by “aliens ineligible for citizenship”[7]  (at the time, immigrants from Asia were not permitted to become naturalized citizens).  Given the population of California at the time, this restriction applied almost exclusively to Japanese immigrants, and remained in effect until 1952.  Anti-miscegenation laws prohibiting interracial marriages prevailed through the 1960’s.


The Gentlemen’s Agreement, however, did permit immigration of wives whose husbands were already living in the U.S., including “picture brides,” who may never have met their husbands prior to immigrating.  This provision marked an important shift in the nature of the Japanese community in San Francisco, by facilitating the establishment of families, and of a second generation – the Nisei -- who were citizens by birth and therefore legally able to own property.  Institutions to serve the changing community quickly grew, including Japanese language schools and pre-schools for the rapidly Americanizing Nisei as a means of preserving the community’s Japanese culture.


Changing Locations of Japantown.


The early Japanese immigrants to San Francisco had settled in Chinatown.  By 1900, there was also a concentration of Japanese people and commercial establishments South of Market, along Jessie and Stevenson streets, between 5th and 7th.  When both these areas were destroyed in the earthquake and fire of 1906, the majority of the Japanese American community relocated to the present Japantown area in the Western Addition, with another smaller concentration in South Park (south of Market, bounded by Second and Third Streets, Brannan and Townsend).  The latter location was convenient to piers then in use by Japanese shipping companies, as well as to the railroad station, the point of entry for the large rural Japanese population in the region, for whom San Francisco Japantown was their only access to the goods, services and culture available there.  While a collection of hotels, baths, and other establishments came into being in South Park to serve travelers, the 1924 Immigration Act, which blocked further immigration from Japan, and the 1933 relocation of the Japanese shipping companies to the northern waterfront, meant the end of the South Park Japanese neighborhood.


The Western Addition site of the present Japantown was an established Victorian-era neighborhood, home to a mix of European immigrants and their native-born offspring. The 1900 Census shows an area concentration of persons born in German-speaking parts of Europe, the second most prevalent national group in San Francisco.  In the Western Addition, a large proportion of German Americans were Jewish, and a number of synagogues or former synagogues and other Jewish institutions may be found there today.  At the time of that census, there were no Japanese households in the area.[8]  However, immediately after the 1906 earthquake, San Francisco’s Japanese relocated there in significant numbers.  This process was recorded and encouraged by editorials in Shin-Sekai (The New World, originally a publication of the Japanese YMCA until it split off in 1897) which predicted that rents in the area would soon be forced down as ruined parts of the city were rebuilt.


By the time of the 1910 Census, the core area was home to more than 50 Japanese-owned commercial establishments, and to most of the 4,700 Japanese residents residing in the city[9].  The commercial infrastructure included ethnic mainstays such as Japanese grocery stores, importers, and restaurants.  Support for the still largely-single male population was visible in the number of Japanese pool halls, residence hotels, and employment agencies.  The growing presence of families was reflected by the presence of a Japanese kindergarten, a dressmaker, and several midwives.  Property records from the same time show no Japanese property owners in the area[10].  However, given the fairly common practice of recording property ownership in legal trust under the name of a cooperative white partner, these records may be suspect.  Cultural diversity of Japantown at that time included residents and religious and commercial establishments from Russian, Jewish, Chinese, Korean[11], and African American communities.


The community prospered through the 1920s and 30s.  By 1940, the Japanese population of Japantown, although by then second in size to Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, numbered over 5,000—with more than 200 Japanese-owned businesses.[12]  Japanese names begin to appear as property owners in the area in the 1920s.  By 1930, at least 55 parcels were Japanese-owned.  Prior to American entry into World War II, this number had more than doubled to 122.[13]  While some Japanese purchased property and recorded it in the name of their American-born children, given the ongoing political agitation against the Japanese that included efforts to divest American born children of Japanese descent of their U.S. citizenship, many continued to use land trusts.


World War II and Internment.


The Japanese Navy attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 abruptly ended the prosperity established by Japanese immigrants.  In Japantown, prominent Japanese American businessmen, Japanese clergy, and school teachers tagged as “enemy aliens” were rounded up in FBI sweeps.  Temporarily jailed, they were eventually transferred to Department of Justice internment camps, separated from their families and community.


Anti-Japanese hysteria in San Francisco intensified with American entry into World War II, fanned by editorials in San Francisco newspapers and by nativist and agricultural interest groups.  Under the authority of Executive Order 9066 signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in February 1942, General John L. DeWitt issued a series of military proclamations from the headquarters of the Western Defense Command at the Presidio of San Francisco.  The proclamations first established restricted military zones on the West Coast within which "all enemy aliens and all persons of Japanese ancestry" were subject to military regulation.  By late March 1942, DeWitt began issuing Civilian Exclusion Orders expelling "all persons of Japanese ancestry, including aliens and non-aliens" from the West Coast military zones.  In a little over four months more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese Ancestry were forced from their homes and interned by the government under the guise of national security.


The entire Japanese community of San Francisco, both citizens and foreign-born, was ordered to register and eventually report for processing to various sites throughout San Francisco including Kinmon Gakuen, the Japanese Language School building on Bush Street, and the YMCA Building on Buchanan Street.  By April, they were sent to various “assembly centers”, primarily Tanforan, in San Bruno, a racetrack hastily converted into a temporary detention camp, before being shipped out to one of 10 concentration camps located away from the coast.  Residents from the San Francisco Bay Area were primarily placed in Topaz, near the town of Delta, in the Utah desert.  Without charges, hearings or trial, many families languished behind barbed wire until 1945.


During the war, the Japanese Salvation Army and the Buddhist Church were used to store some family belongings and property items. The Devolet Brothers, proprietors of a furniture store on Geary Boulevard, also stored Japanese families’ items for the duration of the war. Unfortunately a number of storage sites that could not be secured were raided or vandalized by looters.  The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco also took responsibility for oversight of the real estate of some of those who were in the camps.   Thirteen properties in the core of Japantown passed from Japanese to non-Japanese ownership during the war, as well as three others taken over by the Alien Property Department of the federal government[14]


Despite such treatment and obstacles, Japanese Americans showed tremendous courage and fortitude. A few resisted the government’s restrictions, like Fred Korematsu, an East Bay resident who challenged the constitutionality of the internment to the Supreme Court.  His wartime conviction was not reversed until 1983.  Others resisted in the camps or resisted the draft – refusing to serve on the basis that the government had violated their constitutional rights and freedoms. Draft resisters served up to three years in the federal penitentiary.  At war’s end, President Truman granted them pardons.


Others complied with the draft, from which they had been excluded until 1944,[15] and agreed to fight for the United States Armed forces, or to support the American war effort in tangible ways. The famed Japanese American 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team, deployed to the European front, became the most decorated unit in American military history.  Others served as soldier linguists in the Pacific campaign with the Military Intelligence Service (MIS).  The San Francisco Presidio Building 640 Military Intelligence Service Language School was the birthplace of the Defense Language Institute, where Japanese American enlisted men secretly began training one month prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  Eventually, MIS language students served in the U.S. Army attached to every unit in the Pacific Theater as soldier linguists, translating and decoding documents and broadcasts, interrogating Japanese prisoners, and interpreting commands, ultimately contributing to an early end to the war.  Hundreds of Japanese Americans died in service.


Forty years after the war’s end, after extensive research and testimony, the Congressional Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians would find that Executive Order 9066 and the internment of Japanese Americans was "a grave injustice" arising from "race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership."[16] 


Following the war, many Japanese Americans returned to San Francisco “Japanese Town,” as it was known then, which had largely become occupied by wartime defense industry workers.  Most of the new occupants were African Americans who had migrated from southern states.  Starting over was a particular hardship for most Japanese American families returning from the camps.  Temporary housing – sometimes in church social halls or former military housing – was often full.  Re-entry into society – from finding work to attending school – was often met with hostility and mistrust.  By the time of the 1950 Census, although Japanese numbers in the Japantown area were nearly back to their pre-war level, both Whites and African Americans far outnumbered them.[17]  Japanese property ownership initially rebounded following the war.  By 1950, 148 parcels were Japanese owned.[18]  By 1962, the end of the initial round of Urban Renewal condemnations, this number had risen to 186.[19]


Redevelopment in the Western Addition.


In 1948, a portion of San Francisco’s Western Addition, including much of Japantown, was selected as one of the first large-scale urban renewal projects in the nation. This involved the mass clearance of the neighborhood through the use of eminent domain, including a large number of residences and small businesses. In order to address “urban blight,” the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (SFRA) began acquiring properties in the late 1950s. This undertaking was conducted in two project areas: A-1 and A-2[20].


Redevelopment: Western Addition Project Area A-1.


Project Area 1 (A-1) encompassed an irregular area of 27 blocks, including much of Japantown south of Post Street.  Project area evictions were non-negotiable and there was precedent established for relocation assistance to residents and businesses in this area. The Japanese American Merchants and Property Owners Association was the first organization to address concerns around redevelopment in 1953.


By 1960, about half of the core of Japantown had been razed, displacing at least 1,500 residents and more than 60 small Japanese American businesses.  At least 38 property parcels passed from Japanese ownership to the SFRA in this period.[21]  In place of the demolished structures, the City constructed the eight-lane Geary Expressway and the Japan Cultural and Trade Center. The Geary Expressway sliced through what had been historically the Japantown neighborhood and its southern border along O’Farrell where the African American community began.  The expressway became a physical and psychological dividing line between the Japanese and African American communities.  Loss of housing and urban decentralization contributed to Japanese American families leaving the core for the outer neighborhoods of the Richmond and Sunset districts of San Francisco, the suburbs of the Peninsula and the East Bay cities of Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, and El Cerrito.  The demolition of single-family or two-family residences and the construction of large, low-income, multi-family complexes changed the mix and fabric of the community as well.


Redevelopment: Western Addition Project Area A-2.


As the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (SFRA) announced plans for the launching of Western Addition Project Area 2 (A-2), community members who had witnessed the ongoing mass evictions and clearance of neighboring A-1 became concerned and alarmed at what would happen to the rest of Japantown.  In part at the urging of the SFRA, the United Committee for the Japantown Community (UCJC) was formed in 1962 with over 200 members[22].  After negotiations with the SFRA, in 1964 the UCJC formed the Nihonmachi Community Development Corporation (NCDC), which became responsible for “. . . allocating development sites to its members, undertaking the financing and development of shared facilities, [and] coordinating community interests with the agency”.


The architectural firm of Rai Y. Okamoto and Van Bourg/Nakamura, who had worked with UCJC and the SFRA, prepared concept plans envisioning a “village-scale” environment and a community center for the new Nihonmachi bounded by Post, Webster, Bush, and Laguna Streets.[23]  However, redevelopment dramatically raised property values, and many small businesses that served the neighborhood were not able to return to Japantown.  Some were evicted due to increased rents.  Newspapers at that time reported property taxes tripling in areas adjacent to the new Japan Cultural and Trade Center.  As more and more low-income housing and small family businesses were evicted to make way for hotels and larger businesses, the tightly woven historic fabric of the neighborhood continued to unravel.


At the behest of progressive ministers and spiritual leaders, the Western Addition Community Organization (WACO) was formed in 1967 with a largely African American membership but also including Japanese Americans.[24]  Led by Hannibal Williams and formed to fight displacement and the destruction of the neighborhood, WACO organized residents, picketed the agency, and blocked bulldozers.  In 1967, WACO filed an injunction which eventually succeeded in halting A-2 activities until SFRA submitted a federally-certified plan for relocation of displaced residents as required by law.[25]  All this activity slowed the Agency and shortly afterwards the SFRA hired a Western Addition minister, Reverend Wilbur Hamilton, to become the director of the A-2 project area.


In 1968, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) began to require that projects form a Project Area Committee that would be able to review SFRA activities in the Western Addition.  Shortly thereafter, the Western Addition Project Area Committee was formed with representatives from 40 diverse Western Addition groups,[26] many of whom were nominated by WACO.  In addition to reviewing agency activities, WAPAC also began securing SFRA jobs for its members, some of whom formed the Fillmore Economic Development Corporation.  After WAPAC was founded however, WACO saw less and less a need to address housing and displacement, and turned to providing surplus food to needy area residents.[27]  With redevelopment already in full swing, a grassroots activist group, the Committee Against Nihonmachi Evictions (CANE) emerged in 1973 to address the needs of residents and small businesses.  One of CANE’s first actions was to support the Japanese American Religious Federation’s housing project for affordable housing in Japantown.  CANE’s increasing membership, which swelled to over 300, revealed the people’s discontent with redevelopment.  While CANE was able to make itself heard through protests, editorials, and education, the SFRA rarely acted on CANE concerns[28]. 


Also in the late 60’s, with the creation of the Ethnic Studies Program at San Francisco State University and the beginning of the Asian American political movement, the evolution of Japantown’s non-profit, community-based service organizations began.[29]  The Sansei (the third generation Japanese Americans) promoted their ethnic identity as Japanese Americans.  Observing the disenfranchisement created by the void in culturally-sensitive services, Sansei saw the need for alternative, ethnically-based services and formed many “grassroots” organizations based in Japantown to serve the needs of both Japantown residents and the extended Japanese American community. To meet the needs of children and youth in the Japanese American community, in 1969 the Sansei created the Japanese Community Youth Council (JCYC).  Kimochi, Inc. was created in 1971 to serve the elderly Issei, who were not being served by mainstream senior service organizations due to cultural and language barriers.  Japanese Community Services (now defunct) was founded to provide access to social services for the community – particularly the Japanese-speaking community.  In the mid-1970s, these three agencies together formed the non-profit United Japanese Community Services (UJCS) in order to access funds for Japantown from the United Way (formerly the Community Chest).  Other Japantown-based, non-profit organizations  were subsequently created, among them: Nihonmachi Little Friends, Nobiru-kai (Newcomers Association), the Japanese Community and Cultural Center of Northern California, the Japanese American National Library, the Japantown Art and Media Workshop, Nihonmachi Legal Outreach (recently renamed Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach), and the National Japanese American Historical Society.


Fifty-eight Japanese-owned properties were transferred to SFRA between 1962 and 1978.[30]  Ultimately, Japantown not only lost a great deal of land, residents, and businesses, but its community dynamics and relationships were significantly altered by the large influx of Japanese capital and shifting demographics.  The Japantown community now includes a significant number of Japanese immigrants who arrived after the 1952 lifting of the ban on Japanese immigration.  They are the Shin-Issei, the new first generation, and their children are now Japanese Americans with their own unique set of experiences and cultural connections.    Although Japantown continues to be the cultural, historical, and spiritual center of the Japanese American community, the redevelopment of the Western Addition dramatically altered the small neighborhood feel of Japantown with far-reaching effects that continue to this day.


As it came time for SFRA to relinquish domain over A-1 and A-2 to the City, the Japantown community recognized it must overcome its history of distrust of the government and proactively establish a relationship with City government that would support the struggle and ensure Japantown’s survival.  In late 1998, the people of San Francisco Japantown formed the Japantown Planning, Preservation and Development Task Force.   Fifty volunteers representing the breadth of the many factions of the Japantown community worked with The City and County of San Francisco for more than six years with the goal of maintaining and developing the social, cultural and economic life of the community.  They worked with community development organizations (specifically Asian Neighborhood Design and Chinatown Community Development Corporation), as well as  economic development and urban design professionals to engage the community through a public presentation/ feedback process in creating Concepts for the Japantown Community Plan, the first community-generated, post-Redevelopment assessment document to look into issues affecting Japantown’s viability and sustainability.  Recognizing the need for an established agency within the community, a grassroots organization was created for the new century.  Since its incorporation in 2001, the Japantown Task Force, Inc., building on the work of the previous volunteer task force, has already developed resource material based on more than three and one-half years of broad-based community planning.  The Japantown community continues its commitment to a living and sustainable culture.  The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the builders of Nihonjinmachi, though they may reside elsewhere, maintain their principal connection to their heritage in and through a Japantown that struggles to survive. 




Defining Cultural Preservation: Methodology


The Japantown Task Force, Inc. (JTF) Senate Bill 307 (SB 307) Committee was appointed by the Chair of the Task Force and made up of JTF board and advisory board members (50%), and Japantown residents, business owners and property owners (50%).  The committee held its first meeting on July 29, 2004 to review, provide input on and oversee the development of the SB307 Japantown Cultural Preservation Report.  The committee worked together to create the following working definition of “cultural preservation”:


 “Cultural preservation acknowledges the contributions, values, and beliefs of a people in a society.  It records and protects these contributions through time and space thereby connecting the past, present, and future generations. Cultural preservation does not happen in a vacuum.  It is a process which seeks to be inclusive and creates bridges with other cultures; it requires the marketing of the community to make more tangible the recognition of diversity and place, by creating opportunities for education and experiencing of contemporary and traditional culture, through institutions; architecture and artifacts; businesses; celebrations and festivals; crafts, skills and arts; people; history; music; language, stories and folklore; food and cuisine; martial arts and other sports; clothing and textiles.”


The committee decided on the following methodology:


1.      Extrapolate cultural preservation data and identify cultural-preservation targets for San Francisco’s Japantown for the Cultural Preservation Report from the Japantown Concepts and Community Plan.

2.      Develop a draft matrix from the JTF data mentioned above.

3.      Develop data sheets for each item listed on the matrix through one-on-one interviews with community experts.

4.      Review data collected with JTF SB 307 Committee members and community members via e-mail and meetings.

5.      Have members of the community, JTF SB 307 Committee, and JTF Cultural Preservation Committee collect data and distribute/prepare data sheets.

6.      Open process to broad-based community comment through a series of public meetings and other opportunities to review the work to date.

7.      Refine matrix, data and report with community feedback in conversation with San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (SFRA), City Planning Department staff, JTF Senate Bill 307 Committee, JTF Cultural Preservation Committee and the statewide Three Japantowns Committee of the California Japanese American Leadership Council.


This process was to take place within the following timeline:

·        By September 2004, complete the first draft of the Cultural Preservation report and meet with SFRA staff, City Planning Department staff, JTF Senate Bill 307, JTF Preservation Committee and Three Japantowns Committee for review.

·        By October 2004, continue to refine matrix and compile data; consult with SB307 Committee; hold community meeting(s) for response/feedback; complete preliminary draft of report including matrix list and data gathered to date, to be delivered to SF Redevelopment Agency by November 1, 2004.

·        By November 2004, continue to refine matrix and compile data; consult with SB307 Committee; hold community meeting(s)/conduct documented community outreach for feedback toward completion of final report; Review preliminary draft with SF Planning and SF Redevelopment Agency staff members by November. 15, 2004.

·        By December 2004, complete report for submission to SFRA.




The SB 307 Committee’s work has been contextualized by the community response contained within the Concepts for the Japantown Community Plan (e.g., Priority Program #4, “Community Organizing Strategy”) and the community feedback reflected in the ongoing strategy refinement and implementation process, such as the objectives and strategies proposed by the community through the consensus-based community planning process.  The committee therefore began with the existing research in order to extrapolate cultural preservation data and identify cultural-preservation targets for San Francisco’s Japantown for the Cultural Preservation Report from the Japantown Concepts and Community Plan. 


Through community focus group meetings held during Phase I of the preservation and planning process, there emerged a deeply-held value, one that has emerged as a core issue when considering cultural preservation for all three remaining Japantowns: atypically from most neighborhood preservation/revitalization efforts, Japantown is a community whose population is not bound by geography yet is bound to a geographical core.  This is to say that despite the physical relocation of its Japanese American resident-base, whether by choice or by government mandate, Japantown continues to be the cultural, historical, and spiritual center of the Japanese American community.  Beyond the physical boundaries, Japantown is more clearly defined by less tangible parameters of experience, whether of the historical past or of the phenomenological present.  That such experience is valued is reflected in the mix of visitors who specifically seek Japantown, most particularly those who mourn the loss of Japantowns in their own communities throughout the world.


Also taken into account were the four goals that have guided San Francisco Japantown’s community-driven planning process over the past six years; they reflect the Japantown community’s understanding that cultural preservation is an issue of sustaining an ecology, the interdependence of physical environment, economic development and human resources which must all come into play in order to maintain and support those experiences:

·        “to develop Japantown as an historical center, a cultural capital and a community center for people of Japanese ancestry in America;

·        to revitalize Japantown as a thriving commercial and retail district;

·        to preserve and expand Japantown as a neighborhood of residents, community-based organizations and institutions, and neighborhood services; 

·        to improve Japantown’s physical environment so that it contributes to the cultural, economic and neighborhood vitality and diversity.”[31]


Looking to its definition of cultural preservation within the context of cultural values identified throughout the planning process, the committee began a list of the icons and venues in the Japantown community where the “contributions, values and beliefs of (the) people” were recorded, protected, maintained and transmitted.  This list became the basis for a draft matrix from the JTF data as noted above.  The committee reviewed drafts of a matrix and data sheets of proposed targets for cultural preservation designed by the JTF staff based on the definition of cultural preservation developed from the “Three Japantowns” Conference, organized by the California Japanese American Leadership Council, and held in San Francisco in 2002:


The protection, interpretation, and documentation of (1) cultural properties, structures, sites, objects and artifacts; (2) culturally significant businesses and economic development; (3) culturally relevant architecture, design, aesthetics, and landscapes; (4) textiles and clothing; (5) folklore, stories, language and literature; (6) food and cuisine.  Preservation also includes political, economic, and social concerns that preserves and protects places that reflect the meanings, ideologies, beliefs, values, and views shared by a group or groups from potential adverse effects.


The matrix (listing) for cultural preservation identifies the following categories:

·        Cultural Property, Buildings, Structures and Artifacts

·        Designated historic landmarks and sites

·        Sites recognized by community members

·        Public art in San Francisco Japantown

·        Objects and artifacts important to the community

·        Institutions

·        Community based/social service organizations

·        Churches

·        Schools

·        Celebrations and Festivals

·        Traditional Japanese Seasonal Festivals

·        Asian American Community Festivals

·        Pop Culture Events

·        Folklore, stories, language and literature

·        Oral history traditions through documents

·        Japanese language classes

·        Japanese bookstores and shops specializing in folklore, stories and literature

·        Traditional & Evolving Crafts, Performing Arts

·        Traditional and evolving crafts that represent the history of Japantown

·        Venues for traditional and non-traditional performances that appeal to diverse audiences

·        Sports/Martial/Healing Arts

·        Organized youth athletic leagues

·        Traditional Japanese martial arts

·        Shiatsu


Significance is identified as follows:

·        Cultural: an artistic or intellectual product; ways of living built up by a human group and transmitted to succeeding generations;

·        Educational: provide with training, knowledge or information;

·        Historical:  well-known or important in history; at least 50 years old;

·        Businesses:  25+ years or older; supporting tradition or cultural vision

·        Social:  serving to connect people; of the life and welfare of human beings in a community


The SB307 Committee approved this approach, i.e., to develop data sheets for each item listed on the matrix through one-on-one interviews with community experts.  Each data sheet would consist of photographs; site location; name of program, event, building, structure or artifact; description; history, significance, recognition of significance (awards, news articles, etc.); primary sources of information, comments; compilation date and author identification.  The committee supplemented the staff’s initial suggestions based in their own experience of Japantown, adding their own recommendations and citing secondary sources from which the staff could gather additional recommendations.


Japantown Task Force, Inc. in-house staff collaborated with Japantown residents, merchants, community-based organizations, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and the San Francisco Planning Department to collect and organize data for the report.  Throughout the collection process, the staff continued to review data collected with JTF SB 307 Committee members and community members via e-mail and meetings.  Members of the community, JTF SB 307 Committee, and JTF Cultural Preservation Committee collected data and distributed/prepared data sheets. 


The process was opened to broad-based community comment.  Preliminary drafts of the report, including the matrix and sample data sheets, were presented to the community through public presentations and off-site outreach to community organizations, and one-on-one contact with community members.  In line with its general policy, JTF extended an ongoing, open invitation to the public to review all data gathered to-date at the JTF office.  In particular, all stakeholders were encouraged to submit recommendations for inclusion in the data matrix.[32] 


The presentations employed printed material, Power Point, and personal presentations by representatives of some of the resources included in the matrix of the historical/cultural data material.  Presentations made to date include:

·        August 24th, Radio Mainichi (Japanese language AM radio) – interview on San Francisco Japantown’s preservation efforts, San Francisco

·        October 6th, SB 307 Symposium at Wesley United Methodist Church, San Jose

·        October 13th, SB307 Preliminary Draft Community Presentation, Konko Church, San Francisco

·        October 25th, Japantown Task Force Board Meeting, National J.A.C.L. Headquarters, San Francisco

·        November 12th, SB307 Preliminary Draft Community Presentation, Kimochi Inc. Senior Lunch Program, Japanese Community and Cultural Center of Northern California, San Francisco

·        November 12th,  KQED-FM, San Francisco – “Forum” on “Asia in the Bay Area,” featuring Pauline Yao, Asian Art Museum; Nguyen Qui Duc, KQED; and Linda Jofuku, JTF Inc.

·        November 19th, SB307 Preliminary Draft Community Presentation, Boy Scout Troop 29 and Parents,

·        November 22nd, Japantown Task Force Board Meeting, National J.A.C.L. Headquarters, San Francisco

·        December 14th, Japantown Task Force SB 307 Committee Meeting, open to the public


General outreach was also made to the following organizations: Boy Scout Troop 29, Buddhist Church of San Francisco, Golden Gate Optimists Club, Hokka Nichi Bei Kai, Japanese American Citizen’s League, Japanese American National Library, Japanese American Religious Federation, Japantown Merchants Association, Kimochi Nutrition Program, Kokoro Assisted Living, National Japanese American Historical Society, Nihonmachi Little Friends, S.F. Bonsai Society; San Francisco State University (Urban Planning),

Western Addition Citizens Advisory Committee (WACAC), and WACAC Planning Committee.


Defining Cultural Preservation: Findings


Despite a decrease in the Japanese American resident base since the redevelopment process began, Japantown continues to be the geographical, and consequently the emotional core for a dispersed Japanese American community.  It is home to organizations and institutions that serve the religious, cultural and social needs of (a) community spread throughout the city and the Bay Area.  This community . . . finds a sense of place in the culture and history present in Japantown’s physical environment.[33]


The matrix developed for this report reflects not only the input of the community-based SB307 Committee but most significantly feedback from the community generated by public presentations of the draft report.  The matrix list and related data sheets (attached) identify some of the cultural preservation targets in San Francisco’s Japantown that not only reflect Japantown’s unique culture and identity but also serve as continuing points of cultural experience.  While this process of information-gathering was originally conceived of as an organizational tool, it was also shown to be an effective community development tool. 


This method of data collection – direct recognition, solicitation of description from the source (e.g., artist, merchant, community activist), responses by community members to the data – stimulated discovery for some, renewed enthusiasm and appreciation for others, and awakened a passion among the members of the community to ensure the acknowledgement of that which they felt contributes to the culture of the community.  By involving community stakeholders, experts, JTF board, staff and student interns in direct contact, ostensibly for data collection/report development, the process provided a means by which community stakeholders could both name that which they held to be culturally-significant and elaborate on why they held it to be so.  Merchants and businessmen not used to being in the public spotlight were compelled to tell the story of their place in Japantown at public presentations.  Suggestions from some sparked ideas and/or drew controversy from others, invigorating and enlivening the discussion around what defines both community culture and preservation.  The community continues to be engaged in this process, continually bringing forth additional recommendations for inclusion.


Rather than serving as a static document meant to supplement a government report, the matrix has become a living document that can serve as a means of tracking an ongoing experience, engaging community input in a continuing review process, providing a current basis for cultural heritage preservation priorities.


The issue of what is current, however, serves to point up several complexities related to the geographical, neighborhood context of traditional community planning when applying them to San Francisco Japantown.  One is the current geographic parameters.  Given the relocations – both natural and political – that have dispersed the people of the community and diminished the area considered to be within the boundaries, there are many historical and cultural experiences and resources that have already been lost to Japantown proper.  Some, like Nippon Goldfish and Pine United Methodist Church, relocated post-Redevelopment to other parts of the city not considered part of the current study area.  Others, like the offices of The Nichibei Times, are located on a block once considered to be within Japantown but is now included as part of another neighborhood.  The geographic parameters also isolate those cultural resources which, while not physically located in Japantown, are inherently connected to the fabric of Japantown.  One example of this is the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, once owned and operated by the Hagiwara Family, one of the few remaining examples of traditional Japanese garden design and craftsmanship. 


There are also permanent losses identified by many community members who responded to the presentations as essential to the community’s culture even as it exists today.  They identified many long-time Japantown institutions that have closed shop, e.g., Yamada Seika manjuya (confectionary), Honnami Taieido art goods store, Goshado bookstore, Nichibei Bussan Department Store, Evergreen Fountain, Jim’s Drugs, American Fish Market and the many barbershops that served both the sartorial and the social needs of the community.  These may fall into that category of “intangible resources” whose memory serves as a cultural touchstone, having been a part of Japantown in a not-too-recent past when bilingual neighborhood services (pharmacies, dry cleaners, shoe repair, et al.) were vital to the community’s existence.  Also in the category of intangible resources are individuals who, by their contributions to the culture of the community, might be designated perhaps as “living cultural treasures,” such as Taiko Grandmaster Seiichi Tanaka; Mrs. Kikuyo Sekino, Omote Senke School of Tea; and former San Francisco Poet Laureate Janice Mirikitani.   Some have already passed on, such as artist/activist Mitsu Yashima, youth advocate and U.C. Regent Yori Wada, civil rights activist Edison Uno, labor activist Karl Yoneda, peace activist Dr. Clifford Uyeda, journalist Michi Onuma, performance artist/educator/activist Sachiko Nakamura and historian Seizo Oka.  Their memory and the lesson of the transience of experience serve as inspiration to engage in the work of preservation actively and immediately.


The business community has responded enthusiastically to the data-gathering process.  Several of the merchants who participated in the data sheet process were proud to point out that their businesses located in Japantown not only reflect the culture and but also draw consumers and investors to the neighborhood, as cultural events and non-profit organizations draw visitors and participants to the neighborhood who in turn support many of the businesses.  It is this interdependence of Japantown’s cultural resources that could be the key to its preservation and growth.  The two largest public events – the Cherry Blossom Festival held in the spring and the Nihonmachi Streetfair held each August – serve as good examples for the ways in which the community works together on multiple levels.  The spring festival was initiated largely as a cultural festival from a more traditional perspective, while the summer festival was initiated by the activist and non-profit community to engage the community’s youth and reflect Japantown’s more contemporary reality.  Though separate – and sometimes disparate – in the past, over time, both festivals have become opportunities for the different factions in the community to work together with the ultimate goal being both the celebration of Japantown’s culture and attracting support for Japantown’s various arts, business and social service interests.


By viewing the cultural resources of the community as a kind of “cultural capital”, in which all segments of the community can invest and from which all segments of the community can profit, the potential for a self-sustaining ecology in Japantown to support cultural maintenance becomes clear, one that is based on energy generated through participation – of residents, former residents, patrons, visitors, business investors, property owners and government.  Phase II of the planning process generated some possible ways to facilitate this participation which are supported by the current research to date:

·        Identification and support for economic engines compatible with Japantown’s cultural and educational institutions would enhance economic viability beyond subsidy – Community-driven economic development focused at small businesses is essential.   As an inner city business district, the health of small culturally-identified restaurants, shops and professionals located within the neighborhood serves to maintain the flow of visitors and patrons to the community, drawing site-specific commerce and traffic. [e.g., see data sheets: Anime Parade, Benkyodo, Kintetsu Mall, Kinokuniya Bookstore, Paper Tree, Uoki Sakai]

·        Reinforcement of the physical identity” and “a well-defined framework for improving the physical environment – Japantown’s unique physical identity based in its architecture, landscaping and public art identifies it as of historical as well as contemporary interest, and should be the object of preservation-oriented capital project improvements and maintenance.  [e.g., see data sheets: Buchanan Mall, 1830 Sutter Street (Nihonmachi Little Friends), Peace Plaza, 1881 Bush Street (Kokoro Assisted Living)]

·        Strategies to engage children, youth, families and adults – Maintaining and improving community-based social services, i.e., the different direct-service, non-profit, community-based agencies which address the needs of the Japanese American and Japanese-speaking communities, is one way of continuing the outreach to residents and former residents of the neighborhood.  The ability to participate in and take advantage of the various social services available enhances the Japanese American community’s historical and emotional tie to the neighborhood.  That participation is also enhanced by the opportunities available for transmission of both traditional and contemporary culture in Japantown, whether directly through classes and training that take place in the neighborhood or performances and demonstrations that occur in the neighborhood’s public venues.  Creating a mentorship program to promote the transmission of culture and development of venues that support both traditional and contemporary visual and performing arts (display and performance venues, workshop spaces, etc.) could add vitality to the transition of culture. [e.g., see data sheets: Golden Gate Optimists Club, Japanese Community and Cultural Center, Japanese Community Youth Council, Japantown Art and Media, Hokka Nichibei Kai, Kimochi, Inc., S.F. Bonsai Society].  Developing new events/venues that focus on contemporary culture invite the interest and participation of the next generation and expose them to Japantown and all its available resources [e.g., see data sheets: Anime Parade, Import Car Show, S.F. Asian American Film Festival].


When presented with the information which became available through the cultural preservation report process, the youth of Boy Scout Troop 29, sponsored by the San Francisco Buddhist Church, who represent the third generation of Scouting in Japantown, expressed in their comments not only their own attachment to the Japantown that they know as theirs, but regret for the loss of the vitality that had existed for their parents, as well as a desire for there to be more activities to engage them and their friends, i.e., “more reasons to come to Japantown”.  Their parents expressed not only a nostalgia for the resources available to them in their own youth, but also an appreciation for those resources still remaining and a desire to have a Japantown through which to transmit their cultural heritage to their children and their children’s children.



Next Steps


When the scope of the work responding to Senate Bill 307 became limited by reduced time and funding to “defining neighborhood cultural preservation for Japantown”, all three of California’s Japantowns saw this as an opportunity to empower ourselves not only to define for ourselves our “neighborhood” and our culture but also to take this opportunity to find some way to document that which we value, which we want to preserve and upon which we choose to build our future— a rare opportunity for self-esteem, self-determination and self-actualization.  While the details and difficulties of creating a specific plan for the community continue, the cultural preservation planning process has already been identified as critical to Phase III, the community development phase of the community’s ongoing planning process.  Among its standing committees, for example, the Japantown Task Force, Inc. has a Cultural Preservation Committee, charged with working with the City Planning Department and Landmark Preservation Advisory Board to ensure appropriate community education and inclusion in the decision-making process regarding historical and landmark designations.  It also works with traditional and contemporary Japanese, Korean and Chinese arts and cultural organizations to create vehicles in Japantown to preserve arts and culture; and identifies opportunities with Federal, State and City governments to preserve Japantown's culture and history (e.g. Senate Bill 307, Proposition 40).  The work of community-based organizations such as the National Japanese American Historical Society in its “Back in the Day” exhibit that documents postwar/pre-Redevelopment Japantown, and the Japanese Community and Cultural Center of Northern California, responsible for the placement of a monument to honor Japanese American history in California, keep the notion of cultural preservation before the public.


It is clear that for its part as a vital San Francisco neighborhood, Japantown must actively participate in mainstream activities, not only those affecting the greater Western Addition, but also in larger political and social issues that impact Japantown, as part of the interdependent ecology of San Francisco, the State and the Nation.  However, it is also clear that the preservation of Japantown’s culture must in turn involve the participation of both government and non-profit sources in several critical areas:


·        Increase communication and flow of information – One result of the community’s ongoing planning process has been to establish for Japantown direct relationships with critical City departments, such as the Mayors Office of Community Development, the Department of Public Works, and the San Francisco Arts Commission.  Through its relationship with the City, JTF has worked to ensure that “(a)ll outreach must be neighborhood-based and culturally- and linguistically-specific” with respect to all City contracts.  Accurate and direct contact between government and stakeholders must be a priority.  Prior to any “historic” designations on a city, state or national level, discussions with property owners must take place to ascertain their needs and inform them of both benefits and consequences.  Japantown should be included in any literature describing the City’s cultural or economic resources.


·        Incorporate Japantown planning documents into work plans – Japantown’s planning documents and reports, like the 2000 Concepts for the Japantown Community Plan, should be included in each City and County Department work plan that directly affects the neighborhood, such as the Planning Department’s incorporation of Redevelopment Area 1 and the Redevelopment Agency’s ongoing work with Area 2.  They should be reflected in public policies like San Francisco’s “Better Neighborhoods” policy, which involves the Planning Department and the Metropolitan Transit Authority, particularly with respect to its development of the Geary Corridor which will have direct impact on Japantown.  Budget planning for city departments such as Recreation and Parks, which governs the Peace Plaza, and the Arts Commission, which is responsible for public art pieces like the Origami Fountains, must include regular upkeep/maintenance for their Japantown properties.


·        Support for capital preservation and development projects – Discussions have begun regarding possible projects: Peace Plaza and Pagoda renovation and reconstruction, both for seismic retrofit and to meet the events needs of the local community.  Legislation relating to preservation/restoration of historic sites, economic development of historic districts and support for culturally-related organizations and entities may help support the acquisition and renovation of available properties (e.g., Proposition 40 support for Nihonmachi Little Friends renovation of the former YWCA Building) and provide affordable community, business and housing space. 


·        Develop/enhance relationships with affinity institutions/entities -- The Asian Art Museum, Asia Foundation, and the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau must be kept aware, on an ongoing basis, of the rich cultural resources in the Japantown community so that they incorporate Japantown into their own marketing, outreach and programming.  Development of formal cross-cultural relations with other communities where natural interactions exist (e.g. Western Addition, Chinatown/North Beach, etc.) could not only inform Japantown’s process but also provide opportunities to work in coalition to support mutual interests.  Collaborations with the Ethnic Studies departments of local institutions, including high schools, would encourage grass roots participation in the community.  Links to like-minded entities in other cities, such as the Japanese American National Museum Nikkei Legacy Project and its international “Discover Nikkei” website.


The development of the matrix and its accompanying data provide an additional resource to the cultural preservation process of Japantown.  The data can and should be distributed to all electronic and print media outlets to help market Japantown programs and venues and support its activities.  It can form the basis of a website of information (data and interpretation) for the community to peruse, consider, add to, and dialogue about, while educating others about Japantown’s culture.  Awareness within the community of its resources can aid in the development with the community of explicit plans in the educational and promotional lines where organizations are supported and encourage and inform those contemplating new organizations;


At the very least, the momentum begun through this planning process within the community must be maintained.  Mechanisms to acknowledge the lost cultural icons and recognize the living cultural treasures can be developed, and an organized effort to network and coordinate cultural activities, providers and supporters may nurture the interdependent ecology that is Japantown.  However, in order to plan, preserve and develop for the future, it is imperative that there be communication between and among the diverse components of the community.  If sustainability for Japantown relies on healthy interdependence both within the community and between the community and its larger environment, then cooperation in both arenas is the key to preservation and development.


An emotional connection to the idea of Japantown has long been understood among its stakeholders.  What this report has done is provided a means by which that connection can not only be documented but nurtured to the practical purpose of providing for the preservation of that which is held dear by so many.  A culture that is steeped in a tradition of non-verbal communication and nuance, implication and inference, may find a means of expression in data, documents and arguments which, if conveyed from a basis of cooperation and mutual interest, could become the basis for creating bridges of meaning and understanding for those outside the community to support the community’s concrete efforts toward what must be done, but what cannot be done alone.



Japantown Task Force, Inc. Cultural Preservation Committee: Seiko Fujimoto, David Ishida, Karen Kai, Tim Kelley, Linda Jofuku, Ben Kobashigawa, Seizo Oka, Ben Pease, Kathy Reyes, Gerald Takano, Rosalyn Tonai, and Ernie Yoshikawa


Japantown Task Force, Inc. Board of Directors: Sandy Mori, Chair; Scott Belser; Seiko Fujimoto; David Ishida; Caryl Ito; Tak Matsuba; Benh Nakajo; Mark Moriguchi; Bob Otsuka; Pat Shiono; Rosalyn Tonai and Michael Gowe


Japantown Task Force, Inc. Staff: Linda Jofuku, Executive Director; Darryl Abantao, student intern and Litter Hawk driver; Young Kim, student intern; Misako Mori, student intern; Lucy Kishiue, consultant; Judith Nihei, consultant; Ben Pease, consultant


Japantown Task Force, Inc. Advisory Board: Hats Aizawa, Steve Doi, Reverend Grange, Rod Henmi, Daryl Higashi, Yo Hironaka, Karen Kai, Travis Kiyota, Ben Kobashigawa, Dan Kunihara, Charlie Morimoto, June-ko, Nakagawa, Jerry Ono, Jongmin Paek, Katherine Reyes, Shinichi Seino, Kenji Taguma, Pamela Wu, J.K. Yamamoto


Japantown Task Force, Inc. SB307 Committee: Steven Doi; Michael Gowe; Richard Grange; Rod Henmi; Caryl Ito; Tak Matsuba; Sandy Mori; Benh Nakajo; Kenji Nakamura; Allen Okamoto; Rosalyn Tonai; Pamela Wu; Tetsuya Yoshida


The Japantown Task Force, Inc. gratefully acknowledges those members of our community who took the time to provide the experience and information that has enriched this report, its attachments and the life of Japantown:


Reverend Hiroshi Abiko, Head Minister, Buddhist Church of San Francisco

Ruth Asawa, Artist/Designer, Origami Fountains, Benches & Rock River

Steve Doi, President, Hokka Nichi Bei Kai

Kenneth Endo, Ikenobo Ikebana Society of America

Seiko Fujimoto, Executive Director, Japanese Benevolent Society of Northern

California, and President, Dentoh

Kenneth & Michiko Fujisaka, owners, Fuji Shiatsu

Walter Funabiki, co-founder and Goro Takahashi, President, San Francisco

Bonsai Society

Taro Goto, Exhibition & Festival Director, S.F. International Asian American

Film Festival, National Asian American Telecommunications Association

Reverend Richard Grange, Head Minister, Konko-Kyo Church, and member, Japanese

American Religious Federation

Judy Hamaguchi and Rich Tokeshi, Advisory Board Members, Japantown Arts and Media

Yuji Harada, founder, and Yoshi Karahashi, assistant instructor, Shorinji Kempo of San Francisco

Richard Hashimoto, General Manager, Japan Center Garage Corporation, President, and Tak Matsuba, Executive Vice President, Japantown Merchants Association

James Hirabayashi, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor, Anthropology and Ethnic Studies, San Francisco State University

Christopher Hirano, Ken Maeshiro, and Lori Matoba, Program Staff, Japanese Community & Cultural Center of Northern California

Sumi Honnami, Board Member and Sister Theresa Teshima, RSCJ, President, St.

Francis Xavier Japanese Catholic Society

Cathy Inamasu, Executive Director, Nihonmachi Little Friends

Henry Kim, owner, Korea House

Sean Lim, Managing Artistic Director, Asian American Theatre Company

Greg Marutani and Rich Tokeshi, volunteer, Oshogatsu Festival

Karl Matsushita, Executive Director, National Japanese American Library

Carol Murata, owner, Cafe Hana, and Board Member, Issui Kai

May Murata and Pearl Momemzadeh, owner, May's Cafe

Shizue Mihara, Volunteer Principal, Kinmon Gakuen

The Mihara Family (Nob, Shizue, Vicky and Linda), owners, Paper Tree

Mark Miyake, Store Manager, Super 7

Kiyoshi Naito, Interim President, and JK Yamamoto, English Editor, Hokubei


June-ko Nakagawa, President and Takeo Futakawa, Vice President, Radio Mainichi

Steve Nakajo, Executive Director; Sandy Mori, Development Director; and Anna

Sawamura, Program Director, Kimochi, Inc.

Kathy Nelson, Manager, Kabuki Springs and Spa

Wes Nihei, Board Member - Public Relations, Nihonmachi Street Fair

Reverend John Oda, Head Minister, Pine United Methodist Church; and President, Japanese American Religious Federation

Seizo Oka, Executive Director, Japanese American Historical Archives

Allen Okamoto, Vice President, Nihonmachi Parking Corporation; owner, T. Okamoto

& Co., Real Estate

Bobby and Ricky Okamura, co-owners, Benkyodo Manju Shop

Takeshi Onishi, owner, Japan Video & Media, Inc.; sponsor, Anime Parade/Festival

Jon Osaki, Executive Director, and Tina Alcantara, Operations Director, Japanese Community Youth Council

Randy Osaki, former Scout Master, Boy Scout Troop 29, Buddhist Churches of America Youth Athletic Association

Kathy Reyes, Clerk of Session, Christ United Presbyterian Church

Robert Sakai, co-owner, Uoki Sakai Grocery Store

Sim Seiki, owner, The Seiki Building

Shinichi Seino, Executive Vice President, Kinokuniya Bookstores of America Co., Ltd.

Steve Suzuki, President of the Board of Directors, Kokoro Assisted Living

Kenji Taguma, Vice President and English Editor, Nichi Bei Times

Grand Master Sensei Seiichi Tanaka and Ryuma Tanaka, San Francisco Taiko Dojo

Reverend Kiko Tatedera, Head Priest, and Dr. Tanako Hagiwara, Soto Mission

of San Francisco, Sokoji Soto Zen Temple

John Tateishi, National Director, Japanese American Citizens League

Moses and Hatsy Yasukochi, owners, Yasukochi’s Sweet Shop


[1] “Historic Context Statement” originally prepared for and presented to the San Francisco Landmarks Advisory Board in 2003 by the Cultural Preservation Committee of the Japantown Task Force, Inc.; some additions, corrections and revisions have been made for this report.


[2]  Small, but significant numbers of Japanese immigrants lived as “houseboys,” or servants in middle class white households in Pacific Heights and the Fillmore.

[3]  Of these historic Japantowns, only those in San Jose and Los Angeles are extant.

[4] Some extant copies include Nichibei Shimbunsha’s directory 1915, 1926, and 1941; Shin Seika Adoresu Bukku (Address Book) 1923, 1927; Shin Sekai Asahi Nenkan (Yearbook) 1940, 1941.

[5] Significant Japanese immigration to Hawaii predates this.

[6] Japanese Americans in California. National Park Service, (Isami Arifuku Waugh, Alex Yamamoto, Raymond Y Okamura) 2002.

[7] Federal law, since 1790, had limited naturalization to “free white persons”. However, due to ambiguities over the definition of “white” some 400 Japanese immigrants had been naturalized over the years prior to 1910.

[8] Twelfth Census of the United States (1900), Population Schedules, Enumeration Districts 203, 204, 205, 206, 207 208 , 209 & 210

[9] Thirteenth Census of the United States (1910), Population Schedules, Enumeration Districts 181, 186, 187, 188, 194, 243, 244, 246, 247, 248, 249, 250, 251, 252, 253 , 256

[10] Block Book of San Francisco, 1910.

[11] Korea had at that time been annexed by Japan and occupied by its armed forces .

[12] Sixteenth Census of the United States (1940), Census Tracts J-2, J-3, J-6, J-7 and J-8 (bounded by Gough, Eddy, Steiner, Fulton, Geary, Baker, & California streets) Although these Tracts together encompass an area slightly larger than that defined as the Japantown Core, it is not possible to break the census data into more precise increments, and it may be assumed that the non-white, non-Negro population of these Tracts was concentrated in the Core.

[13] City and County of San Francisco Sales Ledgers, Assessor’s Blocks 649, 659, 651, 652, 653, 660, 661, 662, 663, 664, 673, 674, 675, 676, 677, 685, 686, 687, 688, 697, 699, 700, 701, 708, 709, 710, 711, 712.

[14] ibid

[15]  tenBroek, Jacobus et al., Prejudice, War and the Constitution, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1954, p. 166.

[16] Personal Justice Denied, Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, December 1982, p. 18.

[17] Seventeenth Census of the United States (1950), Census Tracts J-2, J-3, J-6, J-7 and J-8 (bounded by Gough, Eddy, Steiner, Fulton, Geary, Baker, & California streets) The population of these Tracts included 14,716 Whites, 14,652 Blacks, and 4,820 other non-whites, who, it may be assumed were almost all Japanese. Although these Tracts together encompass an area larger than that defined as the Japantown Core, it is not possible to break the census data into more precise increments.

[18] Sales Ledgers

[19]  ibid

[20] See Pease, Ben.  “Japantown & Vicinity” map.

[21] Sales Ledgers

[22] Seigel, Shizue. “San Francisco Nihonmachi and Urban Renewal”. Nikkei Heritage. XII, 4 and XIII, 1, Fall 2000/Winter 2001

[23] Seigel. Nikkei Heritage


[25] See Seigel, Shizue.  “San Francisco: Nihonmachi and Urban Renewal” Nikkei Heritage Fall/Winter Vol. XII/XIII (2001) National Japanese American Historical Society: 23.

[26] Okita, David.  “Redevelopment of San Francisco Japantown.” Thesis.  California State University, Hayward, 1980: 44.

[27] Mollenkopf, John H.  “The Contested City” Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey 1983: 196. 

[28] Okita, David.  “Redevelopment of San Francisco Japantown.” Thesis.  California State University, Hayward, 1980: 54.

[29] A significant phenomenon occurred in 1968 when minority-led students at San Francisco State College and conducted a strike in support of the establishment of a School of Ethnic Studies, including Japanese American Studies.  One offshoot of the strike was the development of a new breed of self-determining community-based organizations (CBOs) organized by students and community activists from the Sansei generation.  The first CBO, Japanese Community Youth Council (JCYC), was housed in Japantown, first at Sturge Hall at Christ United Presbyterian Church, then in a Redevelopment-owned building for $1 a year at 1808A Sutter Street.


From this initial organization rose new CBOs to provide social services to various community constituencies such as Kimochi (elderly), Japanese Community Services (mental health and immigrants) and the Japantown Collective (political).  These and many other newly established Japanese American organizations rented the old, Victorian buildings owned by the Redevelopment Agency.


In 1976, JCYC rented 2012 Pine Street from the San Francisco United Methodist Mission which in 1906 was Episcopal/Methodist.  The building was previously utilized by a Filipino Methodist Congregation known as Alternative Futures Non-Profit.  Subsequently, other CBOs purchased land in Japantown and built their own facilities including, the National Japanese American Citizens League headquarter office in the 70's, and in 1983 Kimochi Home and the Japanese Community and Cultural Center. Today, Kimochi, Inc. owns a second building, formerly Nichi Bei Bussan Department Store, on the Buchanan Mall.

[30] Sales Ledgers

[31]BMS Design Group, et al. Concepts for the Japantown Community Plan, Japantown Planning, Preservation and Development Task Force.  2000: 63


[32] Data sheets will be added as members of the community continue to identify more matrix listings for cultural preservation.

[33] BMS Design Group, et al. Concepts for the Japantown Community Plan, Japantown Planning, Preservation and Development Task Force.  2000: 58