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.”[1]


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.[2] 


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.


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


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