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.