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Friday, June 12, 2009

My Letter to the Japantown Community about the Better Neighborhood Plan

My plan was to e-mail this letter to literally the entire Japantown community, from community leaders, communtity members, old friends, colleagues; just anyone who has a shred of involvement with Japantown.

It turned out, it's a little difficult to get a list going, so I think posting it online for the entire world to see is a better option. I'm going to piss-off some, and satisfy others.

If you would like to attend a community meeting, it is this Sunday, June 14, 2009 from 2-4PM at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California in Japantown.


To the Japantown community and leadership:

Many of you know who I am. I am sometimes controversial, unconventional, and have earned the true respect of this community in early 2006 when I handed over 16,000 signatures in support of Japantown with the belief and encouragement of my late grandmother to step up and fight for what is right. If you have not read my
blog (an online diary of sorts), you are in for a treat; I dislike the way this city runs, but I always have the true respect to write about the place I call "home," Japantown. Without my strong blog readership and the local blogging community's support, Japantown would not have the numbers to stand-up against the aggression shown by the developer and tenant association president of the 1600 Webster (old J-Town bowl) last year when The Nihonmachi Streetfair was threatened.

I still recall the day when I handed those petition signatures to the Mayor's office. It was a great day for Japantown when everyone in the community and around the world came together as one and believed in the immediate "saving" of our community. It was near impossible to oppose such a passionate effort. But as I look at our community today with the Better Neighborhood Plan, we are divided, with many of our prominent community leaders in full support of the plan, while other Sansei (third generation), and a lot of the Yonsei (fourth generation) are against a drastic change to the community.

As many of you know, the SF Planning Commission will be having a vote on endorsement near the end of June, and I encourage all of you to ask the board to delay this; not endorse, nor reject. I am really curious into why we are rushing this draft neighborhood plan, as it was released not very long ago. I can understand the fiscal year will end in just a month, but what are we afraid of to just ask the commission to give the J-Town community some more time so more people can get involved with enhancing and debating a plan that may help or even hurt our community?

You must understand, the Yonsei will be the next generation of community leaders. We also have a growing population of mixed heritage Japanese Americans, where currently, 1/3 of the ENTIRE Japanese American population are of mixed ancestries. The mixed heritage Yonsei population will play a major and serious role in the future of Japantown, and is researched in my Master's thesis (if you want an electronic copy, please ask me).

If the community, including its young adults do not come together and work on a deal that satisfies all, this community will stay divided, and in the end of all this, the future leaders and community members will regret what may happen to our proud community.

While we have suffered with being kicked out of our homes and sent to internment camps, and being kicked-out again for redevelopment, I believe this unique community has stood-up and stayed strong. I call this a unique community because in such a small area, we have so much to be proud of; a shopping center, literally a destination for everything Japanese, two hotels, a community center, multiple places of worship, community organizations helping the young and old, and family businesses still here after all these decades.
So I don't understand, why change the status-quo? Why do I keep hearing that our beloved Japan Center should be torn down, parking from the lot gone, and take a huge risk of losing the character and financial economy of our community? I wrote in my blog over TEN MONTHS AGO, way before the topic of Japan Center was being discussed just a week ago:

"Today, we are struggling with the planned demolition and renovation of the Japan center. There is word that they will destroy our existing infrastructure and insert something even worse: a taller facility that houses businesses and homes, and may destroy the economy of our community. Those malls and the businesses who lease the spaces make a big impact to our community, and if they destroy the malls and the shopkeeps are forced to find somewhere else, will they ever return? Will they be guaranteed a space with the promise of the same rent rate?
It seems that nobody has the true guts to ask this question to the people.

Many Japanese Americans in our community have this feeling that they should not speak out..."

But fortunately, I am proud to speak out...

Isn't this interesting?
I think Japantown is doing well as-is. I will admit, the Japan center could really use a big refurbishment job to make it up to building codes and earthquake regulations. People believe Japantown is a "dead" place where there's no nightlife, when in fact, the restaurants are doing a killing on business. On a Tuesday evening last July, I finished an interview for my M.A. thesis project and it was quite late (8:30PM), and I decided to go to one of my favorite restaurants in the Kintetsu mall. As I walked around the mall, I noticed every single restaurant, including the very pricy Benihana, full of people patronizing and eating Japanese food. You can read more here: http://www.akit.org/2008/07/wondering-about-japantowns-future.html

I personally feel that Japantown is getting an economic boom and is helping to preserve and shape our community in new ways, including the redefinition of "community membership." To explain this, here is a very important paragraph I wrote in my Master's thesis:


[Harry] Kitano’s argument about the inevitable progressive assimilation of Japanese Americans specifically focuses on the eventual loss of Japanese American customs that have been in existence for over one hundred years; and similarly, [Rebecca] King-O’Riain also argues that people in Japanese American communities are continuing to identify with the traditional Japanese American ideals and customs. However, one complication of the theories of assimilation and persistence based on the traditional Japanese American ideals and customs is Japanese contemporary popular culture, better known as “J-Pop.” Japanese popular culture consists of imported media from Japan , such as Pokemon (“Pocket Monsters”), Yu-Gi-Oh, Sailor Moon, and other Japanese animation. The attractiveness of Japanese popular culture for Japanese American communities creates complications because it conflicts with the theories that support assimilation and persistence based only on the persistence of “traditional” Japanese American culture, i.e. Meiji-era Japanese culture that has been transformed through a century of American culture. Japanese popular culture also creates complications within membership of a Japanese American community; membership into a Japanese American community through “traditional” means that the person must be of at least part Japanese American by ancestry (King-O’Riain 57), while Japanese popular culture welcomes anyone, including non-Japanese Americans to participate and invest into the Japanese American communities. While these two issues blur the line between what is community membership and not, Japanese American communities have embraced “J-Pop” as an economic boost. “J-Pop” brings in more customers to existing Japanese American businesses and “J-Pop” themed establishments such as Hotel Tomo, and cultural events, such as the Anime Fair and Parade during the San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival, have helped reinvigorate Japantowns. “J-Pop” has also been able to contribute a kind of re-Japanification to Japanese American communities, and encourages Japanese Americans to re-identify with Japanese American identities and cultures through a non-“traditional” style.

Everyone, it is now time to talk. The future of Japantown is in our hands and we don't get many opportunities like this. Use your voice, or use that keyboard and speak your mind; don't be afraid if you are going against popular opinion or will receive retribution from your friends, family, and peers for your own views. I'm just as bold as my late grandmother to write this e-mail; Sox was up against a big opposition of Japanese Americans who thought redress was a joke, but look at what happened in 1988, it became reality.


annie said...

Was the community meeting announced to the community (not just the Japanese-American community, but the many of us who live in Japantown and would be greatly affected by this plan)? I sure didn't see anything. I know we are considered evil, but most of us like where we live and chose it for a reason. We own there, and could have a big help in things, but I sure am not seeing much outreach on things like these.

I am writing my supervisor and others, but it would be nice to hear about these things so we, too, can participate.

Akit said...

I'm not sure who received the notice about the meeting. All I know is that it was mass e-mailed.