From left: Lewis Kawahara, Wesley Nihei, Mark Izu, Nina Bazan-Sakamoto, Sandy Mori, Steve Nakajo.

SAN FRANCISCO — In an era of increasing homogeneity and globalization, local communities, the arts, traditions, history, and ways of life are among the most endangered resources, and precious assets. San Francisco Japantown, one of the last three remaining Japantowns in the entire U.S., is not an exception.

This historic neighborhood of over 123 years, has already survived two major waves of displacements that has significantly reduced its geographic area from nearly 30 square blocks to approximately four blocks. Although the forces of gentrification and displacement relentlessly continues to encroach, the Japantown community has sought a precious opportunity to counteract these forces, and change the course of events.

For the first time in history, Japantown has been designated as a San Francisco Cultural District, and embraces an opportunity to define and determine its own future. Through a community-wide collaborative effort, the historic neighborhood embarks a path to develop innovative strategies for its survival and sustainability.

The vision of the S.F. Japantown Cultural District is that “San Francisco Japantown will thrive as a culturally rich, authentic, and economically vibrant neighborhood which will serve as the cultural heart of the Japanese and Japanese American communities for generations to come.”

The Japantown Cultural District is one of seven San Francisco Cultural Districts, and is a formalized collaborative partnership with the City and County of San Francisco to stabilize historic communities at risk of displacement and gentrification. Japantown Task Force (JTF) submitted a Request for Proposals and was granted with support to develop a strategic plan for Japantown through extensive community engagement and input.

By utilizing JCHESS as a foundational document, the JTF team will compile a report called the CHHESS (Cultural History, Housing, and Economic Sustainability Strategy) Report, which will be submitted to the city in 2020, and will focus on implementable action items. The CHHESS will address six key areas:

• Cultural Heritage Conservation & Sustainability

• Tenant Protections

• Arts and Culture

• Economic & Workforce Development

• Land Use/Environmental Resilience

• Cultural Competency

It is for the community to define what these six areas mean to them and how they will be addressed and leveraged for years to come. The CHHESS report process gives the community a voice, and an opportunity develop a model comprised of strategies and infrastructures necessary to sustain Japantown into the future.

The JTF Team will be hosting two large community town hall meetings for community input, as well as a multitude of focus group meetings, and individual meetings with community members, executive directors of organizations, businesses, and artists to gain understanding their current status and ideas. Upcoming meetings that everyone is invited to participate in are:

• The Japantown Cultural District mini launch event taking place at Aki Matsuri (Autumn Festival) on Oct. 19 from 12 to 5 p.m. at the Peace Plaza, Post and Buchanan streets.

• The Community Town Hall Meeting, Round 1 on Nov. 14 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Union Bank Room.

• The Japantown Cultural District grand launch event taking place during Cherry Blossom Festival 2020.

Last month, the JTF welcomed the Japantown Cultural District Project Team composed of five core members: Executive Director Steve Nakajo, Project Manager Nina Bazan-Sakamoto, Consultant Mark Izu, Consultant Lewis Kawahara, and Editor Wes Nihei.

Bazan-Sakamoto is a visionary community organizer with a background in international relations and environmental politics. She grew up in San Francisco and Osaka, and has worked closely with the Japantown community. She excels in public outreach, event production, creative strategies, is fluent in Japanese, and is passionate about collaborative management as pathway to developing innovative solutions.

As the Cultural District project manager, she will be leading the team on the overall project plan, and engaging with the community for input on the CHHESS report.

Kawahara, who grew up in San Mateo, is an Asian American Studies professor, researcher, and writer at a multitude of institutions, including the Japanese American National Museum, San Francisco State University, Center for Asian American Media, Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, California State Library, and the DeYoung Museum. As the consultant, he will be working on the overall report, while focusing on Japantown cultural heritage.

Izu is a composer, performer, educator, and film producer rooted in San Francisco Japantown. He is a pioneer in Asian American jazz and has received numerous awards, including an Emmy for his contributions to American art. As the consultant, he will be contributing his creative expertise and contributing to the overall CHHESS report content, especially in the areas overlapping with arts and culture for the Japantown community.

Nihei grew up in S.F. Japantown, and is a seasoned editor and project coordinator, that has been active in Japantown as an executive decision maker, department manager, content editor, social service provider, and community events coordinator. As the editor, he will be consolidating and drafting the content for the CHHESS report.

All five team members will be hosting Community Town Hall Meetings for community input, and will also be scheduling appointments to meet with vast numbers of community organizations, businesses, groups to gain ideas, input, and build collaboration. This community project will not only engage the geographic area of San Francisco Japantown, but the whole community, now dispersed throughout the region.

The Japantown Cultural District is a precious opportunity for the community to strengthen its existing connections, build new alliances, and come up with innovative solutions to sustain Japantown as the Cultural Heart of Japanese and Japanese Americans for generations to come.

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