In Little Tokyo in the 1970s, community activists and residents came together to form the Little Tokyo People’s Rights Organization to fight evictions and displacement of residents in the Sun Building and the Masago, Alan and other buildings and to advocate for redevelopment that benefited the community, not Japanese corporations.

At the same time, in San Francisco Japantown (Nihonmachi), a similar fight was taking place.  In 1973, the Committee Against Nihonmachi Eviction (CANE) was started by young activists who had marched against the Vietnam War and identified with the Black Power/Third World struggles of the day. It quickly grew into an intergenerational organization of residents, small shopkeepers and students who stood up against the S.F. Redevelopment Agency’s (RDA) final push to destroy the Japanese community.

Japantown resident and CANE member Helen Liveritte speaks out at a CANE meeting. CANE was an intergenerational community organization. (Photo by Boku Kodama)

In 1975 and 1976, CANE – tired of seeing residents and small businesses being harassed and threatened by the RDA – staged sit-ins at the Mayor’s Office and at the RDA office in the Western Addition, demanding that RDA stop the evictions and meet with the community, which it had consistently refused to do.

These sit-ins, along with many other protests and tenant support activities, will be fondly remembered when former CANE members and supporters gather at the Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Northern California on Aug. 19 to celebrate their efforts to stop the destruction and dispersal of Nihonmachi.

February 1975 sit-in by CANE members at the Western Addition RDA office. Author June Hibino is fourth from the left. Photo: New Dawn Newspaper

The Nisei and Issei had just started to get back on their feet after the war when the evictions started. These evictions were described by many as the “second destruction and dispersal of the community,” referring to the U.S. government’s forced mass removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Throughout the 1970s, CANE fought to keep residents and small shopkeepers from being evicted and pushed the RDA to rehabilitate buildings for low-rent housing and small business space. It opposed the gentrification and transformation of Nihonmachi into a tourist attraction, dictated by the Bay Area Master Plan.

March Dobashi, owner of Yamato Auto Garage, had been forced through eminent domain to sell his home for the widening of Geary Boulevard. In a 1977 interview, March spoke about CANE’s impact on him as he again faced eviction by RDA:

“I was approached to join with CANE and consequently, their fight was for my survival… There was no one in Japanese Town to stand up on our behalf … I notice these young people of today – really standing up and fighting for their rights and also for all the injustices that was done to us.

“….So, when these young kids say, ‘Mr. Dobashi, you gotta fight; join us, I thought that was a splendid idea! …. CANE put a lot of pressure on the RDA, so consequently, CANE was being heard, being recognized and respected, so when CANE demanded certain things, the RDA gave me this place — temporarily, maybe – but still, it’s a place where I could work. The only thing I can say is, if it wasn’t for CANE, I would be pounding  the beat – the pavement!”

March Dobashi was forced to sell his home for the widening of Geary Boulevard. His business faced a second eviction by RDA.

By the time CANE formed, redevelopment was already in its last phase. Nevertheless, CANE, guided by the residents’ words, “It’s ++the people++ who define a community,” fought to keep residents in Nihonmachi as long as possible and to save the precious remaining blocks as the historic, cultural and living center for future generations of Japanese Americans. CANE relied on door-to-door grassroots organizing and its tactics included demonstrations, sit-ins and picket lines, along with legal strategies, petition drives and publicity campaigns.

Members even moved into some of the apartments to help the residents keep watch against suspicious fires and were willing to be arrested to stop them from being evicted.

CANE members and residents on Sutter Street. (Photo by Boku Kodama)

By the late 1970s, with redevelopment coming to a close, CANE began to help organize the Tule Lake Pilgrimages and after 1980, it transformed into the Japanese Community Progressive Alliance and joined the National Coalition for Redress and Reparations.

In 2021, former CANE activists began planning a 50th anniversary celebration to highlight CANE’s accomplishments and historical importance and to spark dialogue about the current state and future of San Francisco’s Nihonmachi.

As Mickey Imura, one of the organizers of the anniversary celebration, expressed, “Aug. 19 will be a wonderful time to reconnect with old friends from the CANE days, some of whom will be coming from as far away as Japan to attend the event.”

Highlights of the program include a preview of a new CANE documentary by Boku Kodama, a slideshow of CANE members in memoriam, and toasts from former CANE members and supporters. Accomplished poet/spoken-word artist AK Black, accompanied by musician/composer Francis Wong, will perform Black’s poem “Still I Rise,” about resistance to the destruction of J-Town. Performances by Jiten Taiko and music by Bill Tamayo and Peter Horikoshi will round out the program.

Photos of CANE activities and a memorabilia exhibit will be on display and souvenir copies of the new CANE T-shirts will be available for purchase.

The CANE 50th Anniversary event will take place on Saturday, Aug. 19, at 2 p.m. at the JCCCNC, 1840 Sutter St., San Francisco. For more information and to RSVP, please visit the website at


June Hibino, part of the CANE 50th Anniversary Planning Committee, now lives in Los Angeles and is active in Little Tokyo-based Nikkei Progressives.

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