Frank Jang at the Chinatown Photographic Society in San Francisco.
As a visitor walks down the steps to the gallery space, he’s greeted by the buzz of people discussing photography. Bright lighting illuminates dozens of great photographs mounted, framed and arranged on the walls. Photographers are looking through their portfolios of work, giving each other advice. In a separate room, a group of photographers is crouched around a computer screen, clicking through images and discussing which is best.
This is the Chinatown Photographic Society (CPS) in San Francisco, and it’s a hub of creative energy, humming with purpose and resulting in an incredible high level of artistic work on the walls.
And, surprisingly, most of the photographers in the room are 50+. Many of the Society’s members are in their 60s, 70s and 80s. The oldest member is 94. He, along with several other current members, were on hand at the start, when the CPS was formed 48 years ago. Just think: in 1967 San Francisco was in the throes of “The Summer of Love” and Chinatown was the undisputed center of Northern California’s Chinese community and culture.
Denver’s Japanese community knew it was coming: Even before the current angst and pain that newspapers in general are feeling thanks to declining circulation and dire economic times, the city’s Japanese newspaper, the Rocky Mountain Jiho, shut down. Its owners, Eiichi and Yoriko Imada, had been subsidizing the weekly newspaper, which had one or two pages of news and features in English followed by a handful of pages of local and international news in Japanese, out of their own pockets for years. The advertising wasn’t paying for the publication. But the paper had been part of the community for decades (they bought it from its previous owner in the 1980s), so they couldn’t afford to keep it running anymore.
It was the Imadas who got me to write a weekly column about life from a Japanese American perspective on a volunteer basis, and suggested the name “Nikkei View.” I started posting the columns online and I’ve never stopped, eventually turning the column into a Web site that covered not just JA, but also Asian American Pacific Islander issues.
Meanwhile, the Jiho ran out of money, time and energy. That was several years ago.
Now, even older, more established community newspapers — which are among the “vernacular press,” or foreign language media that serve immigrant communities throughout the U.S. — in areas with Japanese populations are starting to shut down. The San Francisco area has shockingly lost both its Japanese papers in recent months.
The Nichi Bei Times was closed two months ago, and the Hokubei Mainichi just announced its imminent closure in October, but finally ceased publication and cleaned out its offices this week. Continue reading
I just had a great meal at our favorite restaurant in San Francisco’s Japantown, Iroha. It’s a noodle house that serves up a great deal: A lunch combination special of ramen topped with a couple slices of pork, and gyoza dumplings on the side.
The restaurant is more crowded than usual, and filled with lots of non-Japanese who are here for the first time. That’s because J-Town in general is hopping this weekend. It’s the second weekend of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, or Sakura Matsuri. There are vendors with booths selling everything from junky trinkets to high-class jewelry, lots of food and stages of performers and martial arts demonstrations, all with a Japanese focus.
But there’s also a Japanese American undercurrent, with young people flocking to stores that specialize in anime and Jpop music. It’s a cool mix of traditional and contemporary — much like J-Town itself. Continue reading