The proposed conversion of a tourist hotel in San Francisco’s Japantown into a homeless shelter has become a battleground to save the dwindling community.
Some 200 Japanese Americans from a wide variety of non-profits and activists issued a statement calling the Hotel Buchanan “part of the lifeblood of Japantown.”
“We have built this community from nothing against all odds, and that hotel is part of the lifeblood of Japantown, supports our small businesses and restaurants, and employs many local workers,” the group said in a statement published in Rafu.
Earlier this month, the city announced it planned to buy the Hotel Buchanan and convert it into housing for the homeless, reported the Nichi Bei Weekly.
“I was shocked, but I was also pissed that something like this would happen, and that it would be fast-tracked,” Paul Osaki, executive director of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, told the Nichi Bei Weekly.
Once a thriving community, Japantown began to dwindle after many were herded into incarceration camps during World War II. At the end of the war, many dispersed into other parts of the country and did not return.
By 1950, according to an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle by Meridith Oda, the population of Japanese Americans in Japantown had fallen to 16%. Just 2,000 remained in 1970 and redevelopment since then, has threatened the community even more.
The pandemic has forced the permanent closure of several small businesses in the area…adding to the angst.
“From the onset, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) has not exhibited any cultural sensitivity or historical knowledge of the suffering and sacrifices that Japantown has endured,” the statement read. “We do not see a commitment to social and racial equity. This action is reminiscent of the mentality that government entities know what is best for our community and use their power to impose it…We demand that the Hotel Buchanan be removed from further consideration.
San Francisco’s Japantown is one of three just left in the country. The others are Little Tokyo in Los Angeles and Nihonmachi in San Jose.
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