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Steve Nakajo
Community Activist
Executive Director, Kimochi, Inc.
Fillmore Resident

Steve Nakajo
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Video Credit: KQED


Fillmore Japanese American business
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Photo Credit: San Francisco Public Library


On Walking Down Fillmore Street in the late 1950s

My world starts from Octavia and Bush at Morning Star Schoolyard. There was a Buddhist church across the street, and on Bush Street was Octavia's Green Eye Hospital, we used to call it. From school, with a couple of friends of mine, we took our daily descent down here to J-town. By the time you get down to Bush Street and Laguna, the commercial community starts to appear. You're passing African American churches. You're passing Victorian storefronts that were part of tofu or bean cake factories. You're passing Yamato Garage which repairs cars.


On the corner would be Wong's Bait Shop because fishing was a big deal for the Japanese American community. Then as you descended down Post Street from Laguna, you started to see barber shops, merchandise shops, Japanese artifacts, and all of a sudden, there's Jimbo's Bop City. If you were really hip in this community, you'd try to sneak out of your house at about 2am to be able to hear all the jazz that was going on in the club. Just an entire community, a whole wonderful world.

Fillmore Street
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Photo Credit: San Francisco Public Library


Fillmore redevelopment
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Photo Credit: San Francisco Redevelopment Agency

On the Western Addition in 1970

Ever get into a situation where sometimes your mood is gray and everything is overcast, cloudy and gloomy? Riding the 22 Fillmore during the days when the Redevelopment process was in full effect, the bulldozing of the buildings, you could ride Fillmore with all of those skeletons of all these buildings boarded up, dismal and desolate, from the turn down Hayes Valley all the way down to Sutter Street. All the way down. And you could flash back again to the days when you could walk down the street and there would be folks hanging out and businesses, markets and drugstores, compared to nothing at all. You could stand and look down the street two blocks and see somebody down there. That's how clear your vision was after the buildings were knocked down.

On the Day of Remembrance

The Day of Remembrance is an attempt to acknowledge that particular experience of the camps within the community. It's been almost fifty years. I work with the elders, the nisei or second generation of Japanese Americans; they're one of the last generations that experienced the camps. That particular event is something that must always be embedded within the experience of our Japanese American community. When you begin to understand that that particular experience happened to your folks, it's devastating. But as a result of the camp experience is this other Japanese American trait: do whatever you can do to be successful. If you have all these freedoms in front of you at this particular time, it's hard to talk about this kind of history in terms of humble or restricted beginnings. Most of the representatives who lit the symbolic candles of the ten concentration camps were younger people. How they interpret that experience and how they participate in a Day of Remembrance and how that applies to today is really the question at hand. For me, that interpretation is the very survival of Nihonmachi, Japantown.



Day of Remembrance in Japantown
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Photo Credit: KQED

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