Last summer, the California Arts Council awarded one of its first “Creative California Communities” grants to First Voice of San Francisco to support “Suite J-Town,” a multicultural, inter-generational series of events, performances and exhibits created to revitalize the San Francisco Japantown neighborhood, celebrate its 100-year history, and commission young artists to contribute their voice for future generations. This is their story, in words and pictures.
WHAT SUITE J-TOWN ACCOMPLISHED:
by Brenda Wong Aoki & Mark Izu, First Voice
Japantown Mandala and Gallery Opening
Suite J-Town Artists, J-Tells, and Staff spent valuable time in the community making artwork that was presented in the Suite J-Town pop-up gallery. The featured commissioned pieces were a 10-foot MANDALA by Nancy Hom and a PRAYER PAGODA by Kevin King.
Included in the exhibition were recently discovered pre-war Japanese artifacts hidden in the Buddhist Church during the incarceration: Kabuki theatrical flats, paintings of Jizo, and a steamer trunk that made it back from Heart Mountain prison camp. At the opening event, Rev. Masato Kawahatsuof Konko Church carried out a cleansing ritual to bless the space. The gallery also featured art by next-generation artists: Marissa Bergmann, Charlene Kelley, Junho Kim, Eryn Kimura, Celi Tamayo-Lee, Yuki Maruyama, Elena Nielsen and Ayana Yonesaka.Underground Film Festival
Junho Kim curated four nights of film screenings, a list which included Monk by Blood (2013) by Ema Ryan Yamazaki, Mrs. Judo (2012) by Yuriko Gamo Romer, Departing (2014) by Jing Niu, and After Life (1998) by Hirokazu Koreeda.
Cultures of Resilience
We were honored to present former Poet Laureates of San Francisco Janice Mirikitani and devorah major, who shared insight into the Afro-Asian cultural history of Japantown through storytelling, poetry, and community dialogue. By their side were next-generation artists and activists KK Aoki Izu, Javonte Holloway (Kaly Jay), and Tanea Lunsford moderated by Eryn Kimura and featuring Brenda Wong Aoki.
A Walk Through Time: A New Obon for J-Town
We wrapped up the festival with site-specific multidisciplinary performances: a joyous, colorful celebration of Japantown’s past, present, and future via music, dance, and storytelling featuring world class artists Kenny Endo, Moy Eng, Shoko Hikage, Mark
Izu, Masaru Koga, Marina
Fukushima, John-Carlos Perea, and Brenda Wong Aoki. At the end, everyone (audience included!) transitioned to the Japantown Peace Plaza where we encouraged everyone to dance and celebrate in our NEW OBON FOR J-TOWN! It was such a joy to see everyone that makes up Japantown standing together: community members, multiracial generations, young and old, artists, dancers, shopkeepers, families. Together, our rainbow-hued festivities drew the attention of the entire Peace Plaza in a moment of culminating JOY!