By June Hibino. Posted July 18, 2023.
In 1975 and 1976 in San Francisco, members of the Committee Against Nihonmachi Eviction (CANE) – tired of seeing residents and small businesses being ignored and disrespected by the Redevelopment Agency (RDA) – staged sit-ins at the Mayor’s office and at the RDA office in the Western Addition.
These sit-ins, along with many other protests and tenant support activities, will be fondly remembered when former CANE activists and supporters gather at the Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Northern California on August 19 to celebrate their efforts to stop the destruction and dispersal of Nihonmachi.
In 1973, 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 SF Redevelopment Agency’s final push to destroy Nihonmachi.
Having seen their long-time friends evicted and dispersed from Japantown, residents described the evictions 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.
In a 1977 interview, March Dobashi, owner of Yamato Auto Garage, spoke about CANE’s impact on him as one of those facing eviction by the Redevelopment Agency:
“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!”
CANE fought throughout the 1970s to keep residents and small shopkeepers from being evicted and demanded that RDA rehabilitate the buildings for low-rent housing instead of tearing them down.
It sought to preserve Nihonmachi as the historic and cultural center for future generations of Japanese Americans. CANE opposed the gentrification and transformation of Nihonmachi into a tourist attraction and organized demonstrations, letter writing, petitions, sit-ins and even had members move into some of the apartments to help the tenants keep watch against suspicious fires.
By the late 1970s, 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.
As Mickey Imura, one of the organizers of the Anniversary Celebration commented, “August 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, and performances by Jiten Taiko and Bill Tamayo 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 be on August 19, 2 pm at 1840 Sutter St., San Francisco. For more information and to RSVP, please visit the website at: www.cane50.org.
(June Hibino, part of the CANE 50th Anniversary Planning Committee, now lives in Los Angeles and is active in Little Tokyo-based Nikkei Progressives.)