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Semifinal List of Portraits for proposed San Francisco Japantown History Mural Project

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

Nomination Process for Portraits to be included on Japantown History Mural

The SF JACL established the following criteria for portrait nominees:

1. Established and built San Francisco Japantown and who have made significant contributions

to continue to build and preserve it; or

2. Advanced our diverse stories and history through education, the arts and culture; or

3. Played a leadership role in social justice and civil rights issues

Each criterion should have a significant connection to San Francisco Japantown.

Nominations closed at midnight on December 31, 2022. The goal is to identify 10-12 notables to be included in the proposed mural.

The initial list contained 73 names, including individuals both living and deceased. In reviewing nominations, the SFJACL board determined that, to be considered further, candidates should only include deceased individuals. Nominations were posted on the website in advance of the January 12 community meeting. At the conclusion of that meeting, 27 finalists were announced. The list of finalists is posted below.

Semifinal List of Portraits for proposed San Francisco Japantown History Mural Project

At its January 12, 2023 meeting, the Advisory Committee for the Japantown History Mural Project selected the following 27 nominees for portraits on the proposed Mural. The list below is divided up into Timeline Eras and note the accomplishments of each nominee

At its January 12, 2023 meeting, the Advisory Committee for the Japantown History Mural Project selected the following 27 nominees for portraits on the proposed Mural. This list of 27 will be reduced to a smaller number of approximately 8 at the public meeting to be held on January 30, 2023. The list below is divided up into Timeline Eras and list the accomplishments of each nominee.

Timeline Era: Issei/Early Japantown

Kyutaro Abiko & Yona Abiko


  • Pioneer publisher of Japanese language newspaper Nichi Bei Shimbun

  • Purchased land to establish Yamato colony (1907)

  • Early leader of San Francisco Japanese Christian community.


  • First woman to own a Japanese language newspaper in the US

  • Chief leader, fundraiser for the Japantown YWCA building

  • Champion of women's higher education in Japan; raised money nationally to rebuild Tsuda College in Tokyo, destroyed by earthquake

Shichinosuke Asano

  • After career with Asahi Shimbun in Japan, became long-time Japanese editor of Nichi Bei Shimbun, founder of postwar Nichi Bei Times

  • Champion of civil rights, particularly of Issei, including access to citizenship and land ownership

  • Led effort to send postwar relief packages to Japan through Licenses Agencies for Relief in Asia (LARA) which eventually sent 3.5 million pounds of food, clothing, medicine

George Togasaki

  • First Japanese President of Rotary International

  • Led opposition to San Francisco Board of Education actions to segregate Japanese, Korean students into "Oriental School"

  • Recipient of Elise and Walter A. Haas International Award to UC Berkeley alumni from another country (1968)

Archbishop Nitten Ishida

  • Founder of Nichiren Hokke Buddhist Church of America

  • Founding President of the Japanese American Religious Federation, established Hinode Tower/Nihonmachi Terrace

  • Master calligrapher who taught for 60 years

Issei/Pre-war onward

Hisako Hibi

  • Japan-born American Issei painter and printmaker whose works were exhibited by the Oakland Museum

  • Founding instructor of Tanforan Art School, Topaz Art School

  • Early member of the Asian American Women's Artists Association

Yoshiye Togasaki

  • First Japanese American woman to work in a California public health lab

  • Postwar Medical Officer of United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration

  • At Manzanar and Tule Lake, advocated for proper sewage, food safety, clean water, baby formula

Issei/World War II

James Wakasa

  • Japan-born chef and World War I veteran based in San Francisco before the incarceration

  • Murdered by a prison guard at Tule Lake; the administration's denial of a memorial service led to the community to erect a monument that was immediately removed

  • Discovery of the hidden and buried Wakasa Memorial in 2020 has brought renewed attention to the tragedy and injustice of Wakasa's murder

Nisei/Active 1950s onward

Jimbo Edwards

  • Founder of Jimbo's Bob City in SF Japanatown, featuring John Coltraine, Miles David, Billie Holiday

  • With a cover fee of just $4, Jimbo Edwards welcomed everyone to his club, regardless of ethnicity or means

  • Subject of documentary film "Legend of Bop City" (1998)

Edison Uno

  • Fought for repeal of "Emergency Detention Act/Title II of the Internal Security Act of 1950" which would have permitted future concentration camps

  • After 1,647 days, last US citizen to leave Crystal City in protest of his father's detention

  • As JACL Chapter President, activist, early advocate of redress movement & champion of designating Manzanar a historical landmark. After untimely death at age 47, National JACL established Edison Uno Award

Clifford Uyeda

  • Past National JACL President; Chair of JACL Redress campaign

  • Co-founder of Center for Japanese American Studies to support the fledgling Asian American Studies program at SF State University

  • JACL National Committee for Iva Toguri (aka "Tokyo Rose), helping to secure a Presidential pardon in 1977

Nisei/Active 1960s onward

Ruth Asawa

  • Internationally recognized artist, sculptor

  • Champion of arts education in San Francisco public school; Founder of Alvarado School Arts Workshop (1968), advocate for SF School of the Arts (later named Ruth Asawa School of the Arts)

  • Served on CA Arts Council, National Endowment of the Arts, Fine Arts Museums of SF Board of Trustees

James Hirabayashi

  • Founding Dean of the SFSU College of Ethnic Studies, the first school of ethnic studies in the nation

  • Founding adviser of the SFSU Asian American Political Alliance

  • Inspired generations of students to pursue ethnic studies, community advocacy.

Hiroshi Kashiwagi

  • Award-winning playwright, actor, poet, memoirist

  • Founder of the Japanese American collection at the Western Addition Branch of the SF Public Library

  • Frequent speaker on draft resister experience, movement

Toshi Koba

  • Social worker on staff at the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center for 32 years, bridging the Japanese American and Black communities

  • Mentored another young social worker Yori Wada on meeting the needs of young people across communities

  • Pine Methodist Church named a memorial scholarship for Toshi Koba

Kathleen "Kay* & Takeo Okamoto

  • Takeo: Founder of legacy business T. Okamoto & Company; Kay: Founding Coordinator of the Hamilton Senior Center where she served for 30 years

  • Takeo: Founding member of Japanese Business Club of SF, JCCCNC, Kokusai Shigin Group; Kay: President of the North American Federation of Young Women's Buddhist Asso

  • Takeo Okamoto Community Leadership Award and the Kay Okamoto Volunteer Award were merged to create the Takeo and Kay Okamoto Community Award

Michi Onuma

  • Journalist and English Editor of both Nichi Bei Times and the Hokubei Mainichi

  • Founding member of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California

  • Board of Directors for the YWCA

Wayne Osaki

  • Architect known for design of several buildings in Japantown and the Western Addition: JCCCNC, JCYC, Allen Temple Baptist Church, to name a few

  • Helped organize the Western Addition Community Organization (WACO) in 1966 a committee of Japanese and African American activists who opposed the Redevelopment. WACO won a lawsuit against the Redevelopment Agency that secured residents’ unprecedented representation in redevelopment decisions.

  • Osaki also wrote a critically acclaimed children’s book, “My Dog Teny,” which was based on his experience of having to leave his childhood dog behind as he was shipped to Tule Lake concentration camp during WWII

Yori Wada

  • Executive Director of the Buchanan YMCA and led the Western Addition Council of Youth Serving Agencies

  • Fought for inclusivity as a member of the San Francisco Civil Service Commission to allow more minorities and women to serve in the police and fire departments.

  • First Asian American UC Regent who advocated for affirmative action and UC divestment in South Africa

Sansei/Active 1960s onward

Janice Mirikitani

  • Founding President of the Glide Foundation; tireless advocate of the poor, marginalized

  • Award winning poet, writer, performer; named San Francisco Poet Laureate by Mayor Willie L. Brown, Jr.

  • Recipient of awards from the Before Columbus Foundation, CA State Assembly, SF Chamber of Commerce, the University of California

Thomatra Scott

  • Thomatra Scott aka "Scotty" acted as an important bridge between the African American and Japanese American communities

  • Scotty was a founding member of the Westside Mental Health Center and a member of the Western Addition Council of Youth Serving Organizations

  • Scotty was a community organizer at JCYC who focused on preventing youth substance abuse

Nisei /Active 1970s onward

Helen Cooke Jones

  • As part of the Japantown neighborhood, Helen Jones was an active member of the Committee Against Nihonmachi Eviction in the 1970s

  • As a historian at the African American Historical and Cultural Society, she wrote and directed plays in the community documenting the history of African Americans in California.. After receiving a master's in broadcasting from SFSU, she taught inner-city kids how to produce videos and radio shows

  • Of Mohawk Indian and Black descent, arrived from Philadelphia as a poor single mother of three young children. Lived in a shelter for women until she could land on their feet. Found friends and a new family in Japantown

Tomoye & Henri Takahashi

  • The Takahashi Trading Company imported finely crafted home goods from Japan for their growing number of Takahashi retail stores in the Bay Area and NYC

  • Established along with Martha Suzuki, the Takahashi Family Foundation in 1968 and have been major philanthropists in Japantown

  • Tomoye Takahashi was awarded Japan’s highest award of the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays for their contribution toward strengthening US-Japan relations and their work in the community

Sansei/Active 1970s onward

Wes Senzaki

  • Wes was an activist-artist who was an active member of the CANE Newsletter Committee where he began to hone his artist expression as a political activist

  • Wes was a founding member of Japantown Art and Media Workshop that provided a place for politically conscious art and offered art classes that people normally could not afford. Then JAM started graphic services. and special art projects such as the Asian Women Artists Project, Senior Citizen Art Project and Nihonmachi Garden Project and exhibitions and cultural events like the Oshogatsu Festival and Nihonmachi Street Fair

  • Wes painted the first mural in Japantown on the side of the 1858 Sutter Street building depicting a wrecking ball and Japantown community members fighting it off

Nisei /Active 1980s onward

Tsuyako "Sox" Kitashima

  • Sox was a seven-days-a-week volunteer and member of the Kimochi, Inc. Board

  • Sox was a Nisei leader in the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations and credited for single-handedly gathering 8,000 letters of support for Japanese American reparations and her tenacious determination to locate all those eligible for monetary compensation. Sox was awarded a Free Spirit Award by the Freedom Forum and National Women's History Month/Week honoree by the National Women's History Project for her work on redress

  • Sox and Jeff Adachi founded the Asian American Arts Foundation that honored the best of Asian American artists in multiple fields while raising money for artists through the Golden Rings Awards - a mix of the Asian American Oscars, Tonys and Emmys

Sansei /Active 1980s onward

Jeff Adachi

  • Elected San Francisco Public Defender in 2002, Jeff was also a board member of the Asian American Theater Company and the SF Chapter of the JACL.

  • Jeff founded the Asian American Arts Foundation in the 1990s to recognize Asian American artists across various genres, presenting three Golden Ring Awards programs in the process of raising funds for the Asian American arts

  • Jeff was also an accomplished filmmaker, creating films such as The Slanted Screen (2006), You Don’t Know Jack: The Jack Soo Story (2009), America Needs a Racial Facial (2016) and Defender (2017).

Robert Hamaguchi

  • Executive Director of the Japantown Task Force

  • Bob formulated and implemented the Japantown Cultural Heritage and Economic Sustainability Strategy (JCHESS), the first document in San Francisco to focus specifically on how to preserve and promote a neighborhood's cultural heritage

  • Bob organized the Japantown Community Benefit District whose mission is economic business development for property owners and merchants, beautification of public spaces for all to enjoy and a safe livable environment

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