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Japantown project will provide arts groups with a place of their own

New Creative Center for the Arts ‘only contributes to the vibrancy of the area’

By VALERIE WU | Mosaic, San Jose Mercury News
June 22, 2018 at 6:00 pm
> original article


Editor’s note: The annual Mosaic Journalism Workshop for Bay Area high school students is a two-week intensive course in journalism. Based at San Jose State University’s Spartan Daily newsroom, Mosaic students report and photograph real stories under the guidance of professional journalists.


For the residents of San Jose’s Japantown, a cultural revival is coming.

One of the last three historical Japantowns in the United States, Japantown has faced challenges in sustaining its heritage through cultural activities. Arts organizations struggle with expenses, especially because of the high cost of rent in Silicon Valley.

The Creative Center for the Arts, a key ingredient of the planned Japantown Square Project, aims to address this issue. By providing services for the nonprofit creative sector, the center will serve as an inexpensive space for artists to collaborate and foster ethnic unity. Arts catalyst group Silicon Valley Creates is leading the development of the 52,000 square-foot space, which will be located on North Sixth Street between Jackson and Taylor streets.

The center — which is expected to cost $30 million to build — also will provide affordable space for arts organizations, helping to sustain the identity of the neighborhood for Japantown’s diverse residents.

San Jose Taiko — a leading Silicon Valley arts organization dedicated to the Japanese art of taiko drumming — is one of the partners moving into the new space and has played a fundamental role in its development.

San Jose Taiko co-founder Roy Hirabayashi said the goal is to make the center a cultural hub for the neighbors.

“The community at large has been very supportive,” he said. “It’s a space that benefits them. The center only contributes to the vibrancy of the area.”

Leslie Kim, the youth volunteer coordinator at the Japanese American Museum, echoed Hirabayashi’s sentiments.

“I think it’s really exciting to have a space for having those conversations about culture, especially because having a physical anchor for Japanese-American youth is so important,” she said.

San Jose Taiko Executive Director Wisa Uemura said the mission of the 21st century model is to keep the spirit of the community alive. Amidst increasing gentrification in Silicon Valley, projects like Japantown Square maximize creative activity in the area by equipping organizations with the resources they need to effectively engage with residents.

“The idea with this is that we can contribute to the needs of the larger ecosystem,” said Uemura, who also serves on the center’s planning committee. “When we contribute to the sustainability of Japantown, we’re also sustaining a lovely neighborhood and ensuring Japantown’s artistic vitality. We want to be a part of the fabric, not tear it apart.”

The center serves as a symbol of Japantown’s history, as well. After the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the neighborhood’s residents have honored the collective spirit represented in the center’s creation.

“From internment, we learned how to make the most of what we have together,” Uemura said. “It’s something that still lasts today.”

Although much of the preliminary development is finished, fundraising and actual construction of the complex remains to be done. The center is expected to be completed in 2020.

“I think what I want people to know about this project is that this new center will really generate interest in not just Japantown, but the larger community,” Hirabayashi said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Tamiko Rast