Japantown – Cherry Blossom Festival – Part 1

It is 8:02 AM on Saturday, April 14th.  Today is the start of the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japantown.  I always enjoy this and tell myself every year that I’d like to get a little more involved and spend more time there.  My favorites are the people dressed up in cosplay, the dancing, the Cherry Blossom court, and especially the karate demonstrations.  And speaking of karate demonstrations last year was the first time I actually participated (2017 Cherry Blossom karate post).

This year we’re doing Kihon Sono 5:  I think this is because it does look very ‘karate’ like with the movements.  I’ll also play a ‘bad guy’ with Yoshi and attack Senpai Alyssa who will knock us both out (acting of course).  And new for me this year is I’ll hold the boards for one of our kid members to punch through.  I learned that at the moment of impact you should try bending the board down so when it breaks the pieces stack on top of each other.  I think I might be as nervous as the kid just holding the boards in front of so many people.

But what I’d really like to write about is my old Japan Airlines colleague Eiji-san who I sadly learned passed away a few years ago.  When I think of the Cherry Blossom festival I think of him and the fun he would have at that event.  He would spend time meeting up with old friends, going to the izakaya, drinking great sake and having an all around good time.  I think about the good times of the airline industry of the 80s and how Japan was conquering the world.  How much fun it would have been for those sales employees of Japan airlines, long since retired, to be at the festival drinking and catching up with everyone.  (Previous post I wrote about this).  Japan Airlines has long been a sponsor and had the main end of parade float with the Cherry Blossom court on it.  I actually helped ensure it was all set up and ready to go when I worked at Japan Airlines and I felt very proud to work for that company.  I would still be there but unfortunately JAL went into bankruptcy in the mid 2000s and my salary was quite low with no chance of improving.

Time goes on and attending this festival reminds me of the passage of time.  Fortunately, there is a good future in front of us which is tied to the Japanese community here.  My wife is Japanese and thus my sons half Japanese.  Our social circle is pretty much all Japanese and we’re entrenched in this new community which continues to evolve.  And evolve it does as Japanese companies usually send their employees for a three year stint and then they move somewhere else or back to Japan.  The ‘long-since-retired,’ old guard who had their heyday in the 80s are now passing away and people of my generation now make up the majority and active members of the Japanese community.  Soon, it will be people my sons age who take up the torch and keep the community alive.

It has been over half a century since WWII when the Japanese were forced into American concentration camps that left Japantown vacant.  It was then that African Americans moved in which gave rise to the jazz scene of the Filmore.  Once the war ended the Japanese couldn’t return to their homes in Japantown and it never really recovered from this.  Now, most African Americans have moved out as the area gentrified over the past couple decades and you now see a lot of Korean shops and restaurants in Japantown.  The new Japanese simply don’t place the importance on hanging out there and starting a new community as the world has changed and there are different opportunities.  The only time my wife ever goes there is to visit Nijiya (supermarket) on occasion but actually the one in San Mateo is much more convenient without all the craziness of San Francisco.

But for one weekend, the Cherry Blossom Festival, Japantown really comes alive with the old splendor of days long gone by.  It becomes ‘Japanese’ again with dancing, music, song, and all the beautiful aspects of Japanese culture.  I really would like to visit an izakaya there at this time and revel in all the joys like my previous colleague Eiji-san did.  The only thing is I must be sharp for the karate presentation so wouldn’t be able to drink the sake.

Time goes on, everything changes, but it is a festival like this where the ancient as well as new traditions of Japan are on full display for everyone to enjoy.

I’ll be sure to take plenty of pictures and post a video of the karate presentation here shortly.


Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival – Karate presentation

World Oyama Karate put on a demonstration at the 2017 Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival.  I’ve always enjoyed the festival but have never actually participated myself except for the preparation of the Japan Airlines float many years ago.  My demonstration was called ‘kihon sono 4’ and we made BaySpo, (2017年4月14日) the Japanese language newspaper in San Francisco.


Journal Entry – 4.6.2017

It is 6:01 AM on Thursday, April 6th, 2017.  I’ve been awake since 3:30 AM; I stayed in bed until almost five trying to go back to sleep but then decided to get up and start the day.

Today will be a busy one:  I’ve got a travel fair in San Francisco in the middle of the day and then need to be at karate at the end of the day to practice for the Cherry Blossom Festival.  Unfortunately, the forecast calls for rain this year but only in the morning.  Our presentation isn’t until the afternoon so hopefully the rain will be done by then.

The Cherry Blossom Festival is a special occasion for me for a couple of reasons.  The first is that it reminds me of my life in Japan and my experiences at that time.  Life was completely different then and I am lucky to have experienced such a different world.  Most people go through life only living in one culture, one world and creating a very static world view.  I am very grateful to know that other ‘worlds’ and completely different mindsets exist and being able to move between them due to my previous experiences.  Perhaps I’ll be able to explain my point better some day but in short, going to these cultural events reminds me that a completely different life and way of living exists.  In knowing this and being able to move between cultures I have an enormous amount of freedom that most people do not.

The other reason the Cherry Blossom Festival is special to me is that it reminds me of my first years in San Francisco moving from Vietnam.  I worked at Japan Airlines and JAL used to be the main sponsor of it.  So, I’d actually have to ‘work’ the Festival and drop off / pick up items needed for the float.  I remember it being a very festive time especially for the older Japanese men in the office.  They’d get together with their buddies, drink lots of sake and really enjoy the festival.  I remember thinking how great of an experience it must have been to have lived through the Japanese boom years of the ’80s and early ’90s, living in a place as great as San Francisco, and having a huge Japanese community all around.  These guys worked for one of the best companies, dealt with the best companies, made very good money, and had their own little slice of Japan right inside San Francisco.  Then comes the main Japanese festival of the year, a time to celebrate, smile, drink a lot, meet many friends and enjoy your very own not-so-small cultural community!

My how things have changed!  The Japanese economy has been comatose for decades, the airlines no longer have any money and a new crop of Japanese have come in to replace the old guard.  I heard so much about the politics of Japan town and how the ‘old guard’ really didn’t want to listen to the new comers.  Now the ‘old guard’ is passing away but the younger Japanese really don’t have much interest in Japan town and partly as a result is now being bought up by Koreans.  And so, our dear Cherry Blossom Festival seems to me a shade of what it used to be (my image of it during the ’80s) during the good times.  Yes, it is still festive and a lot of fun but most of the Japanese I know don’t even bother going!

In any case, I’ll be there and plan on having a very good time.  It is also my first time actually participating which I’m sure will be a good experience so long as the rain holds off.

News Brief:

The main problems now are Syria and N. Korea.  I saw a very heart wrenching picture of a father who had just lost his entire family to a chemical attack by Assad.  He was holding his dead babies right before burying them and the image hit me very hard and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.  It makes me so very sad and angry; I’m angry at humanity and how we really are a bunch of primitive monkeys making a mess of everything around us. Human beings are greedy, they want more money, more power and at the highest levels will kill as many as needed to get it.  It is hard to see any good in the world these days and makes me want to close up and shut it out.  Our very own President wants to poison the environment, direct even more wealth to those who have no need of it and use his power to enrich his own family.

There has been a sliver of hope in that the news says he is finally listening to experienced experts and his position on places like Syria has evolved to the correct one after this gas attack.  It is time to put the big boy pants on and let those who know what they are doing fucking do it!

But this is only a small glimmer of hope and I expect things to get much worse throughout this presidency.  There is so much bad in the world and nothing to rely on.  Many rely on religion which in my opinion is built upon fairy tale and fantasy.  World events have lead to a generally gloomy mood and the way things are going I wonder how long we have until a nuclear war.

And so, now in April, 2017 the only thing I can do is shut out the news, shut out the images of the dead and grieving which is caused by human greed, both the actual killing then spreading the images for profit.  Shut out the news and all the bad that goes on around me.  It is all I can do!  Taking a look at the BBC just now I see that Aung San Suu Kyi refuses to admit that her country and her leadership are responsible for massacring the Rohingya.  More killing, more greed, more human beings making a mess of things.

The bad is getting closer too: houses are getting burglarized around me, with about 15 getting hit in just the past month and it doesn’t seem like the cops can stop it.  Reading Nextdoor the neighborhood kids are on drugs and when school administrators try to take action the parents get upset. Yes, the tattooed, spelling-challenged, troublesome parents don’t like it when a school tries to assert some authority.  Hell, half of these parents probably do some of the drugs themselves.

So yes, it seems as though things are getting quite a bit worse and my only defense is to not worry about that which I cannot control, shut out the bad and focus on the positive.

The time is now 6:44 AM and it is time to start the day.