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Hokubei Mainichi, Japanese American daily bilingual newspaper

By Miki Garcia

Hokubei Mainichi’s board of directors has decided to close Northern California’s only Japanese American bilingual newspaper on Oct. 30 after more than 60 years of business. The news came just over a month after the competitor Nichi Bei Times published its final issue due to the economic recession.

“Since the closure of the Nichi Bei Times, we made the decision to redouble our efforts and serve an even more important and broader function in the community than before. We are extremely disappointed that we were unable to meet our readers’ expectations,” Don Yamate, President and CEO of Hokubei Mainichi Newspaper, said in an official statement posted on their website on October 27.

During World War II, many Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps. After Japan surrendered to the U.S. in 1945, those interned were released and members of the San Francisco Buddhist Churches sought a way to keep people connected and informed. In 1948, Hokubei Mainichi was established and it was the last Japanese American bilingual newspaper remaining in San Francisco’s Japantown. For 61 years, the Hokubei Mainichi has served as a vital news source for native Japanese speakers and all generations of Japanese Americans, providing content including local community news, national news, and international news from Japan.

New America Media (NAM), the country’s largest national collaboration and advocate of 2,500 ethnic media organizations, said ethnic publications were more recession-proof than the mainstream media. According to Sandy Close, NAM’s executive director, “the thirst for relevant news and information has made many residents of ethnic communities turn to media outlets that do substantial reporting on their culture, issues and neighborhoods.” However, unlike other thriving ethnic communities, such as Latino, Chinese and Filipino, the Japanese American market is not growing through immigration at all.

The circumstances didn’t improve amid economic downturn. In July this year, the newspaper -- with a circulation of 7,500 – reduced publication to four days a week from five. According to Yamate, one of the main factors of closing was the “lack of advertising” rather than a decline in circulation. The last issue contained only a handful of advertisements. The sudden closure of the newspaper has also left its workers wondering what will now happen to them. “We have about a dozen people, including part-timers. After this week, any work done will be unpaid. We have a couple of weeks to move out of our offices. All of us have to seek other employment,” English edition Editor J. K. Yamamoto said. “There are no plans to set up a non-profit foundation or to do anything jointly with the Nichi Bei Weekly.” When the Nichi Bei Times stopped publication, a group of community leaders and journalists formed a new nonprofit entity called the Nichi Bei Foundation and they started publishing the English newspaper “the Nichi Bei Times Weekly.”

“While the editorial, advertising and subscription departments involved in the daily production of the newspaper will be closed, the company will continue to seek investors and make every effort to once again become a media outlet serving the community,” according to Yamate. The website will remain online for the time being.

During those six decades, the Hokubei Mainichi had survived the ups and downs and been able to attract countless loyal readers. Consequently, many of them said they all have mixed feelings about the abrupt closure.

“I am absolutely shocked. It is terrible. I don’t understand it. How come are they closing?” said Sunyi Gedrocz. Born and raised in Japan, she came to the U.S. nearly fifty years ago. “What am I supposed to do from now on?” said Gedrocz with a confused look on her face. As a first generation Japanese American, she had been relying on the Hokubei Mainichi to keep her informed as the only source of information. “My English is not very good. I don’t understand television news very well. And then I read the Hokubei Mainichi, and I am like – Oh, I see. I know young people use the Internet and read newspapers online but we don’t.” Gedrocz kept saying with a strong accent that she was “really sad.”

Aaron Kitashima, administrative assistant at San Francisco State University, had been reading the Hokubei Mainichi on and off since he was born -- he would typically read it when his late grandmother subscribed to it. Kitashima, a fourth generation Japanese American said, “I’m disappointed that our two major community newspapers had to shut their doors, but I’m also angry that these newspapers didn’t give us more advance notice of their financial budgets hemorrhaging to drum-up more community support to help keep them going.”

“I’ll always remember the Hokubei Mainichi for covering the important topics and issues surrounding the Japanese American communities. This newspaper definitely helped to keep people informed about the redress movement and spread the word to demand redress,” said the grandson to the late Tsuyako “Sox” Kitashima, a significant figure in the redress movement.

Although the Nichi Bei Foundation is able to spread the word, Kitashima acknowledged that they have many obstacles to deal with in the financial sector. As the San Francisco’s Japanese American community lost their voice now, “Maybe it’s time to find a town crier,” said Kitashima.