When I first moved to San Francisco, I lived on the corner of Divisadero and Eddy. I loved my apartment but the neighborhood was rather bland. Today Divisadero is full of life, but in the 1990’s it was dull. Back then my closest commercial neighborhood was Japantown. It was five short blocks to Safeway and just across Geary to Japantown. When I first arrived, Japantown seemed “exotic.” But exotic is always a relative term. I grew up on the East Coast in places with few Asian Americans and Asian immigrants.
My first Japanese experience was a visit to a Japanese restaurant on a family trip to San Francisco. I was 11. I was disappointed that we couldn’t be in one of the rooms where we would have had to remove or shoes and sit on the floor. My 80-year-old great-grandmother was with us and, as adventurous as she could be, she was not going to sit on the floor. For the rest of her long life she remembered that restaurant as that place where we had to fish for our food.
Eventually I moved to the Lower Haight and have lived there since. Japantown is still only a 20-minute walk away and I always end up there a few times a month. It’s been a long time since I thought of Japantown as exotic. Japantown is part of my everyday life. As I look back on so much of my art I begin to see how living near Japantown has influenced my work.
The 2011 Project had a number of pieces with their origins in Japantown. There were the pieces using origami paper from one of the dollar stores. There was the sushi map and the Tokyo piece. Both used maps I bought in Japantown. The Western Addition Branch Library also serves Japantown. It has a good collection of Japan-related books in both English and Japanese. In 2009 I randomly picked up a book on Japanese Textile Patterns that lead to an entire series of new mixed media, map collages.
I still have not been to Japan, and I am sure when I arrive, it will all seem exotic to me. Then again, years in Japantown have probably prepared me a little bit.