Saturday, June 4, 2016


Did the Japantown walk for a second time on May 26. I had thought it would cover different ground, provide more information about the Fillmore district, but it focused mostly on the Japanese American history of the area.

The yellow YWCA building on Buchanan street was built by Julia Morgan. Because Japanese Americans weren't able to own property, a group of women struck a deal with the YMCA to own the building on their behalf. The murky ownership arrangement created controversy many years later when YMCA decided to dispose of the property.  I remember taking my first sewing class in this building back in the early 1980's when I first moved back to the West Coast. I didn't know it was built by Julia Morgan, but the internal structure felt very familiar to me. It reminded me of some of the buildings at Mill College, which I attended as an undergraduate.
Our guide, Bill Watt, described the Japanese pastry shop/coffee shop, Benkyodo, as one of the oldest Japanese-owned businesses in Japantown. Perhaps deliberately, the place has not been renovated in quite some time. The counter dining space with odd ball J-A menu items is pure nostalgia and the wagashi selection is good. They also sell okaki and other packaged sweets.

Watt went on to describe the anti-Japanese sentiments in California that existed even back in 1906. Then there was the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942 after Pearl Harbor was bombed. This lead to families losing jobs, properties and belongings in the Fillmore area. Large masses of people were sent to inland camps, which were horse stables or barracks hastily built and barely habitable. It happened, even in a democratic country like the United States, when fear overtook reason. The vacated homes were then rented by African Americans, who arrived in large numbers to work in the shipyards during the war.

1712 Fillmore Street building housed Jimbo's Bop City, a jazz house where musicians like Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald could jam before they played in downtown venues. The ground floor also was the site of Marcus Books, an African American bookstore that was forced out when new landlords took over in May, 2014. Marcus Books was the longest surviving black-owned business in the Fillmore.

We saw some lovely Edwardian houses in the neighborhood. The whiteness of the buildings were blinding on this sunny day.

And we walked down Cottage Row, one of many "hidden" San Francisco streets. There is a public park adjacent these small, lovely houses. According to Watt, these houses were rented by Japanese Americans that worked as maids and housekeepers for the Pacific Heights wealthy. They grew vegetables and fruits in their small gardens, then held a farmer's market in the park. According to the internet, in the 1930's this street was called Japan Street because the neighborhood was inhabited mostly by Japanese Americans. Of course that changed with the relocation of residents to concentration camps in 1942.

The tour ended in Japantown mall where we gazed at Mifune restaurant's plastic food. This place makes their own udon and soba and some of their offerings are quite good. I am partial to nishin soba (preserved sweet herring), yamakake soba (mountain yam and sashimi) and kitsune udon. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Potrero Hill

The Potrero neighborhood is known for its hills, and we walked plenty of them on this tour. I enjoyed the sweeping views on all sides, this one looking towards Twin Peaks and the Mission. I noticed that the overhead
wires have not yet been buried.

I had no idea of the existence of the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House, called "The Nabe." The structure was designed and built by Julia Morgan in 1922. It is a Presbytarian-owned building and the space is available for event rental.

Community gardens abounded in the Potrero neighborhood. This one is called "The Benches" and is large and very well-kept. As the name implies, there are benches on both sides of the entrance to the garden. Lots of native plants!

My final stop was the St Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal church. The inside of the structure is round and painted on all sides with images of dancing saints. Their church services entail dancing around in a circle. The paintings are by iconographer, Mark Dukes. The saints represent Musicians, artists, writers, poets, dancers, workers, organizers, missionaries, princes, martyrs, spiritual teachers, protesters, prophets, reformers, judges, builders, conservationists, liberators, scholars, healers, soldiers, monastics, couples straight and gay, diplomats, planners, governors, and wild and domestic beasts.

Catching Up With City Guides Walks

I've gone on several walks since the Castro but have been too busy to write about them. The problem with postponing my essay is that factual information gleaned from these walks get fuzzy rather quickly. Here are some murky musings from past walks.

March 27. Above is the Grateful Dead house, which used have an open door policy for all sorts of musicians, poets and hippies but is now locked up and privately owned. It's a lovely example of a Victorian painted lady. This tour featured lessons in Victorian architecture, spending time in the area of the Panhandle where the Human Be-in was held (now the site for the annual 4/20 day) . The actual tour of the Haight was brief and inconsequential. 

  March 29. The City Hall and Civic Center tour covered quite a lot of ground for such a short tour. Above is a bust of my favorite mayor, beyond which you can glimpse the doors to the mayor's office. There is a sleepy security guard sitting to the side, but surprisingly little in the way of security. It was a beautiful week day and lots of weddings and stagings of wedding photos were happening. This really is the loveliest city hall in this country. Our guide told us that the square footage is actually larger than the Capitol Building in DC. Among the history lessons - the 1978 assassination of Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.   

Monday, March 28, 2016

Castro: Tales of the Village

We started at the Harvey Milk Plaza, where various Metro lines converge. There is a plaque with a row of photos commemorating Harvey Milk's life and a small, locked park. 

The rainbow flag symbolizes the lesbian gay bisexual transgender pride movement. There is a giant one right at Harvey Milk Plaza.  Across the way, is the Twin Peaks Tavern, which was opened in 1972 by a lesbian couple, Mary Ellen Cunha and Peggy Forster. It was the first gay bar that had uncovered, full plate glass windows.

The Castro Theatre is one of the last grand movie palaces in San Francisco. It features classic films and sing-alongs and before the movie begins, we get to listen to a concert on the mighty Wurlitzer organ. There are two camps among the regulars of Castro Theatre as to what the quintessential San Francisco song is - the Jeannettes and the Tonys. The Jeannette Macdonald song is "San Francisco (open your Golden Gates)" and Tony Bennett's song is "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." The intersection of Castro Street and Market is where the F line begins. Today, a bright yellow lemon drop of a tram went by our walking tour.

The Castro is famous for its freedom of expression and tolerance for a rainbow of lifestyles. I walked by a blindingly pink victorian house, notice boards plastered with all kinds of entertainment, and a house with a large collection of Ken dolls in the windows.

A tour of Castro would not be complete without a history lesson on Harvey Milk. He was a member of the Board of Supervisors in the 1970's but his career was cut short by an assassin. Nonetheless, his influence on building coalitions with unions, championing gay and civil rights, has earned him the title, "Mayor of Castro Street." His plaque on the ground in front of his former camera shop. And just up the street, the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy includes ceramic and glass murals of marchers and messages.


Sunday, January 3, 2016

All About Foxes

                 A Small Bonfire                                                        Midnight Tea

Back in 2011, I started a couple of paintings featuring the fox. I had a long fascination with this animal, which has several associations with indigenous Shinto and folklore in Japan. After completing my first paintings, circumstances prevented me from moving forward with a complete series until recently. Since time has passed and my original inspiration is fuzzy, I decided to visit the foxes during a recent family visit to Japan.

   The Makekirai Inari shrine is located in Sasayama and it was hard to research. There was only one or two references on Google and location was unclear. However, once I got to the city of Sasayama, people knew where to send me. The purple curtains above depict a muscular fox ready to wrestle. Afterwards, we stopped for coffee at a small Peruvian cafe and became friends with the couple who runs the place. He was a former adventurer who rode his motorcycle across the US and all over South America. He met his wife in Peru and they moved to the little town of Sasayama. His wife was overcome with emotion when my mother mentioned that I was visiting her from the States. She said she misses her mother terribly, though her mother now resides in the States.

The Toyokawa Inari is located in the town of Toyokawa outside of Nagoya. Under the shade of tall cryptomeria trees, the large pack of kitsune creates an eerie scene. I don't know who sews the red bibs and dresses each fox, but the effect is stunning. These foxes looked like jackals and some have fierce expressions.

Just outside the Toyokawa shrine, there's a small inari zushi place that serves the most delicious inari. I instantly turned into a fox, gobbling down these delectable morsels. 

The Fushimi Inari in Kyoto is one of the largest, and features a long torii gateway up the hill to the main shrine. Eachi torri represents a hefty donation by a business or individual. At the top, you can purchase a charming wish card in the shape of a fox's face. At the entrance to the shrine, there is a leaping fox with a sheaf of rice grain in its mouth. The fox's role as the intermediary or messenger of the god of grain is emphasized here. And so is capitalism. 

The Tamatsukuri Inari Shrine in Osaka is only incidentally an inari shrine. It features the sacred jewel rather than the fox. But a small corner of the shrine includes some foxes that were shunted over to this shrine many centuries ago by Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

The Oiwa Inari is tucked away in an unassuming Tokyo neighborhood. It is named after Oiwa, the famous vengeful ghost in Yotsuya Kaidan. Located in the family estate of the "real" Oiwa, this shrine is visited by film crews and actors who pray that misfortune will not visit them while they film the latest version of Yotsuya Kaidan.

Foxes are also associated with family and fertility. Here are some tender scenes between mother and child.

Monday, December 21, 2015

21st Century Contemporary Art Museum

New Kanazawa train station with expansive glass atrium 

 Swimming Pool by Leandro Erlich 

Color Activity House by Olafur Eliasson

Something that Dwells Inside Life by Kashio Satomi

Eco-Art with misspelling, artist name missing

The 21st Century Contemporary Art Museum in Kanazawa is comprised of free public access exhibitions and an admission-based (not cheap) section. Because we arrived in the late afternoon, we decided to visit areas that were free-access only. The museum is divided into multiple sections connected by white-walled corridors. It has several outdoor installations as well as segmented indoor exhibitions (painting section, eco-art section, installation section). Overall, I felt the collection was uneven. I loved Kashio's fiber art installation but many of the contemporary works by Japanese artists left me cold. I felt that the artists only grasped the surface sensibility of Western conceptual and eco-art and had not yet transformed the media into their own. 

Entrance to museum

Connecting corridors