Pacific Bridge : Alumni Spotlight on Ryan Kimura

So who are you, what do you do, and what was your position on JET?
I’m Ryan Kimura, and I work at the JCCCNC (Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California) as the Director of Programs and Community Affairs. I was a part of the JET Program from 2004 until 2006 as an ALT in Shizuoka.

How did you wind up in this position after JET?
After JET, I opened up a small purikura [Japanese photo booth] business, Pika Pika (www.pikapikasf.com), in Japantown’s Japan Center Kinokuniya Building. I owned, operated, and grew this business for five years before hearing about an opening at the JCCCNC for a Programs Director position. When I was a student at UC Berkeley, I interned at the JCCCNC and formed many strong relationships with the staff there, including Executive Director Paul Osaki. Additionally, managing a Japantown business and staffing a number of Japantown non-profits really motivated me into playing a larger role in the community. I decided to call Paul up, interviewed, and have been serving at the JCCCNC since May of 2011.

Seeing as we have recently passed the first anniversary of the 3/11 earthquake. I know the JCCCNC has been doing so much to support Tohoku and bring awareness to the community. Can you talk about that?
Immediately after news of the earthquake reached state-side, volunteers from all over the Japanese American community staffed an all-day, all-night telethon on NBC in the Bay Area, where we raised over 400,000 dollars. All of this money was soon after transferred to the JCCCNC-led Northern Japan Earthquake Relief Fund. Additionally, we took our efforts online and put up a Causes.com page for the fund. Our page has since received donations from over 25,000 people.

Speaking on the scale of the Japantown community, the JCCCNC has hosted numerous fundraisers for the cause. The 2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, which occurred about a month after the earthquake, had many of our staff and volunteers selling merchandise to generate money. Donation cans were located at every festival booth, and, throughout the year, many Japantown merchants used those same cans in their stores. The JCCCNC has also received money from smaller community charity events, including a lemonade stand run by kids, taiko concerts, and cultural performances.

On the February leading up to the first year anniversary, the JCCCNC flew in six Tohoku students who were studying to enter the hospitality industry at the Sendai YMCA. These students’ lives were devastated by the earthquake—they lost property, loved ones, and so much more. Some of them had not even gotten over the shock. Through the relief fund, we were able to pay for their tuition, show them around famous San Francisco hotels to enlighten them about hospitality in the West, and saturate them with American culture through homestays and preschool volunteer programs. We wanted to show donors how their money was being used, and because of the community’s generous spirit, these six students have the chance to realize their futures—to arise from tragedy and push forward.

On the day of the actual anniversary, a ceremony was held at the Peace Pagoda Plaza. In the period leading up to this occasion, there was a big community meeting to discuss what should be done. The Japantown community is a strong and passionate one, so a ton of ideas were thrown around, as well as questions. Who was going to lead the event? What would be a part of the program? Where would it be? Ultimately, someone mentioned reserving the Peace Pagoda Plaza in advance since it was the most obvious place for the commemoration, and things fell into place from there. Of course, the JCCCNC was there to check in performers, organize the program, and perform a taiko concert.

What do you feel is something unique you bring to the role of Programs Director?
I feel that being on the JET Program has tremendously influenced the way I run my job. Being an instructor in Japan gave me insight on how to keep children interested and on how to teach effectively. I know what sorts of activities they enjoy and the subjects that can hold their attention. As a result, I can draw from these experiences and use them to construct youth-friendly educational programs so that children here can come to appreciate Japanese culture and customs. I’m all about educating people in as an entertaining way as possible.

Where would you like to see Japantown five years down the line?
I want to see Japantown bustling with more people and more Japantown businesses that deal in modern Japanese culture. A lot of kids go through Japantown because they are introduced to Japanese culture through anime, but I want them to appreciate the culture on a much deeper level. I’d like to see them come back and give back to the community. I also would like to branch out to the greater Bay Area, educate the people about what the JCCCNC does, and hold some cross-community events.

What other Japantown non-profits are you a part of?
I’m a part of Nihonmachi Roots, J-town Garage, SF Taiko Dojo, and the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Committee. Oh, and, of course, JETAANC. (Editor’s note: Ryan smiled widely and winked after saying the last one.)

How would you encourage JETAANC members to get involved with the JCCCNC and Japantown community?
I personally would like to see more JETAANC presence here. We are already collaborating with JETAANC with Kabuki Club (www.jetaanc.org/47Ronin), but there’s a lot more potential out there. All of us JET alumni are tied to Japan; I think it would be great if we could continue to strengthen this bond through language classes here, as well as cultural classes such as ikebana, odori, etc. We also consistently need volunteers to staff our programs, events, and relief fund. Any bit of help is appreciated, and we’re always looking for young professionals who can contribute to the community. Really, any help would be great, considering that the festivals we run require an upward of 200 volunteers!

Additionally, I would encourage you to check out some of the Japantown-based non-profit organizations. Nihonmachi Roots, Nakayoshi Young Professionals, SF Taiko Dojo, and more—there’s something for everybody who’s interested in the community. Heck, even feel free to come down to the JCCCNC and say you want to volunteer for something. Opportunities are always available because there is a constant, Brobdingnagian demand for manpower.

That said, feel free to talk to me about the Japantown community, post-JET life, or career advice. I’m reachable through e-mail at rkimura@jcccnc.org and 415-567-5055 by phone, or you can just come down to the JCCCNC and walk into my office. We’re always looking for people to head programs, and you, too, can play a key role in the community.

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