"New People" Grand Opening in SF
by Evan Miller,
People began to gather early Saturday morning on Post Street in front of New People in anticipation of the gala opening ceremony. The street was closed to traffic earlier in the day by San Francisco police, allowing for stage setup and placement of booths for the "J-Pop Summit Festival" taking place along with the opening. Also gathering early was a huge press contingent from Toei Films, who I suspect were attending to record some special segments for the DVD of the 20th Century Boys live-action film (some of the film's cast was scheduled to appear at the ceremony).
About three minutes after the scheduled start time, the exuberant host for the ceremony took to the stage to get the crowd warmed up for the ceremony. He then introduced the first three guests for the ceremony: Dana Lewis, president of the Japan America Society of Northern California, Paul Osaki, executive director of the Japan Foundation, and...
...Hello Kitty, who took the stage to thunderous applause and calls of "Kitty-chaaaaaaaan!" from the audience. Taking the lighthearted moment in stride, Osaki called the opening of New People a "new day for a new Japantown," and thanked Horibuchi, Viz and Shogakukan (parent company of Viz Media) for their efforts in making the center a reality. "We hope that all of you will be back to celebrate with us... to preserve our historic community," Osaki added before White took the microphone to offer her comments. A self-professed manga fan for more than 25 years, White said that it is "great for the whole country and the otaku kingdom... that this center is now open in San Francisco." There was a short pause as Hello Kitty motioned towards the podium microphone, but the shy cultural ambassador opted to remain silent.
Next to the stage was Ross Mirkarimi, the San Francisco City Supervisor who represents the district that includes Japantown. "I couldn't be more proud of Japantown and San Francisco today... for the inaguration of the New People center here in Japantown," said Mirkarimi, whose politically-flavored speech alluded to some of the development-related hurdles that new projects in the city face. "Land use is not an easy plight in any big city, including San Francisco. But when you think about the economic times that our nation has been experiencing... this defies the trend of what is occurring, when this project has prevailed where many others have stalled." He went on to call New People a unification of the future and the past, alluding to the historical qualities of Japantown compared to the "new" culture that New People represents.
Following Mirkarimi's speech, Japan Consul General Yasumasa Nagamine came to the stage to thank Horibuchi for his devotion to the project, as well as to the city of San Francisco for their support of it. "I'm so glad that Viz Pictures has decided to add this building to Japantown," said Nagamine, adding, "this will add a new chapter to Japantown and Japantown's history as a center of cultural exchange." He also talked about the efforts of the Japanese government to use Japan's pop culture to promote Japan's image abroad. Referring to New People, Nagamine called the center "what the [Japanese] government and Japanese people like to see... promoting the culture [of Japan] further," said Nagamine, asking the crowd to support the center and stay up late to enjoy it.
Nagamine was given the honor to introduce the next round of special guests for the ceremony: Nobuyuki Iinuma, producer of the live-action 20th Century Boys film, Takako Tokiwa, the starring actress from the film, and the film's "dark hero," Tomodachi. The three stars took the stage with famed manga translator and Dreamland Japan author Fred Schodt, who was invited to translate for them. "We are honored to be invited here for the opening of New People," said Iinuma, who then introduced Tokiwa and Tomodachi. "The opening of the Viz Cinema here has been a wonderful opportunity... for people of Japanese decent here in the United States to learn more about today's Japanese culture," said Tokiwa, adding that she hopes the are becomes an "otaku mecca" for fans of Japanese culture in the United States.
Tokiwa then presented Mirkarimi with a traditional happi coat with images and text from the 20th Century Boys film, which he donned to cheers and applause from the audience. The host returned to announce that he got word of a "huge surprise," which was brought to the stage by San Francisco Asian Community Liasion Francis Tsang and Seiji Horibuchi himself. The surprise turned out to be a proclaimation from San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom naming August 15th, 2009 as "J-Pop Center Day" in the city of San Francisco.
The last person to take the podium, fittingly, was Horibuchi himself. Saying that it would be nice if it could be "J-Pop day everywhere," Horibuchi thanked everyone for attending before the event moved to its final bit of ceremony: a traditional breaking of a sake barrel, which was followed by the ceremonial ribbon cutting in front of the center.
Overall, the ceremony was a fitting way to put a point on the development of New People, although I would have liked it if they had allowed Hello Kitty help open the Sake barrel. Being able to tell my friends that I got to witness a giant cat open 20 gallons of booze with a hammer - in public, no less - would have been a lot of fun. More photos from the ceremony can be seen below.
Beyond that, let's take a peek inside this place, shall we?
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history