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Japanese program celebrates 30 years
February 9, 2003
Ray Delgado, Anastasia Hendrix, San Francisco Chronicle

More than 250 members of San Francisco's Japanese American community attended a party recently to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the San Francisco Unified School District's Japanese Bilingual Bicultural

The program -- which has been at several schools but is currently in place at William R. DeAvila Elementary School on Haight Street -- gives students in kindergarten through fifth grade one hour of
Japanese-language and cultural instruction.

The curriculum was designed to "retain Japanese culture and language  after the internment in World War II," said Julia Hatta, a program volunteer whose son and daughter both attend DeAvila Elementary. "The
parents (who founded the program) were the children of those camps who realized they had lost so much of the culture and language and tradition, and this was an effort to regain some of that."

Specially trained, native Japanese speakers provide the instruction. The program was conceived in 1969 by the Japanese Speaking Society of America, which asked the San Francisco Board of Education to implement

It took four years of dedication and diligence before the program won funding and opened its doors in 1973. Since then, more than 1,000 students have participated in the program, dozens of whom attended the party.

They nibbled sushi and lychee hors d'oeuvres stuffed with macadamia nuts at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts as they honored the 12 founders of the program and four others who have worked recently to
revitalize it.

The founders -- Ruth Asawa, Jacques Fitch, Nob Fukuda, Kay Higashi, Kanji Kuramoto, Phyllis Matsuno, Sieko and Kenji Murase, Naomi Nishioka, Will Tsukamoto, Shiro Watanabe and Suzanne Yamada -- received bouquets from current students.

The other four honorees -- Karen Kai, Alice Mar, Richard Wada and Myrna Tsukamoto -- were given framed collages made of washi paper emblazoned with a Shinto gate, a symbol of tradition, bridging generations and strength.

This report, compiled by Chronicle staff writers, runs Sundays in the  Bay Area section. To suggest items or to comment, contact metro@sfchronicle.com.