SJ Japantown Foot Patrol Aims to Halt Anti-Asian Crimes Trend

Stephanie Sakamoto grew up in Japantown, the tight-knit multicultural community just north of downtown San Jose. But she never felt the need to patrol the streets to keep her community safe—until now.

“My family members were generally very cautious,” Sakamoto says. “Those feelings of caution and apprehension have grown.”

The patrols come amid an apparent rise in crimes against Asian American residents across the U.S. At least two elderly Asian men were killed this year in the Bay Area by strangers on the street. In the tunnel beneath Diridon Station in San Jose, a man attacked a woman, yelling “F*ck you, Asians” as she screamed.

Japantown residents have stepped up to protect seniors and businesses from violence and petty crimes. Last month, retired San Jose police officer Rich Saito created Japantown Prepared, an informal group of volunteers who don red vests and walk the neighborhood’s busiest boulevards, including Empire, Jackson and Taylor streets.

Sal Moreno began volunteering for Japantown Prepared this month. He usually accompanies seniors to and from nearby food distribution centers, or to and from the senior apartments at Fuji Towers on Taylor Street. He says racism against Asians and other racial and ethnic minorities became more blatant during President Donald Trump’s time in office.

“Racism was there, but now it's out in the open," Moreno says

Sal Moreno, a volunteer with Japantown Prepared, observes the corner of Fifth and Jackson Streets in Japantown. (Photo by Sonya Herrera)

The volunteer says seniors are wary of his presence, despite his red vest and a few requested that he and other volunteers wear name tags so they can be identified. “We're learning as we go,” Moreno says.

Jasmine Rast is the owner of Roy’s Station, a popular coffee shop located on Fifth and Jackson streets. Her grandfather, Roy, ran the shop when it was still a neighborhood gas station and he would lament the racism the family faced, she says.

Though Rast and her family are well-acquainted with racism, it wasn’t always as loud and overt as it’s been lately, she says. She is encouraged that more than 200 people signed up to volunteer for the Japantown Prepared foot patrols.

“It was very quiet, and all of a sudden, it's in your face,” Rast says. She attributes the rise of both petty crimes and overt racism to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It's just a really hard time right now, and people are really angry,” Rast says. “This might be the thing to attach to.”

Jasmine Rast, owner of Roy's Station coffee shop in Japantown, said the pandemic has triggered a rise in petty crimes and overt anti-Asian racism. (Photo by Sonya Herrera)

San Jose crime data show an uptick in vehicle theft, burglary, aggravated assault and homicide this year compared to the same time period in 2020. In Japantown, at least six vehicles have been stolen this year, with most of those on Taylor Street. At least 12 burglaries were reported in the area this year so far, including three vehicle burglaries.

Japantown is also no stranger to violent crimes. An assault with a deadly weapon was reported on 13th and Jackson streets on Feb. 13 and a person was shot and killed near the corner of Sixth and Jackson streets on Feb. 20.

But other crimes were symbolic. The monument to first-generation Japanese-Americans, or Issei, on Fifth and Jackson streets was spray-painted on Feb. 9, though it has since been repaired.

Mark Santo, owner of Santo Market on Taylor Street, says there’s been an uptick in strange activity during the later hours even as bars and restaurants close early. He feels safe in an area with a high number of Asian American residents, he says. San Jose’s population is about 31% Asian American, while about 23% of the 95112 ZIP code—which includes Japantown and downtown—is made up of Asian American residents.

Standing outside his store and gazing into the street, Santo says society has come a long way from when his father and father’s uncle ran the store.

“They had to deal with being sent to camps,” Santo says, referring to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s detention order for Japanese Americans during World War II. “They gave a lot of their kids English names... they all had American names to try to assimilate into the community and society."

Like other Japantown residents, Santo says that racism may not have increased; it’s simply become more visible.

“I hate that this coronavirus brought it to the forefront," Santo says. “People who didn’t see it before can see it now.”

Mark Santo stands outside Santo Market on Taylor and Sixth Streets while describing how his business and Japantown have fared during the pandemic. (Photo by Sonya Herrera)

Some have seen more than others. Sean Yang is the owner of Kazoo Restaurant on Jackson Street. Having operated the restaurant since 1989, he says he’d never been the target of racist crimes or incidents until this year.

The crimes started small, Yang says. For example, someone smashed the restaurant’s front door last summer. Like Rast, Yang connects the rise in petty crimes to the dearth of jobs and other opportunities in the pandemic economy. But he’s noticed an increase in the frequency of crimes, as well as a change in focus.

Two weeks ago, someone ripped three of the Japanese lanterns from above the front entrance of Kazoo. “It’s a trend,” Yang says. “It’s getting worse.”

That’s around the time someone called the restaurant, and Yang answered, expecting to take an order.

“He said ‘I want to order a big cucumber roll and stick it into your Asian a**,’” Yang recalled. The restaurant owner paused, weighing his words. “We’ve never had that.”

The incident left Yang feeling sad, disappointed, and angry. “It just struck me… where did this come from?” he says. “We’re a part of this community… we don’t deserve to be treated any differently.”

Sean Yang points out the area from which three Japanese lanterns were stolen from the front entrance of Kazoo restaurant a few weeks ago. (Photo by Sonya Herrera)

The restaurant employs a mix of Latinos, Asian Americans and immigrants, so Yang told his workers about the call. He urged them not to consider these racist incidents an obstacle, but to take precautions, such as traveling together at night.

The restaurant owner says he feels comforted by the fact that in the decades he’s lived in the area, he’s rarely experienced incidents like these.

“It was a one-in-one-million person who did this to us,” Yang says. “I’m not afraid.”

Yang says he prefers to focus on the positive. The support shown to him from customers, neighbors and nearby businesses shows him the resiliency of their bonds.

“Community power will overcome this,” Yang says. “There’s no room for hatred to grow in this area.”

Sakamoto says when people get to know one another, they have a greater motivation to protect each other. Her fellow volunteer, Lizzie Jones, agrees.

“There has been a brighter light on everything—we’re a lot more aware,” Jones says. “The more active the community is, the safer it is.”

Yang says seeing the community come together with the Japantown Prepared foot patrol to protect seniors and businesses gives him hope.

“We’ve already been here for 30 years,” Yang says. “We’re not backing down.”

15 Comments

  1. I live near Japantown, and it’s good to see the community stepping up – a very tight-knit community. Also, covering a story like this may deter that type of activity, while raising awareness.

  2. We’re completely ignoring the elephant in the room. Our government is in the process of hurriedly releasing convicted felons including violent three strikers to reduce the prison population. So we now have felons on the street after decades in prison oblivious to the racial nirvana we’ve had for the last decade or two. California recently summarily rejected the state’s attempt to sponsor racism and favoritism based upon race by rejecting the 2020 Prop 16 and agreeing that it would be repugnant for politicians to provide preferential treatment to individuals based upon race. It seems California truly is ‘progressive’.

  3. We’re completely ignoring the elephant in the room. Our government is in the process of hurriedly releasing convicted felons including violent three strikers to reduce the prison population. So we now have felons on the street after decades in prison oblivious to the racial nirvana we’ve had for the last decade or two. California recently summarily rejected the state’s attempt to sponsor racism and favoritism based upon race by rejecting the 2020 Prop 16 and agreeing that it would be repugnant for politicians to provide preferential treatment to individuals based upon race. It seems California truly is ‘progressive’.

  4. Ok, let’s have a conversation about that. I don’t think they were intentionally trying to ignore anything they are just talking about what is relevant to them. I didn’t expect the author to know nuances that are going on outside the asian hate trend going on. What you are talking about is not an elephant, it’s more of an ice berg that if not looked at closely enough will directly affect everything else. Now it’s hard to say what you are saying will add to the asian hate trend. What else can you tell people that is more helpful? Like ok, if that’s what’s going to happen what can Californians do about it? Please don’t comment to belittle anyone, we know there are problems to solve but we need more transparency than just “oh look what you did” so we can at least try to KNOW what the problems and caveats are with certain decisions.

  5. Phu Tan Elli, I’m not sure what you mean about a censor. You comment often and your comments are all being posted without any manual intervention.

  6. If not manual, then the intervention must algorithmically key on certain words or phrases (in this case, none of them offensive). This has happened several times in the past.

  7. I really don’t know what you mean. If your comments were mistakenly getting caught in the spam filter, for instance, then I personally would have to manually approve them before they would appear. I approve comments as quickly as possible when that happens, but it’s very rare and that isn’t happening to you. I am not approving your comments before they are posted. I really do not know what you mean by “censor confirmed” above. Nothing and no one censored your comments and they appeared without any manual intervention.

  8. Well, I have trouble understanding how I am able to post this exchange but not my comment. I will send this and once I see it posted will try again.

  9. Question: Are Asians so easily duped as to buy into this latest divisive campaign by the rotten-to-the-core government and news media cabal? Sadly, the answer seems to be yes.

    Consider this post, which begins with a Japantown resident’s statement about never having “felt the need” before to patrol her neighborhood. This establishes Ms. Sakamoto has having the ability to read her immediate environment, as she has done in the past, while at the same time revealing her as having been exposed to the Left’s dastardly campaign, as evidenced by her change in behavior.

    But if we focus on her neighborhood in search of what has changed we find nothing justifying her new concern. Ms. Sakamoto has ceased reading her neighborhood, and to this point consider that despite twelve hundred words dedicated above to proving the veracity of her new reality, the alleged evidence is limited to this:

    — An attack two miles away near a train station frequented by the often aggressive lunatics, addicts, and derelicts sympathetically referred to as “the homeless.”

    — A local monument vandalized (probably tagged by gang-bangers), in a city where tagging is a celebrated tradition among the lower species, and during a period in our history when such destructive behavior is widespread though seldom, if ever, aimed at the Asian community.

    — A vile, crank phone call, something all such businesses receive (representing a behavior Hollywood keeps alive via witless movies).

    And that’s it, folks, in a city of one million. Of course, were the Asian community to ignore the cabal and search for the truth behind some very real and often horrific crimes against Asians (primarily the elderly), they would see the responsible as being of one type, the same type committing the smash and grab at Apple stores, mob raids on our shopping malls, in-your-face shoplifting at grocery stores, and, well, the list could go on and on. It seems Job One for the cabal is to deflect, if not completely cover-up, the uncivilized, ruinous behavior of the very worst segment of the Black community.

    As a resident of a city that has absorbed, with a level of tolerance and acceptance seldom if every witnessed in history, hundreds of thousands of Asian foreigners over the last forty-five years, I am disappointed to see the community so easily fooled, so easily separated from the logic they have otherwise demonstrated in improving their lives. And that a retired police officer, someone well aware that almost all such incidents can be attributed to the impaired minds of the deranged (and, to a lesser degree, the juvenile), would lend credibility to this national hoax is reprehensible.

    Bottom line, if the news media-government cabal has got you living in fear of hate, be it from white supremacists or any group other than themselves, they’ve got you right where they want you, where they intend to keep you, and occupied passing along the fear to your children.

  10. Question: Are Asians so easily duped as to buy into this latest divisive campaign by the rotten-to-the-core government and news media cabal? Sadly, the answer seems to be yes.

    Consider this post, which began with a J-Town resident’s statement about never having “felt the need” before to patrol her neighborhood. This establishes two things about Ms. Sakamoto, the first, that she possesses the ability to read her neighborhood and, second, that her reading ability has been disabled by the cabal’s dastardly campaign of divisiveness.

    The twelve hundred plus words dedicated above to making the case that J-Town has changed are laughable. An attack two miles away in an area frequented not by Asians but by the deranged, is evidence of nothing other than the declining quality of life in SJ for everyone. The vandalism case cited, probably a gang-banger’s tag (given the makeup of the area to the south and southeast of J-Town), is one case in a city that is plagued with moronic graffiti. And lastly, vile, crank calls are hardly unique to Asian restaurants.

    That’s it, folks. Three blatant reaches in support of the hoax, three embarrassing reaches in a city of one million. Thus begged is the question, if the threat is real why is the evidence of it manufactured? Why is it that a community, one known for using hard logic to improve their lives and those of their children, has opted in this case for hysteria? Is it motivated by the political benefits of victim status, the natural propensity of groups to isolate psychologically, or simply a case of poor reasoning power?

    This city has, during the last four decades, absorbed into the ranks of its citizenry hundreds of thousands of Asian newcomers, and done so with a level of tolerance and acceptance seldom if ever witnessed in history (and certainly never even approached in an Asian nation). How sad that this community has been so easily duped into reacting in a way that threatens to insult the character of the welcoming and well-meaning majority of its non-Asian neighbors. How sad that a retired police officer, one who knows the story really told by the data, would choose to jump on the bandwagon, contribute to the stoking of fear, and engage in what is really little more than a stunt (behavior that has the smell of political ambition).

    Lastly, if you count yourself among the community members who now live in fear understand that the cabal has you right where they want you, right where they intend to keep you, and right where you can’t help but communicate your destructive paranoia to your children.

  11. The other elephant in the room is that we DO NOT talk about the demographics of the majority of suspects who are committing violent acts against asians. It seems that those in the liberal utopia of the bay area are terrified to acknowledge. Interestingly we now have the BART pipeline running right from the east bay. Things that make you go hmmmm

  12. Phu Tan Elli, I don’t understand what your objective is here. Are you trying to be helpful or hurtful? I’m sorry if this article upsets you in a way that we should be dismissive of what’s going on, but we cannot rule out that there has been increased and continuing acts that cause the fear you speak of. It’s inevitable to be fearful. what’s not ok is to just vocalize how sad we are and make us feel diminished for not acting in the way you expect (which I’m still not sure what you want people to do, but we’re not going to do absolutely nothing). People are fearful, we always were. but being fearful should not equate to inactivism. As if everything is fine. and if there is something else we need to address, ok let’s talk about it. But what you’re doing is exactly what “the cabal” is doing: oppression. you didn’t suggest any solutions. your tone seems already hell-bent on just thinking we’re fools, you seem upset about this community almost as if it’s personal. Because reading all your points, I don’t know how anyone would understand you. Worst case they probably think you’re attacking us: is this how you solve problems? What I think the community is doing is being precautious. People are volunteering, so we are not as fearful. And the children won’t be fearful, right now they are angry.

  13. 1.”I’m sorry if this article upsets you in a way that we should be dismissive of what’s going on…” — SOMEONE TRYING TO HELP
    The article is about Japantown where nothing is going on yet fear is being stoked. How is that healthy, especially for the most vulnerable (the young and old)?

    2.. “increased and continuing acts that cause the fear…” — STTH
    The acts of which you speak have occurred elsewhere, in areas affected by circumstances that in no way resemble those in Japantown.

    3. “People are fearful, we always were.” — STTH
    If that is true it is an unfortunate, destructive mindset not supported by crime statistics.

    4. “your tone seems already hell-bent on just thinking we’re fools…” STTH
    I’m not hell-bent on any such thing, despite the fact that you’re acting like fools.

    5. “People are volunteering, so we are not as fearful. And the children won’t be fearful, right now they are angry.” — STTH
    Revisit what you wrote in #3, then try to get a grip.