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Japantown has 'totally bad feng shui,' San Francisco supervisor says

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We at The San Francisco Examiner do not want to cause an international incident, but Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi told Mayor Ed Lee during a tour of District 5 that Japantown has “totally bad feng shui.”

“In the feng shui rating card, this has gotta be totally bad feng shui,” the supervisor and candidate for sheriff told The City’s first Chinese-American mayor, Japanese Consul General  Hiroshi Inomata and Japantown business leaders during a merchant walk Thursday afternoon.

Linguistic purists may point out that feng shui is a Chinese and not a Japanese term. The exchange was met with polite smiles by the assembled officials, and mild chortling among reporters.

Now to be fair, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors member was referring specifically to opening up Japantown’s commercial foot traffic to surrounding areas, and not Japantown as a whole.

And he may have a point. The eight lanes of Geary Boulevard pose a major obstacle for pedestrians traveling between Japantown and the Western Addition neighborhood. There is also a narrow footbridge over the boulevard.

But that was not all of Mirkarimi’s multicultural analogizing.

“I think some misguided decision-making was made over the previous decades that really closed off Japantown, in the way that Geary Boulevard sort of served as a Berlin Wall, an invisible Berlin Wall, between the north side of Geary and the south side of Geary, where people just couldn’t even quite cross,” he said.

The mind swims.

The conversation was part of a larger point Mirkarimi was making, that the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency’s prior control of the neighborhoods in the area led to, in his opinion, poor choices about how it would be laid out, including a historical separation between the largely black Fillmore district and Japantown.

“Those times are changing now,” Mirkarimi said. “We want people to really have greater connectivity between the adjacent neighborhoods, so that it helps vitalize the merchant community, and the communities that really play together and live together.”

Lee said he was very pleased with the tour, noting the history of the area. San Francisco’s Japantown is the oldest of only a few such communities left in the United States.

Lee said he would be open to promoting business and tourism in the area.

“I want to keep Japantown alive, keep it vibrant, just like I want to do in Chinatown,” Lee said.

aburack@sfexaminer.com