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OBITUARY: Activist and Artist Peter Kenichi Yamamoto

Peter Kenichi Yamamoto

SAN FRANCISCO — The board and staff of the National Japanese American Historical Society issued the following statement on May 29.


It is with great sadness and heavy hearts that we inform you that our longtime volunteer coordinator Peter Kenichi Yamamoto passed away suddenly on Sunday morning, May 27, 2018, just a month short of his 64th birthday.

Peter was a long-time community activist, a fixture in San Francisco’s Japantown, who welcomed all to the National Japanese American Historical Society’s Peace Gallery on Post Street.

He valued his friendships from all sectors of society. For those who have known him, he was one of the most caring and considerate persons, who always carried the most generous feelings for others. We are sure that the Japantown community feels his loss as much as we do here at the Historical Society, where he clocked in tens of thousands of volunteer hours over the course of his 27 years of service.

We are so grateful to have known this remarkable poet, thinker, social activist who always put people and their struggles first. Peter grew up in San Francisco and Muir Beach and became an activist in the 1970s as a resident at the I-Hotel during its final days, making him a key witness to a critical event in the Asian American experience.

Peter was active in the anti-war movement, was involved in Kearny Street Workshop, Japantown Art Media Workshop, Manilatown Heritage Foundation, the Erin Watada defense committee, the comfort women issue, assisted the Tule Lake Pilgrimage, Kimochi Inc., and was involved with the annual Day of Remembrance and grew concerned about the long-term preservation of Japantown.

On Nov. 22, 2016, he initiated and helped organize an interactive Wall of Compassion as S.F. Japantown’s response in the aftermath of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric in the 2016 election campaign.

Peter was a published poet and was recognized by Friends of the S.F. Public Library Poet-in-Residence Jack Hirschman. His book of poetry “Journey” invites readers to his Japantown, as well as his own thoughts, feelings, fears. It includes his tribute to the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster victims of March 11, 2011. Having sold out of copies of his first book, he was working on his second publication, the final edits of his “Journey II” just prior to his death.

“It is our hope to help Peter finish his creative work,” stated Executive Director Rosalyn Tonai. “He was a master of presenting snapshots of life, his personal relations to others within the broader context of the world’s condition.” NJAHS has set aside funds toward the completion of that work.

For the benefit of his friends and loved ones, NJAHS has set up a Memory Wall and a memory book in Pete’s honor at the NJAHS Peace Gallery at 1684 Post St. for this weekend, June 2 and 3, from 12 to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The Buffet Ensemble will be debuting a piece in tribute to Peter at the Buchanan Street Mall Celebration.

Folks are welcome to drop in to share their thoughts, photos, poems, stories and feelings about Peter with friends and colleagues throughout the day at the NJAHS Gallery. Light refreshments will be served. Friends are welcome to share in a potluck of Pete’s favorite foods. Information about a possible future memorial event will be forthcoming. If you plan to stop by, please let us know the designated time you’ll be by Buchanan Mall or at the NJAHS Peace Gallery this weekend.

We thank the Yamamoto family, parents Larry and Judith, his sisters Ruth and Naomi, and his niece Momo for allowing us to do this for our dear friend.

We will continue to share the numerous outpouring of thoughts and feelings for Peter via social media and at the gallery via artistic expressions throughout this period.

While our hearts are heavy, we are so grateful that our lives have been enriched by his presence on this earth.

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