Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Community & Society
Published on January 31, 2019
After 48 years serving seniors, Japantown's Kimochi receives legacy status

Photo: SF Legacy Business Registry Staff Report

Earlier this month, Japantown nonprofit Kimochi became one of the newest members of the city's Legacy Business Registry, which recognizes "longstanding, community-serving businesses" that have established themselves in area neighborhoods for at least three decades. 

Founded in 1971, Kimochi — which means “feeling” in Japanese — offers culturally sensitive programs for approximately 3,000 Japanese-speaking Bay Area seniors each year.

Based at 1715 Buchanan St. (at Sutter), it also occupies three other buildings around Japantown, as well as a facility in San Mateo. Its services to the community are numerous, from senior-center activities to home-delivered meals and in-home support for the elderly.

In her her letter of recommendation for Kimochi to become a legacy business, District 5 Supervisor Vallie Brown noted that the agency has been particularly active in helping Japanese-Americans who survived the horrors of internment in World War II.

"For decades, the agency helped countless local seniors access public services and benefits, particularly those who were forcibly relocated to concentration camps and came back to San Francisco to rebuild their lives," she said.

A volunteer and senior do an art project together in 1990. | Photo: Courtesy of Kimochi

"[Recognition as a legacy business] is a way to thank our original founders for their hard work," Kimochi executive director Steve Ishii told Hoodline.

Ishii first came to Kimochi as a volunteer in the early '80s, and was hired shortly thereafter. At the time, the organization was primarily centered around providing meal services and community activities, both of which continue to be offered largely free of charge through government grants and charitable donations.

Staff and volunteers prepare a meal in 1994. | PHOTO: Courtesy KIMOCHI

Each weekday, Kimochi prepares and serves a hot, nutritionally balanced lunch to anywhere from 150 to 300 seniors at its 1840 Sutter St. dining facility. 

Ishii said that menus are planned by a nutritionist, based on surveys of the seniors' preferences. (Japanese food isn't always on the menu; many of the attendees are particularly fond of spaghetti.)

But he notes that lunch at Kimochi is not just about the nutritional intake — "it's also about the social get-together."

"We are the ears and eyes for a lot of seniors," Ishii said. The goal is to "to keep seniors home and free of institutional care," including delivering meals directly to their homes if they're too ill to attend lunch in person.

In addition to a hot meal, Kimochi offers a variety of activities to those 60 and older, including classes in ceramics, yoga, tai chi and singing.

Seniors getting on the van. | PHOTO: courtesy of KIMOCHI

In 1983, Kimochi launched Kimochi Home, an assisted living facility at 1531 Sutter St. The residential program has the capacity to house up to 20 ambulatory seniors in single or shared rooms, with adult day care services for 40 more.

The agency also employs social workers to help seniors navigate services that are often difficult to access alone, from counseling on aging issues to assistance with obtaining insurance and government benefits.

Another service Kimochi offers is transportation from the Richmond and the Sunset to its facilities in Japantown, usually for up to 18 passengers on a fixed route. The agency will also arrange one-off trips, so seniors can run errands or attend medical appointments.

Photo: SF Legacy Business Registry Staff Report

Today, Kimochi has around 60 employees, some of whom also work out of the nonprofit's San Mateo branch. The agency is always looking for volunteers, and interested parties can fill out a form online.

"We need 8-10 volunteers to serve lunch," Ishii tells us, but help is needed in most other areas as well.