HORSE’S MOUTH: Little Tokyo Just Ain’t The Same



The Japanese surname, Yoshinaga, it’s not as common as say, Tanaka or Watanabe. So, when Yoshinaga appears in print, some of my friends always ask me if there is any connection between the name in print and me.

Such was the case of the obituary that appeared in the Rafu the other day. It listed Ben Yoshinaga. Yes, Ben’s father and my father were brothers, which made us cousins. Since Ben lived in Texas, we didn’t really associate as cousins but we did exchange e-mails occasionally.

He passed away in Temple, Texas, but he will be interned at the cemetery in Montebello next Saturday so I will have the opportunity to bid him a farewell.

Last Saturday, I also had the opportunity to say goodbye to Dan Tabuchi whose memorial services were held at the First Presbyterian Church in Fullerton.

Don played basketball for the legendary Lords team in the NAU Double Aye league during the era we old-timers refer to as the “good old days” of the Nisei basketball.

The congregation which turned out to bid Don goodbye was probably one of the largest I’ve ever seen.

It attested to his popularity, especially with the current generation of Japanese American basketball participants. He was very active as a coach of the younger players of this era.

I did get a chance to meet a couple of all-time great Nisei cagers who were in attendance. Both are on my list of “all-time greats,” Tets Tanimoto and Yone Inouye.

I first met Don when I was involved in the NAU program and we continued our friendship through the many years afterwards.

Don’s name can now be added to the growing list of former great Nisei basketball players who have left us over the past few years such as Jim Miyano and Dick Nagai.

Just thinking about them rekindles a lot of great memories and now I had the privilege of seeing them perform.


Touching on memories, I received a letter from Roy Yempuku, the son of the late Ralph Yempuku, whom I wrote about in a past column. I hope Roy doesn’t mind if I print his letter which read:

“My Uncle Paul (publisher of the Hawaii Hochi newspaper) forwarded a copy of your Nov. 21 article about my father. I think about my parents daily and enjoyed reading about your experiences with him. Thank you very much for memorializing him in your column.

“Of course, I remember your experience with the tiger incident. Dad told me that you leaned against the cage and the tiger moved like lightening. The Japanese were stunned. It must have been interesting explaining to the doctor why you didn’t retrieve your fingertip.

“I also enjoyed your account of my dad’s military career. He told me that he led a team to liberate a POW camp after the Emperor had surrendered. This was his first parachute jump and they didn’t have a harness small enough to fit him properly. When the chute opened, the chest buckle rode up and hit him in the chin, dazing or knocking him out. His small team was confronted by the many armed Japanese prison guards. He said he asked, ‘You know the Emperor has surrendered, don’t you?’

“After a tense moment, the Japanese Commander said, ‘Yes,’ and they laid down their arms. The POW camp was filled with Australians and Kiwis, who had been captured before the Americans entered the war. They were all starving. I saw a photo of prisoners lined up showing off their rat traps. Dad and Mom are interned at the Punch Bowl. If you ever make it to Hawaii, we can pay them a visit. I know he would be happy.”

Thank you for your letter, Roy. Yes, I will look forward to visiting your Dad’s resting place at the Veteran’s Cemetery if I get to Honolulu.

For those who might not be familiar with Roger’s reference to the “tiger incident,” it was about my losing the tip of my little finger when I was bitten by a tiger when I was working with Ralph in presenting a circus in Niigata, Japan.

I actually fell against the cage the tigers were kept and before I could regain my balance, one of the animals bit off my finger.

It’s not much of a souvenir of Japan, but I am reminded of the incident when I look at my left hand and see the missing “pinkie.”

Yeah, the incident made the front page of the Niigata newspaper. Probably all the Japanese who read it thought, “aho na gaijin.”

Yeah and I got a new nickname because of the incident. All the Japanese connected with the circus renamed me, “Tora-no-ojisan.”


Here’s an interesting tidbit from Hawaii:

There’s a move on the Islands to rename a high school to honor President Obama. The school in question is McKinley High School.

Needless to say, most are opposed to renaming it Obama High School.

For those unfamiliar with Hawaii, McKinley High was often nicknamed, “Tokyo High” by residents because so many of student body were made up of Japanese Americans. At least that’s the story I have been told.

Those who oppose renaming McKinley say that if they are going to name a high school after the President, why not Punahou? That’s the school that Obama attended during his high school days.

Others don’t want to consider naming anything after him. After all, they argue, he has only been the President for a year so why all this furor about honoring him.

I still recall when Steve Bradford was a Gardena City Councilman, he tried to rename a street in the city after Obama. That move went down the drain pipe in a hurry.

Getting back to the Hawaii movement:

If the people in Hawaii want to name a school after someone, what about “Dan Inouye High School”?

I’m not a real fan of Senator Dan but he’s done a hell of a lot more for the Island State than Obama and sure deserves the recognition more than Obama.

If the group favoring Obama wants to succeed in their movement, at least wait until he finishes his first term as the President. Heck, he might not even get reelected.

Oh well, I’m glad I live in California.


It is often said that the media shows a lot of bias in its coverage of some news. This debate has popped up this past week after the incident involving a Japanese whaling ship’s collision with a U.S. vessel.

The Japanese media has pulled out all stops to charge that the world-wide media has displayed complete bias in its report on the incident.

Most of the world media, especially in Australia, have really been anti-Japanese in its coverage in the eyes of the Japanese.

It isn’t known how the incident will turn out but if the world media is to decide, it’s all anti-Japan. The Japanese say that even the most obvious facts have been twisted to paint the Japanese as the “bad guys.”

I guess it’s to be expected.

Most don’t like the Japanese for their whale hunting and an incident like the collision is only going to create more anti-Japanese resentment.

I guess it will end up as a whale of a debate between Japan and the rest of the world.


Whenever I drive into Little Tokyo to make my weekly visit to the Rafu office, I get off the Harbor Freeway at Fourth Street and travel east until I reach San Pedro Street.

More often than not, I hit a red signal at the corner of Fourth and San Pedro and while I wait for the light to change, I can’t help but glance at the sign over a hotel at that location because it has Japanese characters on the side of the building. I wondered what kind of tenants stayed at the hotel.

Then it became a headline site because the manager, a JA lady, was murdered there last week. The media, described the Chetwood Hotel, the name of the facility, as being part of Little Tokyo.

Although Fourth and San Pedro is only a stone’s throw from J-Town, I never considered the hotel as being “part of Little Tokyo.” The Rafu described the site as “a block outside the recognized boundaries of Little Tokyo.”

In the years I’ve been a J-Town regular, I always considered Second Street as the edge of J-Town but in more recent times, it has expanded with the Union Church and a commercial building on the south side of Third Street, expanding the J-Town area.

However, Fourth Street, in my mind, was far removed from Little Tokyo.

When I was discharged from the Army and had no place to live, I stayed at an apartment on Crocker Street, just south of Third. In those days, it wasn’t a bad area. I could walk to Little Tokyo in a few minutes and the street and sidewalk were clear.

Today, the same area is crowded with the homeless, sprawled on the sidewalk. I wouldn’t think of walking in that area now.

The crime last week has made many people who frequent Little Tokyo nervous and that’s to be expected.

The area has changed so much.

And, to think, J-Towners used to think the Taul Building “leaners” were a nuisance.

Oh well, time marches on.


When we think about the homeless, we probably never imagine that they have a similar problem in Japan. With joblessness a factor, the homeless situation is growing in cities like Tokyo.

However, the Japanese seem to have a better handle on how to accommodate the homeless. It’s called the “capsule hotel.” It gets its name because the “rooms” are really capsules in size. It’s just 5 feet wide and about 2 feet high.

There are now 100 capsule hotels in Tokyo alone, each with about 300 capsules.

The government says there are about 10,000 homeless in Tokyo alone with the jobless rate now at a record high.

Women as well as men are “tenants” in the “capsule hotels.”


Most of the women want to remain anonymous because they don’t want their family to know they are tenants in the “capsules.” One female tenant said it’s tough to live like she is but feels it won’t be for long as jobs are starting to open up.

Hey, maybe someone will build some “capsule hotels” in L.A.’s skid row.

Most of the people I know who frequent Las Vegas are strictly casino fans. That is, table games and slot machines.

However, a lot of others are lured by the sports book. A few of my relatives from Hawaii are in this category.

They always schedule trips to Vegas during Super Bowl week so they can place wagers on the game. Not only on who wins but such areas as who scores first or who kicks the first field goal, etc., etc.

Well, it’s going to be a lost easier for them to place wages in the various aspects of the Super Bowl. They will be able to place their wagers from anywhere in the casino, not just as the sports book. That’s the word out of Vegas.

The casino owners are all for the new format. It will mean more profits.

Last year’s revenue from sports bet was $125 million. The new system is expected to increase this total.

I guess it will make coming over for the Super Bowl more enjoyable for my Hawaii relatives.

Me? I’ll just stick with my 25 cents video keno machine.


It’s probably a little early to chat about the Winter Olympics slated this year in Vancouver, but one of the favorites in the women’s ice skating competition will be a 19-year-old Japanese by the name of Mao Asada. She won a spot on the Japanese team recently. Asada won the 2008 world championship.

She couldn’t make the Japanese Olympic team four years ago because of her age. She was too young.

Well, I guess I’ll be watching the Vancouver Games on TV this year just to see Asada compete.


The Mongolian sumo tournament opened this week in Tokyo. Oophs, sorry, I mean the New York sumo tournament.

Of course, the fact that there are six Mongolians in sumo makuuchi division made me forget it’s still a “Japanese sport.”

Heading the list of gaijins are two yokozunas (grand champions) Hakuho and Asoshoryu. Also competing are Kakkuryu, Kotoshoo, Harumafuji and Tochigoshu.

Of course, since they all wrestle under their “sumo” name, it’s hard to tell they are gaijins.

Ah, remember when sumo had a few Americans from Hawaii as performers.

The way things are going, it may not be too long before there are no Japanese sumo wrestlers competing.

Most of the younger generation Japanese don’t take an interest in becoming sumo-to-ris.

Oh well, I guess if Major League Baseball can have dominating players from Japan on its rosters, having a bunch of foreigners dominating sumo might be the rule in the near future.


A reader sent me an e-mail the other day asking if I had gone to the races and bet on Suzie Cutie since my wife’s name is Susie and I am a hunch player.

Yes, I did.

Of course I had to give part of winnings from Susie Cutie when I got home.

My wife said she is waiting for an entry named, “Stupid Horse” to run at Santa Anita. “I want to go to the races if such a horse does run,” she laughed.

I told her maybe I’ll just run around the block and she doesn’t have to go out to the track. You know, seeing a stupid horse run.

Oh well…


Is the “big one” just around the corner?

When I heard about the 6.5 earthquake striking Northern California, just after a 4.5 hit the San Jose area, I am getting a bit edgy.

I’m now checking around the house to see what I can take off the shelves that might get jarred loose if the “big one” hits the L.A. area.

I guess a “big one” would be about a 7.2 shaker. The same tremor that almost destroyed Kobe, Japan a few years ago.

Oh well, hang on to your hats, folks.


One of the few remaining members of the old-time Nisei journalism corp, Harry Honda knows I’m a horse racing fan so he contributed today’s laugher. It goes:

One day while he was at the track playing the horses and all but losing his shirt (sounds like me, doesn’t it?), Akira noticed a priest who stepped out onto the track and blessed the forehead of one of the horses lining up for the 4th race.

Lo and behold, the horse, a very long shot, won the race.

Before the next race, as the horses began lining up, Akira watched with interest the old priest step onto the track.

Sure enough, as the horses for the 5th race came to the starting gate, the priest made a blessing on the forehead of one of the horses.

Akira made a beeline for the betting window and placed a bet on the horse.

Again, even though it was another long shot, the horse the priest had blessed, won the race.

Akira collected his winnings and anxiously waited to see which horse the priest would bless for the 6th race.

The priest again blessed a horse. Akira bet big on it and it won. He was elated.

As the races continued, the priest kept blessing long short horses and each one ended up coming in first.

By and by, Akira was pulling in some serious money. By the last race, he knew his wildest dream was going to come true.

He made a quick dash to the ATM, withdrew all of his savings and waited the priest’s blessing that would tell him which horse to bet on.

True to his pattern, the priest stepped onto the track for the last race and blessed the forehead of an old nag that was the longest shot of the day. He also observed the priest blessing the eyes, ears and hooves of the old nag.

He then watched dumbfounded as the old nag came in dead last.

In a state of shock, Akira made his way down to the track area where the priest was. Confronting the old priest he demanded, “Father! What happened? All day long you blessed horses and they all won. When in the last race, the horse you blessed lost by a mile. No thanks to you I’ve lost every cent of my savings… all of it.”

The priest nodded wisely and with sympathy. “Son,” he said, “that’s the problem with you Protestants. You can’t tell the difference between a simple blessing and last rites.”

Heh, heh.
George Yoshinaga writes from Gardena and may be reached via e-mail at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.


1 Comment

  1. Another good article. About the homeless in Japan – I recall lots of homeless in tents along the Sumida river that last time I was there. Sad.

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