Legacy of Caring

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This photo shows the opening of Japanese Hospital in January 1929. Included in the picture are the five Issei doctors who started the hospital and J. Mario Wright, the attorney who represented them in the U.S. Supreme Court Trial. (Photo courtesy of the Japanese American National Museum)

By GWEN MURANAKA

Rafu English Editor

It turns out that access to health care isn’t just a debate for the Obama-era. Last Sunday, the struggle of Issei doctors in the 1920s to open a Japanese Hospital was detailed in a symposium at the Tateuchi Democracy Forum.

A capacity crowd, many the families of former doctors, attended the symposium which was cosponsored by the Little Tokyo Historical Society and the Japanese American National Museum.

Dr. Troy Kaji, grandson of Japanese Hospital founder Dr. Kikuo Tashiro, presents the history of the hospital during a symposium last Sunday at the Tateuchi Democracy Forum in Little Tokyo. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Dr. Troy Kaji, a family practitioner and grandson of hospital founder Dr. Kikuo Tashiro, and Janice Marion Wright LaMoree, daughter of the late attorney J. Marion Wright, explained how the Issei doctors took their bid to build the hospital all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Born in 1894, Dr. Tashiro studied medicine in Nagasaki and moved to California in 1921, setting up a medical office in Little Tokyo in 1923. Due to discrimination, Japanese physicians were unable to practice in other hospitals. The first small hospital was opened in 1918 in response to a major flu epidemic on Turner St. in Little Tokyo.

Later as the Alien Land Law took farm land away from the Issei, many moved to the city seeking work.

“The dispossessed farmers are moving to the city. L.A.’s population of Japanese is growing to 43,000,” Kaji said. “The Turner St. hospital has outgrown its capacity, so my grandfather and four other Japanese physicians applied to incorporate to build a hospital, California said no.”

The Japanese Hospital of Los Angeles, California, located in Boyle Heights on First and Fickett streets. (Gift of Barbara Mikami Keimi/JANM)

The State of California refused to grant articles of incorporation, stating that it wasn’t permitted under the 1911 U.S.-Japan treaty. The doctors turned for help to attorney Wright, a USC alumni and friend of Kashu Mainichi publisher Sei Fujii.

“He had a firm affection and sympathy for the Japanese people in Los Angeles at that time,” said LaMoree of her father, who also argued against the Alien Land Law.

She recalled traveling with her father by train to Washington where she saw the newly built Lincoln Memorial and also attended the Supreme Court hearing.

Frances Kaji, daughter of Dr. Kikuo Tashiro, greets Janice LaMoree, daughter of J. Marion Wright. (Gwen Muranaka/Rafu Shimpo)

“It was very impressive and it was particularly impressive because William Howard Taft, chief justice at that time, weighed 350 pounds,” LaMoree said.

With the court victory, the supporters of the Japanese Hospital were able to raise $129,000 for the new 42-bed facility on Fickett St. in Boyle Heights. The facility continued to serve the Japanese American community until 1941 when it was taken over by White Memorial for the duration of World War II. Dr. Kaji said that the doctors treated ailments including stomach cancer, farming accidents and delivering babies.

The symposium also included video interviews with Dr. Sakaye Shigekawa, who has delivered more than 20,000 babies; Frances Kaji, daughter of Dr. Tashiro; Margaret Kuroiwa, daugher of Dr. Daishiro Kuroiwa; Yoshiko Inose, daughter-in-law of Inosuke Inose, the president of the Southern California Japanese Hospital and Dr. Masako Kusayanagi Miura.

For the physicians, the work was difficult and their patients often paid what they could. Dr. Kusayanagi Miura, in a video interview, said that patients would give vegetables or other items as payment.

“It isn’t like here now, where there are all these health services. You had direct contact with the doctors, you paid directly, you didn’t go through any third party. It’s actually better I think,” said Dr. Kusayanagi Miura.

GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo CAP: Front row, from left, Margaret Kuroiwa, Carole Fujita, Dr. Sakaye Shigekawa, Yoshiko Inose and Frances Kaji; back row, from left, Bill Watanabe, Darryl Mori, Janice Marion Wright LaMoree, Dr. Kaji and Gwenn Jensen. (Gwen Muranaka/Rafu Shimpo)

Dr. Tashiro struggled with tuberculosis throughout his life. His grandson explained that as he was convalescing in 1953, he performed a 13-hour surgery on a patient despite his own frail health. He passed away of a heart attack the following week. Tashiro’s funeral on Feb. 11, 1953 was attended by 1,000 people and his grandson noted, his last patient recovered fully from the surgery.

“This is a story of leadership, of looking at your current situation, at the hand you’ve been dealt and making the most of it, cooperating with friends and going forward. That’s the lesson I would put to you,” said Kaji.

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5 Comments

  1. I was born at this hospital in the 1950’s. The photo of the hospital is on my birth certificate, but I never knew the location, much less the history behind it. I would have liked to, but did not attend this event. Regardless, my thanks to Dr. Troy Kaji & Janice Marion Wright LaMoree, the sponsors of the event, Little Tokyo Historical Society, Japanese American National Museum, reporter Gwen Muranaka and the Rafu Shimpo for bringing this information to light.

    Now that I have the history behind the hospital, my deeper ‘kansha’ (gratitude) extends to Dr. Kikuo Tashiro, and J. Marion Wright for bringing healthcare to the Nikkei & Nihonjin community in Los Angeles via Sei Fujii during a very difficult time in history. And to all the doctors, nurses, staff, & community members who supported the hospital over its many years of serving the community, ‘honto ni doomo arigatou gozaimashita, taihen osewa ni narimashita’ (thank you very much, we are all very much indebted to you).

    I believe you can still see the building in the photos in this article by going to Google maps and looking at the street view of it from Fickett St. The building is showing its age with some remodeling and paint, but it is still there.

  2. Nancy (Gomez) Morales on

    I too was born at the Japanese Hospital. I was unaware that the hospital still existed. It’s nice to know it is still around and I could fondly look back at where I was born. Thank you to all that have supported this hospital to continue in its existence.

  3. Kenji Haroutunian on

    I thought that this hospital became City View for a while, and wondering if it is still a care facility at all? I was delivered in 1961 by Dr. Shigekawa, who is the most honorable caregiver I will likely ever know. Much thanks to those who brought this article to life, and the pioneers who built such an incredible foundation for Japanese-Americans in Los Angeles and nationwide.

  4. Ben Hernandez on

    I was Delivered there in 1962 by Dr. Asaichi Hieshima who was my mother’s Doctor in the 50’s and later our family Physician until he retired. The Hospital essentially moved to City View Hospital above Lincoln Park. I worked there in the early 80’s on the med/surg floor and trained in the O.R shortly before it closed. Great memories and much encouragement from the staff.

  5. I suppose I’m a little late in adding my comment to this article, but a copy of it was recently given to me by Mr. Okumura (the first commenter above) following our mutual discovery that we were both born in the same hospital. We had already established an acquaintanceship when a recent conversation turned to the subject of our origins. When he said that he was born in Los Angeles, I said that I was also born there — and suspecting that Mr. Okumura was of Japanese heritage, I proudly told him that I was born in a Japanese hospital in East L.A. I had no suspicion, however, that he might have been born there as well. Needless to say, the conversation got very interesting from that point onward.

    I was born in that hospital in January 1946, five months after the end of World War II and four months before the White Memorial Hospital returned it to its Japanese owners. During the war and shortly thereafter, it was used by the White Memorial as a maternity ward. The White Memorial was a Seventh-day Adventist Hospital; and my parents, being good Adventists, would naturally have me delivered there. I think that Mr. Okumura said he was born there in 1958.

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