HORSE’S MOUTH: Thank You, Councilman Ron Ikejiri


(First published in
The Rafu Shimpo on August 23, 2011.)


A frequently heard or spoken adage is “Timing is everything.”

Well, I guess that’s one I can use in this piece I am about to write.

The other day, with nothing but time on my hands, I was sitting in our living room channel-surfing on my TV set.

Using my remote device, I moved from channel to channel until I landed on Channel 22, which was showing a video of a recent Gardena City Council meeting.

On the screen talking was City Councilman Ron Ikejiri. The subject matter of his chat caught my attention.

He was talking about the Japanese American community in Gardena and as I was glued to the channel, he suddenly mentioned my name. He talked about my being a newspaper columnist for the Rafu Shimpo.

Needless to say, I was kind of surprised. I don’t think I’ve ever heard my name on a TV station.

I’ll have to thank Ron.

He’s been a city councilman for many years and is a popular figure in the City of Gardena. Everyone who has seen Ron knows that he always has a smile on his face.

Perhaps, because of his popularity, he might consider seeking a higher office. How does “Gov. Ikejiri” sound?

In my book it sounds a lot better than Gov. Brown (current state leader) or Gov. Schwarzenegger (previous office-holder).

Or maybe Ron can run for assemblyman.

We have a Nikkei assemblyman in Sacramento, Warren Furutani, but he has recently announced that he is giving up that seat to run for a spot on the Los Angeles City Council.

Not sure why Warren is sort of “moving down” by leaving the Assembly post for a City Council position.

Wouldn’t that be like Obama giving up the presidency to run for governor of Hawaii?

Oh well, I’m sure when Ron reads this (at least I hope he reads my column), he’ll say, “Oh, Horse, will you shut your big mouth?”

Okay, Ron, but that’s why they call me “the Horse’s Mouth.”

Yeah, you can call me the other end of a horse.

Those of you read the Los Angeles Times probably saw this past Sunday’s edition, which ran a story on its front page about the event at the former relocation center at Heart Mountain, Wyoming.

It was complete with a photo in which Bacon Sakatani was recognized in the caption.

They didn’t name the other fellow, who happens to be Keiichi Ikeda.

I played football at Heart Mountain High with Keiichi, so I looked around for a photo of the team and found one I’m including here.

Keiichi is the one on the left in the backfield.

Members of the Heart Mountain High School football team. George Yoshinaga is in the front row, second from right, and Keiichi Ikeda is in the back row on the left.

The second from the right in the front row is you-know-who.

I was kind of surprised that the Times article identified Bacon as “Mr. Heart Mountain.” Not bad for a person who was only 15 years old during camp days.

I take my hat off to Bacon. While he was still a youngster back then, he has accomplished much in keeping the history of our camp days alive.

He is also the key figure in putting together the annual Heart Mountain Reunion held in Las Vegas.

Because of our age difference, I didn’t meet Bacon during camp days.

If he heard about me, he probably thought I was an Issei.

At any rate, the Times story was very interesting.

Especially the opening paragraph, which mentioned the “anti-Jap” sentiment in the State of Wyoming when it was first announced that the evacuees would be interned at Heart Mountain.

And how today signs are posted reading, “Welcome all Japanese Americans. Congratulations.”

Isn’t it great how time can change things?

Well, I hope I can chat with Bacon when he gets back. He might have some interesting tidbits about the gathering that I might run in my column.

The one fact about the evacuation of JAs during World War II that makes me feel good is that we were identified as Japanese Americans.

That’s not so these days.

Most people want to classify us as “Asian Americans.” I reject this classification and don’t  hesitate in making my feelings known, especially this past week when there were a number of stories in the print media about “Asians.”

There was one about the Long Beach police arresting “16 Asian gang members.”

Then there was the murder committed on a Red Line train in Hollywood. The suspect was described as a “20-year-old Asian.”

The third story, also involving a crime, labeled the suspect as “Asian.”

Consider this: If one is from England, he is called an Englishman. For someone from Ireland, he is an Irish. A person from Italy is called an Italian. From Scotland, a Scot. From Spain, a Spaniard.

All those countries are in what is called Europe, so why don’t we call all of them Europeans?

That’s what I mean about lumping everyone together as “Asians.”

A person from Korea is a Korean. From the Philippines, a Filipino. From China, a Chinese. From Japan, a Japanese, etc.

Hey, I know this may upset most of you, but I’d rather be called a “Jap” than an Asian.

A fellow dropped by the other day at my house and handed me a copy of the Kashu Mainichi he said he found at his home. It was dated Tuesday, Oct. 8, 1963. That would make it about 48 years old.

It had a “Horse’s Mouth” column on the front page.

The fellow said, “Why don’t you print the column so your readers today can judge if your writing is the same, better, or not as good?”

The column has a Tokyo dateline because I was living and working in Japan during that time. I sent my column to Kashu via snail-mail because there was no such thing as email in those days.

Okay, so here is the column:

TOKYO — A ten-yen piece is worth about 2.8 cents stateside. And that’s all it costs to ride a special express train from Tokyo to Atami, if a person had enough nerve.

This is the discovery a group of us made the other day when we decided to spend an evening in the popular seaside resort town of Atami.

Atami is about 80 miles from Tokyo, so a 2.8-cent ride would be considered quite a bargain.

We, including Kokusai Travel Service head Willie Kai and San Fernando Valley real estate agent Tommy Uyeda, took our bold trip because we had no other choice.

When we arrived at the Tokyo Station and tried to order tickets on the special express, we were told that there were no more tickets available.

Since it was the last train for Atami that evening, we decided to buy a 10-yen platform ticket and got on the train anyway, and once the train started moving they couldn’t put us off. Besides, we were quite willing to pay the price (1,500 yen per person) if the conductor demanded it.

A platform ticket is one issued to persons who wish to see friends off. It allows them to go aboard the train and visit until departure time.

The public address announcer usually advises platform ticket-holders to get off the train in about one minute before departure time.

We hopped aboard when everyone else was getting off.

We also discovered that there were a lot of empty seats, despite the “no ticket” information we were handed at the ticket office.

In Japan I learned that they don’t like to sell tickets on special express trains at the last minute because it it too much trouble as every seat is reserved.

We plunked ourselves into some of the empty seats until the train pulled out of Tokyo Station. Next stop was Yokohama.

After that, Atami. We reasoned that if we could get past Yokohama, we were safe as they would have to put us off at Atami if they discovered us.

As the conductor worked his way up the aisle collecting tickets, we retreated to the diner.

A meal in the diner with three cups of coffee turned the trick. By the time the waiter handed us the check, it was about five minutes out of Atami.

We then made a startling discovery. Although we had intended to pay, no one had even bothered us about fares.

When we alighted from the train, there was still nobody with their hands stretched out asking for fare.

The only difficulty, of course, with Japanese train stations, is that it requires a ticket to get out of the station.

How we solved this problem shall remain a trade secret.

Besides, we don’t want to contribute to the financial ruin of the National Railway Company.

In relating this experience to a few Japanese friends, I learned that a lot of people do this same thing deliberately. That is, they do it to cheat the company.

Ours was not that brazen. We merely wanted to get to Atami but couldn’t do so without being able to buy a ticket.

What we did might be labeled “good old Yankee ingenuity.”

Tommy Uyeda got a big kick out of the whole operation.

This was his first trip to Japan and needless to say, he is enjoying every minute of it.

Tommy once served as student body president at Verdugo Hills High School. He was quite a football player. I met him first when I went to Verdugo to do a story on him.

Who would have dreamed that one day we would be soaking in a hot springs bath in Atami after sneaking on a train without paying for tickets?

If there is a positive side to the tragic earthquake and tsunami, it’s that people throughout the world learned a lot about the Japanese people, especially their honesty and civility.

For example, people turned in to the police $48 million in cash that they found in the rubble of the quake-ravished cities.

Also 5,200 safes found in the ruins. The safes contained $30 million in cash.

Would such a thing happen in the U.S. if a similar disaster hit one of the major cities in the U.S.?

Most say, “No way.” And they praise the Japanese for their honesty.


George Yoshinaga writes from Gardena and may be reached via email. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.



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