This article was originally published in our Nisei Week supplement on August 1, 2013.
By ELLEN ENDO
For nearly 30 years, businesswoman Frances Hashimoto-Friedman worked tirelessly behind the scenes of the Los Angeles Nisei Week Japanese Festival, making sure that the events ran smoothly and committee members had what they needed. No matter how busy she was or what was asked of her, she always found a way to make things happen.
On Nov. 4, 2012, Hashimoto -Friedman passed away at the age of 69, leaving an unmistakable void in the Japanese American community and palpable sadness among Nisei Week Foundation committee and board members. 2013 will be the first year in many that the festival will move forward without her guiding spirit.
Hashimoto-Friedman’s devotion to Nisei Week can be traced to the one aspect of her life more dear to her than anything else — her family.
Her parents, Haru and Koroku Hashimoto, emigrated from Japan in the 1920s and instilled in her the importance of carrying on cultural traditions in their adopted country of America. That manifested into Japanese classical dance and tea ceremony lessons as a child, but it is her connection to Nisei Week that most solidly bears her father’s imprint.
The family patriarch, Koroku, was among those who in 1934 helped convince fellow Issei merchants to support young members of the Downtown Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) in instituting a seven-day community-wide festival to stimulate business among the younger generation — and Nisei Week was born.
The outbreak of World War II and forced removal of all persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast emptied Little Tokyo until 1945, when merchants and residents gradually began to return.
By 1949, the Downtown JACL Business and Professional Association had re-launched the Nisei Week Festival. Proceeds were put into a community center building fund. A year later, the Business and Professional Association separated from the JACL and became the Little Tokyo Businessmen’s Association (LTBA).
Hashimoto-Friedman was 15 when her father passed away, but she mirrored his devotion to Little Tokyo throughout her life. After graduating from the University of Southern California, she taught school for four years while working part-time at the family confectionery business, Mikawaya.
With encouragement from her mother, Hashimoto took over as head of Mikawaya and expanded the business from one retail shop in Little Tokyo to locations in Gardena, Torrance, and Hawaii. With her husband, Joel Friedman, she transformed the confectionery and their flagship product, Mochi Ice Cream, into a national brand.
Meanwhile, Hashimoto-Friedman followed in her father’s footsteps, becoming active with both the LTBA and Nisei Week Foundation boards of directors. In 1982, she was appointed the Nisei Week Foundation’s first female chairperson; she led the festival again in 1990.
She served as president of LTBA from 1994-2008 and was the organization’s chair until her passing. She also sat on the boards of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California and Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, and chaired the Community Development Advisory Committee.
Her efforts on behalf of Nisei Week also grew into long-standing relationships with the Los Angeles-Nagoya Sister City Affiliation (LANSCA). Annually, she led delegations to Japan with the Nisei Week Queen and her court, and hosted post-festival get-togethers for the committee members.
She also bolstered ties between Little Tokyo and Minami Otsu Dori Shotengai (Pure O2) in Nagoya through delegation exchanges, arranging business seminars and lobbying the city governments of both countries to raise money for Nisei Week and promote cultural awareness.
Last Sept. 18, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously on a motion presented jointly by Councilmembers Jan Perry and Jose Huizar to name the intersection at Azusa and Second streets “Frances K. Hashimoto Plaza,” honoring her lifetime of leadership, tradition, philanthropy, and service to the place and people she loved so much.
At the plaza dedication after her death, Hashimoto’s husband thanked the councilmembers, saying, “If Frances was here, she would think this is really neat.”