HORSE’S MOUTH: Sayonara, James Shigeta

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YOSHINAGA-GEORGEBy GEORGE YOSHINAGA

(Published Aug. 2, 2014)

I was saddened to read the obituary of film star James Shigeta this past Monday.

For the current generation of Japanese Americans, Shigeta’s name may not ring a bell, but during the era when JAs were seeking careers in the film industry, he was an inspiration to many.

I met James during that era when I was hired by producer/director Sam Fuller, who was filming a movie entitled “The Crimson Kimono.” Fuller hired James to be the lead man in the film. No, I wasn’t hired by Fuller to be an actor in the film.

Since more than half of the film was set in Little Tokyo, Fuller hired me to act as a liaison to get the approval of shops and businesses in J-Town to film in front of their sites. I guess I wore the title of “technical director.”

When James was hired to be the lead actor in the film, we were able to spend a lot of time together and became good friends.

After the filming was completed, I went back to newspapering and James starred in other films.

So until I saw his obituary, I didn’t realize how long it’s been since I last saw him. And now it’s time to say, “Sayonara, James.”

James Shigeta and George Yoshinaga in a scene from "The Crimson Kimono" (1959).

James Shigeta and George Yoshinaga in a scene from “The Crimson Kimono” (1959).

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On my comment on tipping in a recent column, reader Ernest Ikuta of Cerritos sent me the following message: “Hi, George. In the Tuesday, July 29, issue of The Rafu Shimpo, you were curious how the tips customers leave at restaurants are disbursed.

“Normally, in a coffee shop, the owner takes the tips, which may be between ten and twenty percent, and divides it as follows: The cooks receive the biggest percentage, then the waitresses/waiters are next, followed by the cashier, and finally the bus boys and cleanup crews.”

Sounds okay, but when I leave my tips on the table, I see the waiter/waitress put the money in their pockets.

After they wait on all the tables, when do they take the money collected and turn it in to the owner, who divides it as listed above?

During my lifetime, I worked at a few jobs where tipping was a part of my income. I don’t recall having to toss the tips into a “pot” to be divided by the owner of the business.

To me, tipping is sort of a reward to those providing the service to the patrons.

So, some of those who serve the patrons provide what they consider good service while others just do their job, which is the reason some get bigger tips than others.

Oh well, maybe some of those who work at jobs where tipping is a part of their income can send me their thoughts on the matter.

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Did we just pick the wrong day?

This past Wednesday, I drove my wife to the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Torrance to renew her driver’s license.

Never imagined that we would see what we did when we got to the office. There was a line, five or six deep, waiting to get into the office. I would estimate about 75 people waiting.

Needless to say, my wife said, “Let’s go home.”

Did we just pick the wrong date or is it like that every day?

Hopefully, some of you who have gone to the DMV office can tell me if they also face the same situation.

I know I haven’t been to the office nearly five years now, but my license is about to expire, so I’ll soon find out if the crowd we saw is nothing new and it’s always this crowded.

If it’s something that happens every day, maybe the State of California might open a few more traffic offices.

(MAGGIE’S COMMENT: The Motor Vehicles office where I go is on Cloverdale in Los Angeles. They have a special line for the handicapped and seniors. Perhaps you might check into this to see if they have one at the Torrance office where you go. Also, did not your license expire on July 19?)

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A reader asked me if I was going to respond to Shirley Ann Higuchi’s “Letter to the Editor” regarding my comments about the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation.

My response? Naw. What I write is my opinion. What Shirley Ann wrote is her opinion and she is entitled to say what she wants, just as I feel I can write what I want.

I just want people to know that I was interned at Heart Mountain and volunteered to join the U.S. Army, so my name is on the plaque that is on the camp grounds.

I just don’t make too much of my becoming a GI after being a “locked-up” Japanese American in a relocation center.

As I frequently mention, a lot of those who were involved in our camp life were not old enough to join Uncle Sam’s Army, but they are frequently quoted about that period of our life.

If anyone wants to debate me on the issue of Heart Mountain and camp life, just leave your name at **The Rafu** and we can meet.

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I bumped into a friend of mine who has a business In Little Tokyo. The meeting took place in Gardena, where he also resides.

The first question he asked me was: “I don’t see you in J-Town anymore. How come?”

Well, the response to his question was easy: “I don’t drive more than a couple of miles a day.”

He laughed.

He followed with: “How come you don’t drive to J-Town? It’s less than 20 miles from Gardena.”

I guess I didn’t have a good response to his question. I guess it’s not just a question of driving.

I don’t have any reason to visit Little Tokyo. A lot of the people I know as friends don’t hang around J-Town any more.

In fact, the only former J-Town friend whom I know still hangs around is Tak Hamano, owner/operator of Umeya Rice Cake Company. That’s because his office is only three blocks from Little Tokyo.

I do see him at least once a month and we always chat about the “good old days of J-Town.”

Of course, the other factor in my not driving into Little Tokyo is my age. Yeah, when one hits the nearly-90 mark, one’s attitude changes considerably.

It’s been a long, long time since a bunch of us used to hang around what was then called the Taul Building, and we were tagged as the “Taul Building Leaners.”

By the way, in case any of you don’t know about the Taul Building, it was named for the owner, the late Taul Watanabe. Who would have guessed that one day I would buy a house in Gardena, only about six houses away from Taul?

I’m hoping that one of these days someone will write a book on J-Town and that era.

No, not me. Writing a column twice a week for The Rafu is enough.

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Speaking of living in Gardena, I frequently mention how things have changed in the city.

When I first bought my house at its present location, about 60 percent of my neighbors were Japanese Americans.

Well, over the years, that figure kept dropping, and soon there were only a handful of JAs left.

Guess what?

The JA population is starting to grow back in our neighborhood.

At least five Japanese families have purchased homes in our neighborhood and it’s beginning to feel like the “old days.”

Since we do have the large Pacific Square Japanese shopping center, only a few blocks from my house, we get the old feeling about Gardena.

The only difference is that in the “old days,” most of the families had young Sansei kids running around he neighborhood. Yeah, I had four of my kids as part of the “gang.”

Now most of the Japanese families are older.

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Yeah, I guess Al Morita is right.

I haven’t written about my favorite place for quite a while. That would be Las Vegas. As readers know, I haven’t been visiting Vegas, so I guess there is nothing I can write about.

Well, maybe I can write that nobody chats about some of the cities surrounding the area.

For example, there are ten cities around Vegas that rarely get mentioned because I guess most folks just hang around the casino and don’t get out that much.

What are some of the areas around Downtown?

Well, there’s Summerlin and Scotch 80.

These two cities are followed by Las Vegas Country Club, Southern Highland, Centennial Heights, Aliante Downtown, Sun City, Anthem and Green Valley.

How many of you can raise your hands if I asked, “Have you visited any of these areas?”

The only one I’m familiar with is Sun City.

Well, maybe I’ll ask old friend Al. He probably knows Vegas better than any other JA because he holds his annual basketball tournament there.

So when is my next trip to Vegas?

Would you believe I haven’t been there for nearly a year now? That’s right, almost a year.

Well, my planned trip this past weekend was canceled, so I guess the third week of August is my target date.

Hope to see some of you there.

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Of course, they predict that gas prices will drop by then, so it will probably cost about half of what we would have to pay now to drive to drive to Vegas.

As one of my friends said, “Why don’t you just take the bus?”

Good question. I don’t have an answer.

Maybe I can get Editor Gwen to drive me and my wife in our car.

Actually, taking a bus might not be such a bad idea.

These days, once we get to Vegas, we don’t drive anywhere and stay in the casino for the entire three or four days there, so what good is a car sitting in the casino parking lot?

Well, just a thought.

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Gosh, I did make it to Page 7? Hope I didn’t bore a lot of you with today’s chatter. Yeah, I’ll improve starting next Tuesday. (I hope.)

George Yoshinaga writes from Gardena. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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