When I began working for The Rafu Shimpo, America was transitioning out of the post-WWII age of innocence and entering the tumult of the ’60s. U.S. troops were quietly being deployed to a little-known Southeast Asian country known as Vietnam. Construction had begun on the Berlin Wall. (Sorry, Donald, you weren’t the first.) The United States and Russia were in a race to put a man on the moon.
Those were turning-point years for America, for the world, for the Japanese American community…but mostly for me because, hey, I was a teenager and the universe revolved around me, me, me.
The Rafu’s front page typically hailed the virtues of making Eagle Scout or winning scholarships. We carried reports of births, deaths, and everything in-between, including weddings and even engagements. To class things up, The Rafu also ran stories recounting the activities of the Montebello Japanese Women’s Club’s and UCLA and USC Nisei/Sansei sororities. Gosh, those women dressed well.
Most columns were printed on the front page. Tosh Kinjo provided cogent insights into the L.A. bowling scene, while the Maestro, nom de plume for publisher Akira Komai, gave the inside scoop on Nisei Athletic Union and other league sports. Henry Mori’s “Making the Deadline” reviewed what went on in the JA community the week before, and the paper’s first Sansei introduced “Open End-O.”
Without the Internet, smart phones, and Facebook, it’s a wonder that we were able to stay on top of the really important stuff like what to do on a Friday night: Hang out at Holiday Bowl or cruise the dance party at Rodger Young Auditorium. From the vantage point of the Rafu editorial department, the world was becoming a collage of contradictions.
No one was more incredulous than I was. Our youngest president, John F. Kennedy, was in the White House. He was handsome, articulate, inspirational, so someone shot him. Martin Luther King Jr. was teaching us how to live together despite our differences, so someone shot him, too.
Still, I was nothing if not optimistic. When I learned that a presidential candidate would be in town, I asked for and received credentials for his press briefing. Robert Kennedy was coming off a loss in the Oregon primary. “My brother, Ted, called to say, ‘How does it feel to be the first Kennedy to lose an election?’” No matter what your politics may be, you gotta love a guy who can laugh at himself. Later that evening, someone shot him.
Draft the eulogy, call Fukui, innocence was officially terminated.
In the ensuing Rafu years, amid the endless banquets, press conferences, rewrites, page layouts, and proofreading, there were also unexpected perks:
• I once interviewed Toshiro Mifune, watching him down a bottle of Chivas Regal by himself.
• Often in Rafu’s pages in the 1970s, I openly criticized the former president of San Francisco State University and U.S. Senator S.I. Hayakawa for his outrageous views. Nonetheless, it was me that he called to share his exultation after making his first speech on the Senate floor.
• The controversial Los Angeles county “coroner to the stars” Dr. Thomas Noguchi invited me to share an omakase dinner with him. This was after I criticized him and his disciples within the JA community.
• And, (Mikey Culross’ favorite vicarious thrill), using my mantle as Rafu’s English editor, I maneuvered an invitation to a press conference for the Beatles during their history-making debut U.S. concert tour.
It’s amazing how far a Rafu press pass can take you.
Political figures, movie stars, and rock-and-roll icons notwithstanding, my most enduring Rafu memory has to do with a man whose name I confess that I don’t even remember. Sometime in the fall of 1975, he sent “Open End-O” a letter. I am paraphrasing:
“I am not sure why I am writing to you. I have worked hard most of the life and tried to be a good citizen, but I don’t have much to show for it. Recently, I was told that I have leukemia and need regular blood transfusions, but I can’t afford to pay for them and I don’t have a family. I am a 42-year old Nisei, not a young kid with his whole life ahead of him, so I will understand if people don’t want to donate. Even with transfusions, the doctors can’t tell me how much longer I will live.Can you please print this letter in The Rafu Shimpo? Maybe someone will consider donating blood for me? Thank you.”
I ran the letter in my column along with instructions as to where to make blood donations.
Within 48 hours, all 12 members of the newly formed Los Angeles Police Department Asian Task Force had shown up at the blood bank to donate blood in his name. Four days later, I visited the hospital and was stunned to learn that as many as 58 people had given blood to this stranger they’d never met.
After a week, the total climbed to 102, and within two weeks, the number reached 240. Some LAPD Asian Task Force members had actually donated a second time. Who can blame me for having a warm place in my heart for cops, flaws and all?
I don’t know whether reporters who work for larger, mainstream newspapers are often given the chance to help save or even prolong a life. I pray that one day, they get the chance. For me, it is what Rafu Shimpo is all about.
For the most part, we Sansei have shirked our responsibility when it comes to instilling in our children the legacy of the Issei and Nisei. Fortunately, Rafu does it every day. Where else would the discussion about the injustice of the Japanese American wartime experience take place? How would we question the fate of Keiro or put Metro on notice that our community won’t be pushed around?
It’s fine to raise monuments to Sei Fujii or preserve camp newspapers, but The Rafu Shimpo is still here.
So, if you thought of this newspaper as merely a small community vernacular, I suggest you think again.
“To look at the paper is to raise a seashell to one’s ear and to be overwhelmed by the roar of humanity.” — Alain de Botton (1969- ), Swiss author and essayist
Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of The Rafu Shimpo or its management. Comments and/or inquiries should be directed to [email protected]