More Than a Century of Thriving Amid Challenges

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Natsuko Takaki with daughters Shirley Chami and Carol Freisleben.

Natsuko Takaki was born June 15, 1916 in Van Nuys.

Her parents had three children while living in Japan. Her father emigrated to the U.S. around 1905, leaving his wife and children in Japan. He planned to eventually send for them but when 10 years passed, his wife left the two surviving children with relatives and came to the U.S. They then had three daughters, Natsuko being the oldest.

Her mother passed away at the age of 48, leaving her husband and three daughters, ages 11, 9 and 6.

The girls attended public schools, which were segregated at that time. Children of color attended a different school from Caucasian children. However, they went to an integrated high school, where Natsuko was valedictorian of her class. She completed one semester of college at UCLA before she quit to get married.

At age 19, she married Shigetoshi Takaki, a 36-year-old businessman who had moved to the U.S. when he was 19 years old. He was an Acme beer distributor and owned several trucks. They lived in the Boyle Heights area and had three children (Shirley, George and Gerald) before World War II.

When Japanese Americans were sent to the camps, the family was sent to Heart Mountain in Wyoming. While there, they had two more children (Patricia and Carol). Carol was born two months after Mr. Takaki passed away from tuberculosis in June 1944. Natsuko’s father passed away earlier that year too. Her middle sister, Fumiko, and her husband offered to raise the new baby, but she declined their offer.

Natsuko was helped by her youngest sister, Hisato, who was not yet married. After camp, they returned to California and lived in a temporary resettlement trailor park in Burbank.

Natsuko did not want Hisato to spend her life helping her, so she encouraged her to go to school and get a life of her own. Natsuko heard that there was housing for Japanese in Montebello, where the family moved and lived until all the children graduated from high school.

Initially the family lived on welfare and Natsuko was a stay-at-home mother, raising all five children by herself. She eventually got different part-time jobs cleaning houses and working at a nursery (for plants) owned by neighbors. She also went to Los Angeles Trade Tech and took bookkeeping classes.

When she was in her late 30s, she got an accounts payable job with the County of Los Angeles, and worked for the county until she retired at age 65. She worked her way up from a clerk to a senior accountant because a college degree wasn’t required at that time.

All five of her children graduated from college and four went on to get their master’s degrees. Her oldest daughter, Shirley Chami, and her husband, Daniel Kerson, live in Culver City and were previous owners of The Aquarium on Sepulveda Boulevard.

Two of Natsuko’s children have passed away — her daughter Patricia in 2001 from leukemia and her son Gerald in 2015 of cancer.

According to her children, Natsuko is an amazing mother and woman. She is bright, resilient, determined, steadfast and very calm and quiet. No matter what has happened in her life, she has moved forward quietly. The term gaman describes her life perfectly.

She has three grandchildren and seven great-grandsons.

— Courtesy Carol Freisleben

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