HORSE’S MOUTH: Thank You, Yo Takagaki!


(First published in
The Rafu Shimpo on Nov. 22, 2011)


This past week was a tough one.

On Sunday, I lost my best friend, Babe Nomura.

Then on Thursday, I was informed by Judi Takagaki that her dad, Yo Takagaki, had passed away. Although he was 94 years old and at the Keiro Nursing Home, it was still difficult to learn of his passing.

I first met Yo back in the ’50s because he was heavily involved in politics and being a media person even in those days, I interviewed him on numerous occasions.

He established the Japanese American Republicans of Southern California in 1967, the first California-chartered Japanese American Republican organization, and since I was a registered Republican, we discussed politics quite often.

He co-chaired the JAs for Ronald Reagan for Governor Committee in 1968 and the following year, the JA committee for Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty. Mayor Yorty was re-elected and appointed many Japanese Americans to various commissions because of Yo’s support.

In 1976, he co-chaired the JA committee to support S.I. Hayakawa for U.S. Senate, the first mainland JA to win a Senate seat.

In 1980 and 1984, he co-chaired the JA committee to elect Ronald Reagan as president of the U.S.

In 1976 and 1980, he was named a delegate to the Republican National Convention.

He had numerous other appointments, but Yo’s greatest achievement was the development of the Crenshaw Square Shopping Center and business complex and Crenshaw Square Medical Center.

In spite of his many contributions to the Japanese American community as well as the community-at-large, Yo never sought a lot of self-recognition.

However, the Japanese government was aware of his accomplishments and awarded him the Order of the Rising Sun with Silver Rays.

While avoiding attention to himself, when he organized the Nikkei Foundation of America, he also established the Outstanding American Award in conjunction with the foundation. The award was presented annually to a person who made outstanding contributions to the Japanese American community.

Among those who were presented the award over the years were U.S. Sen. S.I. Hayakawa; Kihachiro Kawashima, president and founder of American Honda Motors; film director Akira Kurosawa; Astronaut Ellison Onizuka; and Olympic skating champion Kristi Yamaguchi.

So, who in their wildest imagination would think that a newspaper columnist would be presented such a prestigious award?

Well, in 1995, Yo announced that this award was being presented to me.

The wording on the award, which sits proudly in our living room, reads: “In recognition of his half-century of service to the Japanese American community through his courageous and analytical exploration of issues that are near and dear to all Americans of Japanese descent.”

I could never thank Yo enough for the kind words, and he was always urging me to continue my writing to live up to the words he inscribed on the trophy.

So, it is with a grateful “Thank you” and a heavy heart that I have to bid Yo a fond “Sayonara.”

Knowing him has definitely guided me to whatever success I may have achieved in life.

Hopefully, his legacy will live on so that the future generations will remember his contributions to the JA community.

I’m not sure what the goals are for the demonstrators who call themselves the “Occupy L.A.” group.

The only thing I know about them is that they tie up traffic in Downtown L.A. and I have to take other routes to get to J-Town.

I usually get off the Harbor Freeway at 4th Street and drive to San Pedro Street, where I turn left, and two blocks later, I’m in Little Tokyo.

In reading about the “Occupy L.A.” group, I guess they are upset with firms like Bank of America making huge profits while they are unable to even rent a place to sleep or get meals.

I am curious what they think about the L.A. Dodgers signing one of their players to an eight-year, $160 million contract.

Will they carry their protest to Dodger Stadium next season because of the huge salary they will be paying?

In my opinion, the salaries of professional athletes are ridiculous, which is one reason I have kind of lost my interest in pro sports.

The athletes aren’t really playing for the fans. They are only filling their wallets.

I’m not much at math, but break down the $160 million salary into eight and it comes to $20 million a season.

Since Major League players play 162 games a season, how much does that come to per game? Probably in the neighborhood of $13,000.

Since a batter comes to the plate an average of four times a game, it means the player with the high salary is getting $4,000 for each appearance at the plate.

So, if he strikes out once in four times at bat, he is getting a $4,000 bonus.

Oh well, correct me if my math is messed up.

Was having coffee with a couple of Nisei friends the other morning. Both my age.

So I asked them this question: “Do you guys remember what you did when you were ages 6 to 10?”

They both gave me a curious look and one of them said, “Hey, you’re the same age as us. Do you remember what you did during that age period?”

I replied, “Nope.”

“Ditto for us,” they both responded.

Then they asked me, “Why are you asking such a stupid question?”

Ah, just the answer I wanted.

“Well,” I said, “if you guys read the stories about our days in camp, you probably noticed that nobody our age is asked what they recall about life in camp. Most of those who chat or write about their camp experience will say they were 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10 years of age.”

Then I added, “If both of you can’t recall your days during that age period, how come most of today’s camp stories are from those in the younger age bracket?”

They both also pointed out that some of these younger JAs have become the “authorities” on life in camp.

I pointed out to my two friends, “Do you guys know Norm Mineta? He was only 6 years old when he was in Heart Mountain, but he is now the spokesman who knows all about camp life.”

They laughed.

However, I wanted to get their point of view about the current trend about camp life, so I asked them, “What would you do if one of the younger media guys wanted your point of view on camp life?”

They responded the way I thought they would.

They both said, “We won’t answer any questions about camp days. It’s history now and those who want to talk about it can, but not us.”

So, I guess that’s the way it is.

It might be a little touchy to chat about the following, but my curiosity has been getting to me.

Those who watch a lot of TV may notice that more than 50 percent of commercials being shown nowadays have blacks portraying the characters in the ads.

I thought maybe it’s just my imagination, so I asked one of my sons for his opinion and he agreed with me.

However, he asked me a question. “Why do you ask?”

I figured I had to give him an answer for my asking such a question, so I said, “Well, I’m wondering if, before Christmas, they will have a black Santa Claus.”

Okay, maybe that is not such an intelligent topic, so I’ll shut up.

Since I just finished watching the golf tournament from Australia on TV, I thought I’d toss in the following, which can change the mood of my column after the previous piece.  Here it is:

A golfer now into his golden years had a lifelong ambition to play the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, exactly the way the pros do it.

The pros drive the ball over the water onto the small green that is on a small spit of land. It was something the golfer had tried hundreds of times without success. His ball had always fallen short and into the water.

Because of this, he never used a new ball on this particular hole. He always picked out one that had a cut or nick, as did many other average golfers when negotiating very challenging holes.

Recently he went to Sawgrass to try again. When he came to the fateful hole, he teed up an old, cut ball as usual and said a silent prayer.

However, before he could hit the ball, a powerful voice from above seemed to be booming out from the clouds saying, “Wait, replace that old ball with a brand new one.”

The golfer complied, with some slight misgiving, despite the fact this same force seemed to be implying that he was going to finally achieve his lifelong ambition. As he stepped up to the tee once more, The voice came down again. “Wait, step back. Take a practice swing.”

So he stepped back and took a practice swing, certain now that this heavenly force was going to make his dream come true.

The voice boomed out again. “Take another practice swing.”

Dutifully, he did. He stopped expectantly and waited. A long silence followed.

Then the voice again. “Use your old ball.”

Okay, all you Nisei duffers. You can laugh now and take out your old ball.

This short bit is for those of you who are Poncie Ponce fans.

For those who don’t know who Poncie is, you can skip on to the end of my column for another chatter.

Anyhow, as I said, this bit is about Poncie Ponce.

The popular Hawaiian entertainer is going to put on a full-stage performance this Wednesday at the Gardena senior citizens’ Thanksgiving luncheon at the Nakaoka Center in Gardena.

Poncie’s show is open to the public, but from what I’ve been told, it may be sold out.

For seniors over 60, there will be a nominal charge of $2.50 for lunch, which includes the show. A turkey meal with all the trimmings is on the menu.

I’m planning on taking my wife out. She won’t have to cook Thanksgiving dinner.

A 16-year-old Korean high school student named Pak Hye Won won a recent speech contest in Japan, beating out 800 entries.

I wonder how the Japanese felt about her victory.

She wants to continue her education by attending college in Japan, but her parents are opposed to the idea.

Another anti-Japan attitude?

Oh well  …

Okay, laugh time.

A 4th-grade teacher is giving her pupils a lesson in logic.

She says, “Here’s the situation. A man standing up in a boat in the middle of a river while fishing loses his balance and falls into the water. He begins splashing and yelling for help.

“His wife hears the commotion and knows he can’t swim and runs down to the bank.

“Why do you think she ran to the bank?”

A girl raises her hand and says, “To draw out all his savings.”


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



1 Comment

  1. It is a shame that many Nisei who were incarcerated during WWII are reluctant to tell their camp days stories. A valuable source of first hand information is literally dying away. Please encourage your peers, and others to contact the Japanese American National Museum to get their stories recorded for the benefit of the younger, and future generations.

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