HORSE’S MOUTH: JAs and Japanese from Japan

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By GEORGE YOSHINAGA
(First published in
The Rafu Shimpo on Jan. 7, 2011)

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I don’t chat on politics too often in my column, but this past week with the Iowa caucus being targeted by the media, it was tough not get caught up in the GOP’s campaign to find a candidate to face Obama in next year’s presidential election. Of course, I’m a Republican, so I guess it was natural for me to pay a little closer attention.

So who am I rooting for?

Well, surprisingly, I wasn’t rooting for any of the six vying for the top spot.

I guess if I were leaning slightly towards any one of them, it would be Michelle Bachmann.

That’s because I thought, well, if we elected the first black president in the previous election, why not a first female president next year?

At least she’s good-looking. Unfortunately, because of her poor showing in the Iowa caucus, Bachmann announced that she is dropping out of the race. She finished last in the Iowa caucus. Too bad.

It didn’t get too much publicity but the Japan Times recently carried a story about the participation of Japanese Americans in forging a stronger relationship between the U.S. and Japan by participating in the aid to the earthquake and tsunami victims.

Since the disaster, a group of Japanese Americans has collaborated with Japanese entrepreneurs in the affected area.

Kaz Maniwa, a San Francisco-based lawyer, leads the Japanese American group. He chairs the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California.

Maniwa went to the Tohoku region after the disaster and said, “As a group, we were very moved by what we saw and the human reaction of seeing people’s homes and lives destroyed. But I think it was really nice to see that people we met with were not bitter. Obviously it was a major loss but they felt like they want to rebuild their fishing villages, they want to rebuild their farms.”

The group consists of former participants of the Japanese American Leadership Delegation. It was started in the year 2000 to build and strengthen ties between senior JA and Japanese leaders in politics, business and other fields.

Tom Inoue is another member of the JA group.

Inoue is the founder of Social Venture Partners Tokyo, a network of philanthropists who contribute their business skills and expertise to develop the capacity of existing NPOs (non-profit organizations).

Inoue, who coordinated the group’s visit to Tohoku, said, “The Japanese NPO leaders were also thankful their efforts were valued and appreciated by their counterparts in the U.S.”

Rather a nice story about the Nisei group, I thought.

It will no doubt bring a closer relationship between the Japanese in Japan and the Japanese Americans in the U.S.

Well, I see that another group has jumped into the picture in the negotiations to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers. This new group is headed by former Dodgers Manager Joe Torre.

I was rooting for the group headed by former Lakers basketball star Magic Johnson.

The reason?

I met Magic a few years ago and I thought it would be nice if I were acquainted with the new Dodgers owner, if Magic and his group win the bid.

That’s me in the photo with Magic. Needless to say, he’s the taller one. Heh, heh.

Yeah, I guess you can say he’s about a foot taller than I, but fatso me might weigh pretty close to him.

Here’s a bit of sad news:

Recently I wrote about former jockey Mitchell Shirota and wondered what happened to him.

Well, his brother, Jon Shirota, wrote me the following: “Hi, George. It was a weird coincidence that you should write in your recent column, ‘I wonder what happened to Shirota. I don’t think he went back to Maui.’

“My brother Mitchell died this morning, Dec. 4, in Louisville, Kentucky, where he had been living since 1968. He rode until the ’70s, then had to retire because of rheumatoid arthritis. He died of pulmonary fibrosis.

“Mitchell was born on Maui in 1933, graduated from Baldwin High School in 1955 (I believe the same high school your wife went to) and then to BYU in Utah, where he graduated in 1955. George Taniguchi was one of the hottest jockeys during that period and when Mitchell learned about George’s success, he aspired to become a jockey. He felt God made him small for a reason.

“Yes. You are right. Mitchell won his first winner at Hollywood Park with Windy Admiral. How can I forget it? The horse paid over $70. We were, of course, thrilled. Not only because he won the race at famous Hollywood Park. It established him as a promising jockey in a highly competitive profession. Like you said, the rest is history.

“Leaving California, he rode all over the country, Chicago, New York, Florida and New Orleans. Unfortunately, he was stricken with severe rheumatoid arthritis in his feet and hands and had to quit riding.

“He was then hired as a trainer for different owners. Some of the horses he trained won big races in Kentucky, Chicago and New York.

“One of the most memorable was when Shaconage won one of the big races by a nose during the Kentucky Derby event on May 1, 2004. Another memorable race was when one of his horses won the main race at Turf Paradise in Kentucky. Memorable because the rider was a fellow Japanese, Corey Nakatani.

“Thank you, George, for remembering Mitchell. Despite living on the Mainland most of his life, he always remained a barefoot Maui boy. I hope his Maui friends will keep remembering him.”

Thanks, Jon. I’m sure Mitchell’s fans will be saddened to hear of his passing. Needless to say, I was one of his biggest fans.

I can also use the words “needless to say” by noting that I’ve never had my name mentioned by the many Japanese American authors who have published books.

Well, I guess this at s streak has come to an end.

June Nagaya, a Sansei author who produced a book entitled “Sachi Happiness,” did mention me on Page 47 of her novel.

“Sachi Happiness” is a memoir portraying a Sansei born after the war as she struggles to live in an American culture, but finds herself bicultural. “Sachi” being her first name, she switches to “June,” her middle name, in kindergarten as a declaration that she wants to be recognized as an American.

But, as she grows up with Kibei-Nisei parents, she draws closer to her Japanese roots.

After marrying a Japanese national, she finds the differences even more astounding as well as experiencing cultural shock at times. Her husband, born in Manchuria, takes the book to the roots of his family and their plight returning o Japan during the Russian invasion as well as her family experiencing relocation camp life and returning home after being internees.

The memoir continues to touch on the relationship with her older siblings and her children, including an adopted daughter, and finally understanding her mother.

The book was written for her son, a Yonsei, so that he would know the lives of both his grandparents, which hopefully will result in a better understanding of himself, as she found herself in writing her memoir.

As for me being mentioned in her novel, here is what was written: “Many years later, actually just recently, the friend sitting next to him, Willie Hayashida, sent an inquiry through the ‘Horse’s Mouth’ in the Rafu Shimpo, a Japanse newspaper published in Los Angeles.

“Willie did an extensive people search and found one Ouchida in Santa Monica, but found the telephone number connected to a different party. After 66 years, Willie’s desire was to go to lunch with his long-lost friend and have another photo taken of them dining together.

“We actually subscribe to the Rafu Shimpo, but had just arrived home from traveling and had a stack of these papers to read. But, before we could, a friend brought this to our attention. I contacted Mr. George Yoshinaga at the newspaper to let Willie know where to find Taka. Willie drove all the way to Sacramento and Henderson, Nevada, to make his wish come true.”

Since I picked up the piecemeal tidbits from her writing about me, it might not make any sense, but I’m using it to describe my being mentioned in her novel.

I’m sure those who want to read her entire story can find her book in any bookstore.

Her book was published by EZway books in Las Vegas, whose offices are located at 1736 E. Charleston Blvd.

Remember when I wrote about my barber retiring and I had to look for another one?

Well, several readers sent me the names and addresses of other barbers in the Gardena area for those who were in the same situation when our barber retired.

Reader Bill was one of them. He wrote: “Did you find a good barber? I go to one at 166th and Denker, formerly Vince’s Barber Shop. She’s a nice Hispanic lady, quick, nice and inexpensive at eight dollars.

“There’s another one at 182nd and Western Avenue, behind a liquor store. The guy is a hapa, pleasant and thorough but a little more expensive.”

Thanks, Bill. On my next haircut, I’ll try Vince’s. That 8-buck price is enticement enough.

From haircut to parking:

James Yokota sent me the following: “For those who frequent Little Tokyo, the new Aiso parking lot has opened at First and Aiso streets and it is the cheapest parking lot in town. We encourage all to use it so we can convince the city to maintain these prices which support local businesses.”

Thanks, James. Will certainly give the lot a try on my next visit to J-Town.

Another short note. This one from Masako Koga.

She wrote: “Would like to add another name to your recently published list of Japanese Americans who hold coaching jobs.

“Kevin Tanaka is the head coach of the girls’ junior varsity basketball team at Mark Keppel High School.”

Thanks, Masako.

If any other readers have names of JA coaches, don’t hesitate to send them to me and I’ll be glad to publish them.

Since we wish everyone a happy new year this period, what could make people happier than a good laugh? So although I might be running a bit shorter today, here is the rib-tickler:

A tourist walked into a Chinese curio shop in San Francisco. While looking around at the exotic merchandise, he noticed a very life-like, life-sized bronze statute of a rat. It had no price tag but was so incredibly striking, the tourist decided he must have it. He took it to the old shop owner and asked, “How much for the bronze rat?”

“Ahh, you have chosen wisely. It is $112 for the rat, $100 for the story,” said the old shop owner. The tourist quickly pulled out $112, saying, “I’ll just take the rat. You can keep the story.”

As he walked down the street carrying the bronze rat, the tourist noticed that a few real rats had crawled out of the alleys and sewers and had begun to follow him down the street. This was a bit disconcerting, so he began walking faster.

A couple of blocks later he looked behind him and saw to his horror the herd of rats behind him had grown to hundreds, and they began squealing. Sweating, the tourist began to trot towards the Bay Bridge.

Again, after a couple of blocks, he looked around only to discover that the rats now numbered in the millions and were squealing and coming towards him faster and faster. Terrified, he ran to the edge of the Bay Bridge and threw the bronze rat as far as he could into the bay.

Amazingly, the millions of rats all jumped into the bay after the bronze rat and were all drowned.

The man walked back to the curio shop in Chinatown. “You’re back,” the owner said. “You have come back for the story?”

“No sir,” said the man. “I came back to see if you have a bronze Democrat.”

Well, at least you Republicans can laugh.

Until next time … genki de.

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

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