HORSE’S MOUTH: How I Became a Journalist

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YOSHINAGA-GEORGEBy GEORGE YOSHINAGA

(Published April 5, 2014)

As I frequently write, one of the easiest ways to begin my column is to print a letter or email sent to me by readers. Letters kind of get my mind working, so let me begin with an email from reader “Ray.” Yeah, he said I could use his first name but not his entire ID. Well, Ray wrote:

“Horse, you frequently use mail as part of your column. I’ve been reading you for many years and I note that you mention that you’ve been writing for The Rafu for nearly 25 years. I have a copy of the camp newspaper from Heart Mountain in which your column, ‘Sports Tidbits,’ is printed. And the date of the issue is 1943. Hey, that’s over 70 years ago. So, writing for The Rafu for 25 years doesn’t seem like much. How did you start your career in camp?”

It’s not much of a story, Ray.

When I was in camp, like a lot of people, I didn’t have any income, which means I was broke most of the time. So, since I used to drive a truck on our farm before camp days, I filed for and got a job as a truck driver, hauling coal to the mess halls in camp. The pay was 12 bucks a month, which I guess wasn’t bad for camp living.

However, a friend of mine from pre-camp days said, “Hey, George, you wrote sports for the high school newspaper before camp. Why don’t you try for a job on the camp newspaper? I heard they pay $16 for staffers.”

So I took his advice and applied.

Editor-in-chief Bill Hosokawa told me to submit a sports story so he could judge my writing skill. He said I needed to work on my writing, but he would give me a try and that’s how I “became” a journalist.

I guess it could be said that a lot has happened in 70 years. I hope my writing skills have improved over that time. Heh, heh.

Back in the mid-’40s after I received my discharge from the Army, I never thought I’d end up as a columnist for the largest vernacular newspaper in J-Town, and here I am chatting about being with The Rafu for nearly 25 years.

Hey, maybe most people have forgotten I was once a “Taul Building Leaner,” the name given to those of us who couldn’t find any jobs, couldn’t get into college because they were too crowded, or were just plain lazy. The rest of J-Town simply labeled us as “yogores.”

When I reveal this era of my life, nobody believes me because I seem to have gained some fame as a journalist.

Of course, Little Tokyo was a lot different in those days compared to what it is today.

Well, enough about the past.

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Don’t know how many Japanese Americans still travel to Japan in this age. We know a few decades ago, JAs were frequent visitors to their parents’ homeland.

One of the problems we experienced was not so much being unable to speak the language, but unable to read signs.

I know most of the Nisei went to Japanese school, but what we learned wasn’t exactly aimed at living or traveling in Japan.

Well, foreign tourists, including we JAs who visit Japan, will have a less confusing time trying to identify roads and landmarks, thanks to the introduction of standardized  “Romanized” Japanese words on public signs.

I know this was a problem for me when I was hired to work for a Japanese company in Tokyo back in the early ’60s.

Revised transport ministry guidelines that took effect this past week require that signs show the names of a street, avenue or boulevard in those words or their abbreviations, instead of relying only on the word “dori,” the catch-all Japanese equivalent.

In case of an established road name such as Tokyo’s Aoyama-dori, the signs allow use of the traditional Japanese name but required that “Ave.” be added to make it “Aoyama-dori Ave.”

A notable exception will be signs pointing to hot springs, which are now required to use the word “onsen” instead of variously being called “hot springs” or “spa” as is currently the case. This is because the word “onsen” is internationally known, according to Ryo Takata, an official in the Road Bureau of the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry.

The new guidelines were introduced as part of the government’s drive to attract foreign tourists, many of whom have expressed difficulty in interpreting road signs and reading maps due to the use of inconsistent translated words, according to Masaaki Kojima, another Road Bureau official.

Other mandatory English words for road signs include “port,” “parking,” “tunnel,” “bridge,” “castle,” “museum of art,” “prefectural office,” “town office,” “post office,” “hospital” and “mountain.”

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Davis Shaefer, media relations director for Chip Ganassi Racing, sent me a short letter on my use of the story on Sansei race driver Kyle Larson. He wrote:

“I recently saw your column in The Rafu about Kyle Larson and wanted to reach out and introduce myself. I work with Kyle as the PR rep at Chip Ganassi Racing in North Carolina.

“I was glad to see that you had picked up on the story from The L.A. Times about his win and shared that with the Japanese community through The Rafu Shimpo. Have you heard much buzz about Kyle amongst the Japanese community in L.A.? I know he’s pretty new to NASCAR  but with finishes like he had a couple of weeks ago in California, I’m sure he’ll be known by more folks real soon.

“If you would ever be interested in speaking to him for a bigger piece about his background, racing career and being part of a more diverse NASCAR landscape, please let me know. It has been neat over the past several weeks to see Asian American fans stop him and let him know they are pulling for him this year. Thanks again for your column and I look forward to hearing back from you.”

Thank you, David. It’s always nice to hear from readers connected to a story I printed in my column.

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A few columns back I mentioned that Northern California’s Japanese communities didn’t have a newspaper since the folding of The Nichi Bei Times and Hokubei Mainichi. Well, several readers pointed out that I was wrong.

In fact, one reader sent me a copy of Nikkei West, a publication that is printed in San Jose and is available twice a month. The editor is Jeffrey Kimoto, assisted by assistant editor Shino Tanaka.

It’s an eight-page publication that covers all of the Northern California area with Japanese American communities. Since it is published only twice a month, most of the articles in the paper are feature stories, not news stories. However, readers can get a lot of information on what is going on in the Northern California area and it includes a calendar of events being held in the various cities in Northern California.

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I know I thanked the “wheels” who attended the Santa Anita Reunion at which I was honored, but I forgot to say “thank you” to the 370 people who attended the event put together by Bacon Sakatani, so I want to pause here to say, “Thank you so much for attending the event last Saturday.”

I know that people like Supervisor Mike Antonovich, Japanese Consul General Jun Niimi and Gardena Mayor Paul Tanaka added “wheels” to the gathering, but the huge turnout really made the day, so I say, “Thank you.”

The foregoing should bring a smile to my wife’s face. She reminded me about my not thanking those who turned out for the event.

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Another one of those who attended and heard I won a bet on the fifth race asked me via email, “Did anyone else pick a winner Saturday?”

He said he didn’t see too many, if any, of those who attended the event going to the window to place a bet.

“I would guess most of them wanted to visit Santa Anita for the first time since we were tossed into … what they called an assembly center” was the comment the person made.

Yeah, he may be right.

After all, when we were tossed into Santa Anita, most of us didn’t know what a race track was.

I know living in Northern California I heard names like Bay Meadows and Tanforan, but I really didn’t know what a race track was in those days, so being sent to Santa Anita didn’t have any special meaning, either.

Of course, one special thing about being incarcerated at the Arcadia facility was that I got to meet many Japanese Americans from the “big city” of Los Angeles. It was a special thing for a small-town country boy farmer, especially since a few of them became lifelong friends after the war and the evacuation.

There probably would be no “Horse’s Mouth” today if it weren’t for the evacuation.

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Yes, I’m still trying to work in a Vegas visit, and when I say “Vegas visit,” most of you know I’m talking about Downtown Vegas, not The Strip. Of course, it was not always that way.

Would you believe that years ago “Vegas” to me meant The Strip? However, once I experienced Downtown, I made the switch and now when I chat about Vegas, I’m talking about The Cal, Fremont and Main Street hotel and casino.

I would say that most Nisei are Downtown fans and probably for the same reason I made the switch.

Downtown to me is more like “home.” The general manager of the Downtown facilities, whom I always bump into, says “Hello” and addresses me by my first name.

Nothing like that happened when I was a Strip customer. I hope I’ll be saying “Hello” to them in the near future.

I’m getting tired sitting on the front porch of my house chewing on my cigar. I’d rather be chewing on my cigar sitting in front of a slot machine at The Cal or Main Street.

Hope to see ya all there soon.

Yeah, I’ve been offered a ride. One of the reasons I’ve been absent is not having a ride.

All I can add is “Hooray!”

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

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