J-TOWN BEAT: Say It Ain’t So, Tanaka



It was quiet in Gardena the morning its mayor, Paul Tanaka, was indicted. On the street where I live, construction equipment was parked ready to start on the day’s work. Handicap ramps are being installed on the corners, a welcome improvement. I wondered if, with the improvement in the economy, the city is getting around to some much needed construction projects.

A quick jog around Mas Fukai Park found folks walking their dogs, young African American kids with backpacks heading to Perry Junior High, a middle-aged Korean woman meticulously sweeping the street in front of their church, keeping the area immaculate. It’s a good neighborhood.

I don’t think it’s a surprise that Gardenans (is that what we are called?) have for the most part supported Tanaka through his ups and downs. Gardena has its quirks and problems like any small town, but it didn’t experience the dramatic upheavals caused either by the terrible recession of 2008 or small-town corruption of the sort uncovered in the city of Bell. Tanaka has been its leader in those difficult years and that counts for something. The signs of the city’s renewal have come under his watch.

I recall disappointment back in 2005 with the Gardena City Council vote to deny LTSC and the owners of Tin Sing Restaurant a permit to build a senior housing project at the old site of the beloved chop suey restaurant, an issue of contention where Tanaka undoubtedly lost some JA supporters. But he has also been there for Japanese Americans, such as presiding over a Bronze Star ceremony for Noboru Kagawa, a member of VFW Post 1961, at Happa Restaurant in 2012.

Tanaka didn’t actively campaign for mayor in 2013 because he didn’t have to. He is a local boy, graduate of Gardena High, who rose to the highest ranks of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and his achievements have been a source of pride. With the shifting demographics, it may be one of the last times a Japanese American will lead the city whose stalwarts have included Nikkei with names like Nakaoka, Bannai, Terauchi, and yes, Tanaka.

Gardena Mayor Paul Tanaka speaks at the Bronze Star ceremony for 442nd veteran Noboru Kagawa in April 2012. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Gardena Mayor Paul Tanaka speaks at the Bronze Star ceremony for 442nd veteran Noboru Kagawa in April 2012. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

His recent troubles may be particularly hard to accept for Japanese Americans; the severity of the alleged misdeeds cannot be ignored. It’s hard to reconcile the image presented by acting U.S. District Attorney Stephanie Yonekura last Thursday in the indictment for obstruction of justice with the guy who so many of us have known for so many years as their mayor, friend, neighbor and classmate.

The Rafu Shimpo has always been this community space where Japanese Americans can celebrate important victories, and so we’ve been there for nearly every phase of Tanaka’s notable career in the city of Gardena and with the Sheriff’s Department. George Yoshinaga has been one of his strongest supporters throughout the years and Tanaka was there last year to declare “George Yoshinaga Day” when Horse was honored at Santa Anita Racetrack.

The tougher role we play is to faithfully and impartially report the news, whatever the outcome, but perhaps with less of the glee for scandal that is the norm in most publications. While the L.A. Times editorial board applauded the indictments on May 15, calling for a “thorough de-Tanakafication” of the Sheriff’s Department felt like a bit of unnecessary editorial flourish.

With Paul Tanaka we will be reporting what happens next whatever the outcome. Whenever there is a Japanese American in the news for a bad reason — a terrible accident, a crime or as in this case an indictment — I have a thought that I think others may have: say it ain’t so. That goes against the instincts of a reporter, but I think it is in line with the instincts of a JA.

* * *

There are many things I admire about my dad, but one thing that has always struck me is his appreciation for the unsung Latino workers who are often invisible or disparaged in society.

The men and women selling oranges on the side of the freeway, cleaning rooms or mowing lawns in the mornings — Dad has always pointed out to me how hard they are working. As an older Nisei, it’d be easy to become intolerant, but he has always made it clear that he doesn’t buy into racist stereotypes of “lazy Mexicans.”

He has a genuine empathy for the working guy that may have come from being a pharmacist in blue-collar San Pedro, ministering to people’s ailments and, importantly, listening to their troubles.

So when we were recently talking about replacing our lawn with artificial turf to cut back on water usage, he ruefully expressed concern that our gardener, and other gardeners, would no longer have work if everybody does the same.

I was thinking about this as I drove to Little Tokyo on Friday, the pavement wet and glistening with rain from a surprising spring storm. If it would only keep raining until — say — August, maybe our drought woes would lessen. Gardeners’ jobs will probably be lost in this unrelenting battle to cut back and conserve a dwindling resource.

As Mayor Garcetti recently talked up “sustainability” at a press conference, J-Town has been ahead of the curve on the issue with the creation of Sustainable Little Tokyo last year. It shows that this is more than just a historic neighborhood; it is leading the city on important strategic initiative.

Gwen Muranaka, English editor-in-chief of The Rafu Shimpo, can be contacted at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.




  1. Kathryn Tanaka on

    Great article: I also react in a “say it ain’t so” manner. In addition, I have a brother with the same name, so seeing the headlines gives me an extra jolt.

  2. It is easy for prosecutors or even the media to portray how evil a person is by their actions. But how about looking at all the decades of good they have done for the city of Gardena and the city of Los Angeles. As I understand it, Mr. Tanaka took our city out of near financial disaster. Mr. Tanaka ran our beloved city while running one of the largest jails in the nation. Let us look at our own lives and point our “bad” to others in the news first before reporting others. If Mr. Tanaka is such an evil person, why does he take the time out of his busy schedule to see people such as Noboru Kagawa? Noboru is not wealthy, does not hold a lot of power in the community. As a matter of fact, Mr. Kagawa made his mark in life as a soldier, husband, and father. Was he a lawyer? No. Was he in the medical field? No. Was he another politician? No. Noboru Kagawa was a simple man who is a father and a 70 year resident of Gardena. Oh, by the way, Mr. Kagawa, made a living as a gardener. He had no employees and spent long days cutting lawns for a living so why does Mr. Tanaka take his time to see Mr. Kagawa? Because Mr. Tanaka is a great human being who cares for and loves his community. He is one who does look for votes, but one who will attend simple ceremonies that celebrate our past soldiers. All it took is for me to ask Mr. Tanaka to come to the small celebration. How many mayors will do that for simple community members. So, for a change, before any media, especially of the JA type, decide to bring the misfortunes on our politicians, air out your own skeletons first in an article. I am sure it will be just as interesting.

    Let us celebrate Mr. Tanaka for his dedication to the hard working, honest, American Citizen

    I still fully support Mr. Tanaka for his going out of his way for the simple residents, and for all he has done for the City of Gardena, and the City and County of Los Angeles.


    From the son of Noboru Kagawa

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