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J-TOWN BEAT: Otagaisama and Saying Goodbye

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By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Editor-in-Chief

This has not been a good week here in Little Tokyo. At The Rafu, the office is a bit quieter, the mood darkened by the news of the sudden passings of Rodney Kageyama and Richard Fukuhara.

Rodney has had health issues for so many years, yet it was still a shock to hear that he had died last weekend. The first time I interviewed Rodney was for a role he played in a short film that was featured at Disney’s California Adventure. He played the rather sad, rumpled Issei husband of a beautiful young picture bride, who is shocked to see his forlorn figure when she disembarks from a boat from Japan.

There was nothing sad or rumpled about Rodney who lived loud and large, preferably in leopard print. Dancing, singing, laughing, being an entertainer: that was Rodney. He would have been tickled to read the many tributes on Facebook and even the pages of The L.A. Times.

Richard may not have been profiled by the Times, but he lived a life of immense consequence to all those who worked alongside him and loved him. He always used his talents and boundless energy to help others, and the number of organizations he volunteered his time for is astounding. Here at Rafu, we could always count on Richard to cover the OCO mochitsuki, or send us photos from the Tanabata Festival or Nanka Yamaguchi Kenjinkai picnic.

MAN OF PEACE: Richard Fukuhara was the driving force behind the annual remembrance and organization Shadows for Peace. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

It was wonderful in recent years to see him exploring his creative side through “Shadows for Peace,” his multimedia tribute to the hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The spirit of both of these men might best be described by the Japanese phrase: otagaisama, which translates roughly as we mutually help one another.

Helping out, in big ways and small ways, came naturally to Rodney and Richard. I think of what Ellen Endo said about Rodney during the Christmas season.

When asked if he could portray Shogun Santa at Japanese Village Plaza, Rodney’s answer was: “Sure! When do you need me?”

That’s the only way things get done here in J-Town: whether it’s putting on Nisei Week or an Obon Festival or speaking up at Los Angeles City Council. It takes folks who are willing to step up and help out. Otagaisama.

The thing about a community newspaper like this one is if you stick around long enough, the people that you cover at events over the years, become your friends. It’s what makes Little Tokyo such a tight-knit community. Walk down First Street and you’ll say hello to a familiar, friendly face.

The hardest thing is saying goodbye. Lately, there have just been far too many goodbyes. Each goodbye leaves a hole, an emptiness that cannot be filled. With each loss, you begin to wonder: how can we possibly go on?

But I think back on something Rodney wrote about going to the Gardena Obon. Obon, after all, is a time to remember those who are gone, to gather and dance through our tears.

I leave it to Rodney, who wrote:

“You see, I’m glad and proud that we are a strong community. Having suffered setbacks, yet always forging ahead. A young man comes up to me and says, ‘Bye Uncle, see you again soon.’ Brings a lump in my throat. Yes I was young once, full of tomorrow, but now smiling with thoughts of yesterday.

“Yes, I’ll see you soon. Be good.”

Bye Rodney, bye Richard. We’ll see you soon.

 

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