Isamu Hirahara

SOUTH PASADENA — The inspiration behind the Edgar Award-winning Mas Arai mystery series, Isamu “Sam” Hirahara, passed away in his home in South Pasadena on Jan. 18 at the age of 82 after a year-and-a-half battle with stomach cancer.

Hirahara, the father of writer and former Rafu Shimpo editor Naomi Hirahara, was the model for her amateur sleuth in her novels, including “Summer of the Big Bachi” and “Blood Hina.”

“My father was born in the United States, but had been in Hiroshima as a teenager when the atomic bomb was dropped,” said Hirahara. “That experience, plus the Kibei Nisei gardening community in the 1960s and ’70s, has impacted the way that I look at the world. My father’s willingness to share his life and philosophies gave me the freedom to create the Mas Arai mystery series.”

Mas, however, is a completely different type of character than her father, according to Hirahara. “Mas is quite cranky at times, while my father always liked to laugh,” she said.

After two of the mysteries, “Gasa-Gasa Girl” and “Snakeskin Shamisen,” were translated into Japanese, Isamu was finally able to read the mysteries for himself. He never said directly whether he liked them or not, but commented that his friends were waiting for the next installment.

The next Mas Arai novel, which will be released in 2013, will be set in Watsonville, the birthplace of Isamu Hirahara.

A private memorial service was held on Jan. 28 at Fukui Mortuary. In addition to his daughter and son-in-law, Wes Fukuchi, Hirahara is survived by his wife, Mayumi; son, James “Jimmy”; daughter-in-law, Sara; and grandson, Rowan.

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