By GWEN MURANAKA
Rafu English Editor in Chief
In the newspaper business, reporters and photographers are the ones who get all the glory. Their names appear regularly in print and their work is prominently featured in publications like The Rafu Shimpo. But no less important is the behind-the-scenes expertise of pressmen like Yasuhei “Yas” Nakanishi, who worked at The Rafu Shimpo on the presses prior to World War II and would continue to offer assistance on the linotype machines for decades afterwards.
Nakanishi passed away on May 25 at the age of 95. He worked on the newspaper production line at The Rafu Shimpo from 1935 until 1942, when the publication was closed and its staff sent away to concentration camps following the signing of Executive Order 9066.
In April 1942, as The Rafu prepared to shutdown for the duration of World War II, Nakanishi was one of the two men who helped then-publisher Akira Komai hide the irreplaceable Japanese type underneath the floorboards of the Rafu office building in Little Tokyo. The preservation of the type helped ensure the revival of the newspaper after Japanese Americans returned to the West Coast.
“That was typical of Yas. If there was work to be done, he just jumped and did it,” said Ellen Endo, former Rafu English editor. “I will always remember his indomitable spirit and sense of humor. He taught me and others on the Rafu staff that hard work was its own reward and that life was to be savored and enjoyed.”
From an early age, Nakanishi knew he wanted to work in typesetting, according to his daughter, Arline Nakanishi.
“Looking at his report cards, he clearly didn’t care about anything but his print classes,” said Arline.
His typesetting skills allowed him to leave Heart Mountain and work on the local newspaper in nearby Riverton, Wyo. He also worked at a newspaper in Virginia, Minn., before returning to Los Angeles after the war.
Nakanishi was well known in the local typesetting community and worked mainly in advertising, at different print shops in Southern California.
Arline recalled that one print job he worked on was for an aerospace company submitting proposals to NASA for the manned missions to the moon.
Nakanishi continued to help both The Rafu Shimpo and Kashu Mainichi by providing technical assistance on the large typesetting machines. He also helped at Rafu during the production of special issues, such as the holiday editions.
“His love was in getting words into print, banging the linotype keys, repairing the machine whenever it quit unexpectedly, helping Paul Uyemura stereotyping plates for the rotary press and Mr. Ebina, the Issei pressman at The Rafu,” said longtime journalist Harry Honda.
Honda added that Nakanishi was a popular figure in the Nisei sports world as manager of the great Cardinal basketball team, primarily composed of Nisei who went to Jefferson or Polytechnic High School in the late 1930s. He would contribute occasional articles on horse racing to the sports section of The Rafu.
In his later years, Nakanishi was an avid golfer, playing in the Whittier Narrows seniors golf club, and was a member of Union Church of Los Angeles and San Gabriel Japanese Community Center.
A funeral service will be held on Wednesday, June 6, at 10:30 a.m. at the memorial chapel of Kubota Nikkei Mortuary, 911 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles.
Nakanishi is survived by his wife, Toshiko Nakanishi; daughters, Arline Masayo, Nancy Kiyomi, and Dorothy Kaname Nakanishi; brother, Yohei Nakanishi; sisters-in-law, Yoneko Nakanishi of Minnesota and Masuko Ikeda; and brother-in-law, Katsushi (Hiroko) Ikeda of Japan. He is also survived by many nieces, nephews and other relatives.
And have you ever seen the linotype machine in action? its an amazing amazing invention, able to kick out hot lead, a line-of-type at a time, eliminating the need for handsetting letter by letter. I really wish I had been around the Rafu in those days to see Mr. Nakanishi, a master at his work.