The sign for Frances K. Hashimoto Plaza was unveiled by (from left) City Councilmember Jan Perry, Ryan Hashimoto Friedman, Joel Friedman, City Councilmember Jose Huizar and Kim Tachiki Chinn. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu English Editor-in-Chief

It was a bittersweet gathering that took place on Thursday for the dedication of Frances K. Hashimoto Plaza in Little Tokyo.

Hashimoto, CEO of Mikawaya USA and a fixture in Little Tokyo, passed away on Nov. 4 of lung cancer. Less than two weeks since her passing, her absence at the street dedication was keenly felt.

City workers installed the signs for Frances Hashimoto Plaza, on East Second and Azusa streets, as more than 200 guests gathered before a Shinto altar laden with offerings of persimmons and a kasane of pink and white mochi. The new street signs praise Hashimoto for “a life of leadership, tradition, philanthropy and service to Little Tokyo.”

Joel Friedman, Hashimoto’s husband, shared that they believed that Hashimoto would be well enough to attend the dedication ceremony that had originally been scheduled for October. The day was also a daian, a lucky day according to the Japanese calendar.

“She was improving and doing really well, and while we knew it wasn’t going to be a long, long time. We believed she was going to be able to return to going out, return to going to dinner, return to visiting and seeing all the people she loved. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be the case. But I want all of you to know how much she cared about all of you,” said Friedman.

Joel Friedman makes an offering to his late wife. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Hashimoto was active in numerous organizations in Little Tokyo, including the Little Tokyo Business Association, Nisei Week Foundation, Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, and Little Tokyo Community Council. Friedman said she continued to keep up a demanding schedule despite fighting cancer for four years.

“Frances had three surgeries and went for almost constant chemotherapies and other therapies. Throughout his entire process she continued her hard work in Little Tokyo and she never missed her meetings no matter how badly she felt,” said Friedman. “She continued to fight for all the things you know she fought for, from the time you met her. And when she really wasn’t feeling well, she wouldn’t even tell me — that was her.”

Rev. Nobuharu Uzunoe, head minister of Konko Church of Gardena, performed a traditional purification ceremony. Wilson Liu, president of Little Tokyo Business Association, served as master of ceremonies.

Councilmember Jan Perry, a close friend who gave the eulogy at Hashimoto’s funeral, said that she would work with Councilmember Jose Huizar to rename the street extending from Second Street to the JACCC in Hashimoto’s honor. Nearly 1,000 mourners attended the funeral that took place Nov. 10 at the Japan America Theatre.

“I’m just sad that she’s not here today to see this because I think she would have gotten a kick out of it,” said Perry. “I do miss seeing her smiling face and being surrounded by her contagious energy. I will always remember her as somebody who walked very fast in high heels, usually with a Tadashi outfit on and a very big purse on her arm.”

Jan Perry and Frances Hashimoto at a fundraiser for Perry’s mayoral campaign. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

Huizar, who first met Hashimoto as she was leading a Nisei Week delegation in Nagoya, said the plaza dedication would ensure that her legacy would continue.

“When people walk by and look at the name they will inquire and find out that we had a great true hero here that worked so hard for this community,” said Huizar.

Deputy Consul General Masahiro Suga, recently posted in Los Angeles, said he never had the chance to meet Hashimoto, but certainly knew the dessert that made her famous.

“Frances left mochi ice cream for us, I love it. Those tasting that confectionery must always be reminded of Frances. Just like that the naming of this plaza gives us another enduring gift from Frances,” said Suga.

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