There was a time when my wife said, “Let’s go out for dinner or lunch.” She was referring to a Japanese restaurant, which usually meant going to a fancy place like Benihana.

These days, it seems like most of the Benihanas have shut down, or is that just my imagination?

Well, I know that the one we used to go to, located in the Del Amo Shopping Center in Torrance, seems to have closed.

Perhaps it’s because original owner Rocky Aoki, who eventually expanded Benihana to more than 70 outlets throughout the U.S., is no longer with us.

Benihana was credited with popularizing teppanyaki, which is a style of cooking steeped in hundreds of years of Japanese culture.

I met Rocky in New York through a friend who knew him from Tokyo. Otherwise I guess I would never have dined at Benihana because the prices were a little over my head.

At any rate, when I returned to the West Coast, I lost track of Rocky and Benihana except, as I wrote earlier, the one I used to frequent in Torrance.

Yeah, I still go to Japanese-style restaurants, but mostly sushi places, which reminds me I have a luncheon engagement at a fairly new sushi eatery in Gardena called “Gatten.”

I’ve dined there once and was surprised at the number of patrons, mostly Caucasians.

It serves sushi on a rotation belt, which also seems to be gaining popularity among sushi fans.

The sushi circulates around and around and the patrons pick up the sushi they enjoy. Each dish of sushi on the belt has two pieces on it and costs around $2 depending on the diner’s choice.

The more elaborate sushi costs a little more with the more expensive ones going at $5, so if the diner picks three plates at $2 each, it really isn’t that expensive. Heck, six pieces of sushi is enough for me.

Yes, they have other Japanese dishes such as miso soup, tsukemono and salad.

Give it a try if you’re a sushi fan.

Horse and Rocky of Benihana

Like most aging Nisei, my hearing isn’t what it used to be, as I wrote a few columns back.

So, at the suggestion of other Nisei who served in the military during WWII, I applied for a hearing aid, which veterans can receive free of charge. I went to the VA office, which surprisingly is right next to Little Tokyo. In fact, from the window of the VA, I could see the Nisei veterans’ monument across the street.

The main problem with applying for the hearing aids is that one has to provide all kinds of information. That was a grind on my memory.

For example, they wanted to know my father and mother’s place of birth in Japan and their birthdates. Also my mother’s maiden name. I had to think a while before I recalled her maiden name was Fukuda. I know my father’s name because I’m a Yoshinaga.

They also wanted to know the date they arrived in the U.S. Another blank.

It was getting to a point where I started thinking, “Heck, it might be better to go out and buy my hearing aid.”

When I told that to the lady interviewing me, she said, “Huh?”

Needless to say, I told her, “Maybe you need a hearing aid.”

She didn’t appreciate my sense of humor.

I left shortly after that conversation, so I don’t know if I’ll get my free hearing aid from the VA. So I guess I’ll have to keep muttering when someone talks to me.

Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Mark Ridley-Thomas moved to have the L.A. County Board of Supervisors donate $100,000 towards the fund leading to the arrest of the former LAPD officer who is responsible for the murder of three persons, including another officer.

The total reward will come to a million dollars. Will it bring about the arrest of the murder suspect? I doubt it.

In the meanwhile, the LAPD is spending millions hunting for the killer.

Since the killer is a former LAPD officer, I’m sure he knows how they are going around searching for him in the mountains surrounding L.A.

So, in my opinion, he’s probably long gone and when they do find him, it will be long ways from where they are now conducting their search.

I’m thinking, would this thought come to the minds of the LAPD?

I would not be surprised if they finally locate the killer in a state far from the Golden State.

I hope I’m wrong.

Well, some of you readers will probably say, “Your answers are nothing but smart-ass.”

That may be true, but it reminds me of some of the best smart-ass answers I’ve heard in other situations. Here are a few:

• It was mealtime during an airline flight. “Would you like dinner?” the flight attendant asked a passenger.

“What are my choices?” the passenger asked. “Yes or no,” she replied.

• Another flight attendant was stationed at the departure gate to check tickets. As a man approached her, she extended her hand for the ticket and he opened his trenchcoat and flashed her.

Without missing a beat, she said, “Sir, I need to see your ticket, not your stub.”

• A lady was picking through the frozen turkeys at the grocery store, but she couldn’t find one big enough for her family.

She asked the stockboy, “Do these turkeys get any bigger?” The stockboy replied, “No, ma’am, they’re dead.”

• A police officer got out of his car as the kid who was stopped for speeding rolled down his window.

“I’ve been waiting for you all day long,” the officer said. The kid replied, “Yeah, well, I got here as fast as I could.”

When the officer finally stopped laughing, he sent the kid on his way without a ticket.

• The smart-ass answer of the year:

A woman is standing nude looking in the bedroom mirror. She is not happy with what she sees and says to her husband, “I feel terrible. I look old, fat and ugly. I need you to pay me a compliment.”

The husband replies, “Your eyesight’s damn near perfect.”

Heh, heh.

As mentioned in my previous column, I’m heading out to you-know-where next week.

Well, one of my friends who is a resident of Vegas asked me, You come up here all the time. Do you have a photo or two you have taken during one of your trips?”

I thought and thought and couldn’t think of ever having a photo taken, but then I recalled that Bacon Sakatani did take a photo of me sitting in front of my favorite slot machine, the keno slot.

I looked though all my photo catalogues and couldn’t find it. However, to my surprise, I did find a photo that dates back a few decades ago.

It was a photo that was taken in front of a Hilton international hotel where a popular Japanese singer at the time, Hiroshi Itsuki, performed as the first non-English-speaking talent to appear on a Strip hotel’s main stage.

I worked with the Hilton to sign Itsuki, so he was very appreciative. He even gave me a $100 gaming chip, which I was holding as we posed for the photo.

He was holding one, too, but stuck it back in his pocket.

Well, the hotel gave me a few chips for helping them sign Itsuki for the show, so I guess it turned out okay.

While chatting about Vegas, I saw an article in a Vegas newspaper that the casino’s earnings for 2012 hit about $31 million.

No wonder I can’t make any money on the quarter slot machine.

Oh well, maybe I can talk Itsuki out of retirement for another Vegas performance. I could use another $100 chip.

Well, I guess I’ll wind up today’s chatter with words of congratulations for English Editor Gwen Muranaka, who will be leaving this week for Honolulu, where she will become Mrs. Gwen.

Yup, Gwen is getting married in the Islands this Saturday, so I want to close out with my congratulations. See you when you get back, Mrs. Gwen.

Well, it will be two weeks after this piece that I will see you, since I’ll be in you-know-where when you get back to Ellay.

Don’t try to climb up a coconut tree and fall off. If that happens, the Islanders will call you a “kotonk.”

Yes, you can laugh.

George Yoshinaga writes from Gardena and may be reached via e-mail at Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo

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