Can someone so small have such a large impact on an entire community? The answer was an emphatic “You bet!” last Saturday (Dec. 12) at the memorial for JT Tamaki. The sanctuary of Centenary, where JT helped run the Nisei Week Baby Show, and the social hall were crammed to capacity with about 800 people paying their final respects.

It was a Little Tokyo reunion to mourn a dear friend who died far too young. Lauren Kinkade sang, Aaron Takahashi and Rodney Kageyama both paid tribute to their friend with warmth and plenty of humor. There was talk of cigars, drinks and sports — Tito’s Tacos even got a mention during the personal history. Scott Baio made an appearance via video, a sign of JT’s contributions to his other community of vagabonds in Hollywood.

A large reproduction of The Rafu’s Nov. 7 front page was in the foyer with its headline “Giant of Community Service.” There was some debate on the use of “Giant” here in the Rafu newsroom, whether it focused undue attention on JT’s stature.

I don’t think so. True, JT stood below four feet tall, but he didn’t let his size stop him from being there for friends, family or the JA community. I distinctly recall JT coming by himself in his massive SUV to pick up the thousands of copies of the Nisei Week supplement one summer. I’m not sure how he was able to get all those newspapers delivered, but somehow the job was done.

Farewell, JT. We should all learn to live as large in the time that we have.

John "JT" Tamaki with his mom, Anna Mae. (Photo courtesy of Tamaki family)
John “JT” Tamaki with his mom, Anna Mae. (Photo courtesy of Tamaki family)

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On Friday, Centenary said farewell to another “little guy” of many accomplishments: Fred Hoshiyama.

Fred was a remarkable, spritely man, who was able to remember a face or a name immediately, even as his eyesight failed. He walked with quick steps and never lost his enthusiasm for helping others through fundraising and philanthropy, through is work at the YMCA and later volunteering for numerous Little Tokyo organizations. Whenever there was an event in J-Town, Fred would be called on to offer some words, his bubbly optimism guaranteed to inspire the gathering.

I last saw Fred at a memorial service for my husband’s late grandmother: Grace Tomizawa Kawai. The two had been friends in San Francisco and Fred beamed when he talked of Grace. Her father, Kiyoshi Tomizawa, founded the YMCA on Buchanan Street in 1936.

Fred Hoshiyama (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)
Fred Hoshiyama (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

According to his grandson Leroy Kawai, Tomizawa mentored the young Fred and when it was time for him to step down, he implored Fred to return to San Francisco. In a video interview shown during the memorial service, Fred explained that he had a comfortable life working at the YMCA in Honolulu where there wasn’t the sting of prejudice experienced by Nikkei on the Mainland. But it was Tomizawa’s third letter that convinced him that he was needed back in the Bay Area.

When I last saw Fred though he had slowed somewhat physically, his mind was as sharp as ever. “Gwen!” he said with his usual warmth, even though it had been a long time since we had spoken.

“Be helpful and be involved in something that’s worthwhile is good for longevity,” Fred said in a 2008 interview, the year he was named Nisei Week grand marshal.

Fred Hoshiyama epitomized a long life, well lived. Thanks, Fred.


My last “little guy” is this neighborhood of Little Tokyo itself. It is a small community set amongst the DTLA giants of business, politics and finance, as well as an expanding Arts District.

So the decision by the Metro Board to postpone the start of closures and construction that was to begin this month was a true win for the little guys, and actually for all of Downtown.

Trucks and commuters that regularly use Alameda don’t realize that they owe J-Town for not turning that major thoroughfare into a virtual parking lot during one of the busiest times of year.

J-Town businesses will have at least a few more weeks of relative calm before Regional Connector construction starts. Entities like Metro think long-term, but these restaurants and shops have margins of weeks and even days that will make or break them for the entire year.

This will be a long-running, ongoing relationship between Little Tokyo and Metro, and no doubt many bumps along the road. If the Metro decision had gone through, with minimal notification and despite protests from Little Tokyo, it would have damaged years of careful relationship-building. A three-month closure would have had repercussions beyond this incident.

Gwen Muranaka, English editor-in-chief of The Rafu Shimpo, can be contacted at Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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