By JOEL FRIEDMAN
While I am thankful for those that took the time to write something about the closing of Mikawaya’s last retail location, I would like to give you a brief but complete history of Mikawaya.
My wife’s (Frances Kazuko Hashimoto Friedman) great uncle opened Mikawaya and my wife’s father, Mr. Roku Hashimoto, worked for his uncle. Mr. Hashimoto returned to Japan, where he married my wife’s mother, Haru Hashimoto, and the two returned to Los Angeles.
The great uncle went back to Japan to retire and gave the business to Mr. Hashimoto. That was in 1910. As none of us ever knew exactly when Mikawaya first opened, we have always counted from 1910, which comes up to 111 years.
Mikawaya was in Little Tokyo continually from its opening date except for the short recess when the entire Hashimoto family was relocated to Poston, Arizona during World War II. Due to Mr. Hashimoto’s belief in the U.S. stock market and American banks, when the Hashimoto family was allowed to return to Little Tokyo, Mr. and Mrs. Hashimoto were able to reopen the business.
After Mr. Hashimoto’s death, Mrs. Hashimoto and my wife’s older sister worked in the retail store. My wife after finishing college was a third-grade teacher and remained so until her mother became ill and her sister was unable to continue. She quit her job and became the leader at Mikawaya. Mikawaya continued on as a specialist in traditional Japanese pastries and under her leadership, opened several retail locations in Southern California, Hawaii and Canada.
My wife and I married in 1972 and remained married and together until her death in 2012. It was at that time that I was introduced and eventually went into the Japanese pastry business. While she was busy with our business, she had such a love for the Japanese community that she spent as much time as she could helping to improve the community and helping businesses in the Little Tokyo community.
She was the first female head of Nisei Week and traveled to Japan almost yearly to spread the inter-nation relationship with Japan. She was on the board of almost every Japanese-American organization in Little Tokyo. She worked with the people who worked at the different companies that opened in Little Tokyo to ensure they were treated fairly.
In 1984 while the Olympics were in Los Angeles, I went to Japan and came up with the idea of using a similar coating that we were using to make a specific type of Japanese pastry and putting a good-quality ice cream as a filling instead of using a sweetened bean paste. Upon my return, my wife and I determined this could be a great idea and began working on not only making it but being able to produce it in large volumes without the loss of quality.
In April of 1994, mochi ice cream made its worldwide debut. in the first three months we took 14% of the total ice cream novelty market in Hawaii. From that time, we then introduced mochi ice cream to the sushi bars and then to the Asian markets and then to Trader Joe’s and other non-Asian markets.
The product’s growth was doubling and tripling every year. We outgrew our facility and moved and remodeled our new factory, which was just over 2½ times as large as our old facility at 104,000 square feet. During this time, my wife not only helped with all these things but wound up spending even more time helping to make Little Tokyo a better place for all.
In 2008 she became ill, and although she tried and continued to work as best as she could, her time at Mikawaya as well as Little Tokyo started to decline due to her illness. My wife died in 2012.
After her death and due to many different circumstances including a 25-time growth in our company’s sales, it became time to sell the company. What was learned after the sale was that the company that bought Mikawaya was only interested in the mochi ice cream business and had no interest in the Japanese pastry business and closed all the retail locations except the one in Japanese Village Plaza and stopped making Japanese pastries.
This by itself was a shocking revelation as Mikawaya had been in the Japanese pastry business for 104 years. They also changed the name of the company from Mikawaya and the only thing that remained Mikawaya was the one retail location.
Now with the closing of the last retail store, after 111 years an Icon in the Japanese community as well as in the United States has now ceased to exist.
Rafu Shimpo photos by MARIO GERSHOM REYES