The 2017 Nisei Week Court riding aboard the MUFG Union Bank float is just one example of the long-standing relationship between the Japanese American community and the Japanese bank. (MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo)


Maybe nothing symbolized the close ties between MUFG Union Bank and the Japanese American community more than Nisei Week. As the new Nisei Week queen and her court waved to crowds in Little Tokyo, the MUFG Union Bank logo was prominently displayed in large type on the colorful float.

What will happen to those close relations is an open question, with the announcement on Sept. 21 that U.S. Bancorp has purchased most of the American banking unit of MUFG Union Bank. The deal is worth approximately $17.6 billion.

“With MUFG Union Bank, we will increase access to state-of-the-art financial products while maintaining U.S. Bank’s strong track record of putting its customers and communities first. We are also committed to maintaining both organizations’ excellent records of serving low-income communities and supporting minority-led institutions,” said Andy Cecere, chairman, president and chief executive officer of U.S. Bancorp.

“We have a great deal of respect for the MUFG Union Bank team and share customer-centric and relationship-based strategies and cultures based on integrity. We look forward to welcoming MUFG Union Bank to the U.S. Bancorp family.”

MUFG Union Bank’s operations for corporate customers will be transferred to the major Japanese financial group and all of the bank’s shares will be sold to U.S. Bancorp by June next year, according to the group’s press release.

MUFG said it will acquire an approximately 2.9 percent stake in U.S. Bancorp in the deal, forming a capital tie-up as the Japanese company reassesses its underperforming U.S. sectors. As of June 30, MUFG Union Bank, N.A. operated 305 branches, consisting primarily of retail banking branches in the West Coast states, along with commercial branches in Texas, Illinois, New York, and Georgia.

The Bank of Tokyo of California opened its first L.A. branch on Second and San Pedro streets in Little Tokyo in February 1953. (Toyo Miyatake Studio)

Asked about the impact of the sale upon relations with the Japanese and Japanese American communities, a representative from MUFG Union Bank stressed that there will be continuity:

“Recognizing the deep bench of talent Union Bank has to offer, U.S. Bank is eager to welcome our colleagues to their team once the integration process is under way, and they have already committed to retaining all front-line branch employees and will not exit the Union Bank legacy markets: California, Washington, and Oregon.”

The bank has been struggling financially in recent years due to low interest rates and rising costs to maintain the outlets.

Headquartered in Minneapolis, Minn., U.S. Bancorp operates more than 2,000 branches in the U.S.

Until the transaction is finalized, Union Bank and U.S. Bank will continue to operate independently as entirely separate companies. “There will be no change to the team members or relationship managers that you are already accustomed to at Union Bank,” the bank representative stated. “Our team stands ready to support clients and commits to keeping them informed of important changes that will affect them.

The Los Angeles Tanabata Festival presented a plaque to Union Bank in June 2015 in recognition of the bank’s sponsorship of the festival. From left: Brian Kito, Paul Abe, Masumi Muya, George Tanaka, and Nancy Okubo.

“Union Bank and U.S. Bank are both dedicated to supporting our communities and our combined investments will more broadly reach and have even more meaningful benefit for our communities through our joint Corporate Social Responsibility efforts.”

The bank has its Japanese origins as the Bank of Tokyo of California. According to a history of Union Bank, Matsujiro Takeshita was the first president of the Bank of Tokyo of California, which opened its first L.A. branch on Second and San Pedro streets in Little Tokyo in February 1953. At that time, the bank centered its core operations around a growing postwar Japanese American community. Subsequent expansion closely tracked the JA community, starting with a new branch in Gardena in 1954.

Even as the bank underwent mergers and acquisitions, the JA community remained a key part of its consumer base. The current MUFG Union Bank website has a page dedicated to Japanese services, and there are Japanese-speaking representatives in Gardena, Irvine, Little Tokyo, Montebello, South Gardena and Torrance.

Once the deal is finalized, it will mark the end of a Japanese presence in the U.S. retail banking industry. In 1998, Zions Bancorporation purchased Sumitomo Bank of California for approximately $546 million in order to expand its presence in the Asian immigrant market.

In recent years, MUFG Union Bank has supported JA community organizations, including the Japanese American National Museum, the Tanabata Festival and the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center.

In 2019, JACCC presented MUFG Union Bank with its Chairman’s Award, noting that the bank’s support for the organization stretched back to the 1970s and ’80s, when it contributed funds to build JACCC, including the Aratani Theatre and the Isamu Noguchi sculpture “To the Issei.”

On a more personal level, then-CEO Masaaki Tanaka revealed in a 2008 interview with **The Rafu,** that he found a relative, Osamu Inojima, had served during World War II in the Military Intelligence Service. The revelation occurred during a visit to JANM.

“I have four children who were born in California. They are Japanese American,” Tanaka noted. “It is my 11th year in the state. I remember the history of my family, that some of them had immigrated to the States and that’s why I became interested in the history of Japanese Americans.”

“We have a heritage to keep serving the Japanese American community,” Tanaka said.

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