The Nisei Week Foundation is pleased to recognize Fugetsu-Do with the Frances K. Hashimoto Community Service Award.
This award honors organizations for their outstanding contributions to the Southern California Japanese American community. The annual Awards Dinner will be held on Monday, Aug. 15, at the Double Tree by Hilton, 120 S. Los Angeles St. in Little Tokyo, starting at 6 p.m. Individual tickets are $125 and tables of 10 are $1,250.
Also recognized at the Awards Dinner will be this year’s Grand Marshal George Sugimoto; Parade Marshals Maia and Alex Shibutani; Honorary Parade Marshal Kellyn Acosta; Inspiration Award recipients Patty and Steve Nagano, and Bill Watanabe. For tickets or information, call the Nisei Week Foundation at (213) 687-7193 or email email@example.com.
Kame restaurant opened in 1884 at the current site of Bunkado. It was the first Japanese business in Los Angeles and sparked the creation of Little Tokyo. Soon after, in 1903, Seiichi Kito, who immigrated from Gifu, opened his Fugetsu-Do Sweet Shop on Weller Street. Fugetsu-Do later moved to First Street, and as the business flourished, so did Little Tokyo. As the oldest family-owned business in Little Tokyo, next year will be its 120th birthday.
During the holidays, comfort foods are in high demands. Manju and mochi are customary Japanese gifts, and during the few weeks before New Year’s Day, the entire Kito family (and nowadays friends too) work around the clock to fill the large number of orders.
Seiichi operated the shop until the outbreak of World War II, when the family was forced to relocate to Heart Mountain concentration camp until the end of the war. After the war, Seiichi’s youngest son, Roy, reopened Fugetsu-Do on Boy’s Day, May 5, 1946, with the help of the Tanahashi family.
Fugetsu-Do had to move to Second Street for a couple of years, when the shop’s building was slated for demolition. It returned in 1957 to the current location at 315 E. First St., with Roy as the sole owner.
In 1980, Roy’s youngest son, Brian, took over the family business. Under Brian’s leadership, Fugetsu-Do has continued to emphasize quality and craftsmanship of its products. Fugetsu-Do now sells three types of mochi: traditional, modern versions with a twist, and snacks. The traditional type ranges from daifuku to ohagi, while the modern twists incorporate fruit and chocolate with the traditional white or red bean paste. Fugetsu-Do caters beyond the Japanese community, and now has a broader customer base throughout the city.
Through three generations of family ownership, the Kitos have weathered a series of unimaginable challenges from the incarceration to depressions, riots and pandemic, eminent domain from city expansion, and the ever-present threat of gentrification. Fugetsu-Do has an impressive story of resilience and survival and its significance to the community has made it an unquestionable icon of Little Tokyo and the City of Los Angeles. Fugetsu-Do in many ways is Little Tokyo, given that it’s still in existence since the Nisei Week Festival started in 1934.
Many times over the past several years, Brian has contemplated remodeling the shop. However, he hesitates. Though the shop looks old and dated, that’s what his customers remember. He recalled a story of a woman who had lived in Los Angeles more than 30 years ago. She was back visiting Little Tokyo and almost burst into tears when she entered Fugetsu-Do. “Everything I remember about Little Tokyo is gone — except Fugetsu-Do,” she said. “Nothing has changed; the store is just as I remembered it.”
Thus, the Nisei Week Foundation is recognizing this legacy business, its contribution to Little Tokyo history, and its services to the Japanese American community, with the Frances K. Hashimoto Community Service Award.
The 2022 Nisei Week Japanese Festival is a nine-day event first held in 1934 and is recognized today as one of the longest-running ethnic festivals in the U.S. This event will take place in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo district from Aug. 13-21. For a calendar of events, log on to http://NiseiWeek.org, call the Nisei Week Foundation office at (213) 687-7193 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Nisei Week office is located at the JACCC, 244 S. San Pedro St., Suite 303, Los Angeles, CA 90012.