Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Gerald Fukui Interview
Narrator: Gerald Fukui
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda, Jim Gatewood
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: July 29, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-fgerald-01

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

JG: Okay, so this is Jim Gatewood for the Densho Project. I'm here with Gerald Fukui, and Dana Hoshide is behind the camera. Thank you very much for agreeing to be with us today.

GF: Oh, you're welcome.

JG: So I thought I would just start by asking where and when you were born.

GF: February 14, 1953, in Los Angeles, Japanese Hospital, First Street.

JG: Okay. What do you know about your family's last name?

GF: Nothing. [Laughs]

JG: [Laughs] Okay, well, that's a good thing to know.

GF: Not much, although I believe somewhere down the line our original name, I believe was Tasaka, and I think because of the... what is it, youshi. It's where you may have one family who doesn't have a son, so they get him a son and the son takes on that family name. I think somewhere down the line that occurred to us, from what I understand.

JG: Okay, and so that's how you acquired the name Fukui. What are your parents' names?

GF: Soichi and Ruth. Ruth Takako.

JG: Takako, okay. What do you know about the first Fukuis to immigrate to the United States?

GF: Very little. The first one was Soji, S-O-J-I. He immigrated, and I'm not even quite certain when, probably in the late 1800s. Probably between 1880 to 1885, settled in the Big Island of Hawaii and they lived in Honomu, and I don't believe the town of Honomu is no longer there, but it's near Hilo. And so my great-grandfather worked the pineapple fields there, or it could've been sugar cane fields, one or the other. I'm not sure which one came first. And so I've asked my aunt before, both my aunts, and my other aunt when she was alive, about some of the history and they couldn't even remember themselves. And unfortunately I passed, my dad passed away when I was twenty-seven, twenty-eight years old and I was too selfish, too worried about my own self to really find out about my history.

JG: So do you know much about the life he had before he came to Japan? I mean before he came to Hawaii, rather?

GF: No. No, he lived in Hiroshima, from what we understand it was more from along the samurai line. I'm not quite certain about that.

JG: So at a certain point, though, so Soji went to the Big Island. He worked on a plantation field. I was looking at your, the website of the Fukui Mortuary, and it just said he made the decision to leave the plantations and come to California.

GF: Yes, he left his family there, and from what I understand, and I got some of this information meeting when I do my business. I meet with people. "I knew your dad, I knew your grandfather," and they would tell me stories. And I also got some of this information from one of my dad's cousin, Sasaki, who was a teacher at Notre Dame. George? George Sasaki? I hope my relatives don't see this. I'm forgetting their names.

JG: [Laughs] It's alright.

GF: And one in Japan who's living in Japan now, and they told me -- [phone rings] oh, sorry...

JG: That's okay.

GF: -- that my great-grandfather left Hawaii, obviously to make a better for life for him, took a boat to, to San Francisco, landed in San Francisco, went from San Francisco to Seattle then came back down to L.A. And along the way he tried import/export, restaurant business, hat making -- I guess learning how to maybe make straw hats -- and also chick sexing, and somehow settled into the mortuary business. And I would imagine he settled in L.A., and as you know, majority of all the Japanese immigrants that came here settled in the Boyle Heights area, which we call our BH, our Beverly Hills, but Boyle Heights, settled there. And it was such a small community, and so when someone would pass away they would go to the local mortuary, which is our mortuary. It's the actual original mortuary, same site, same building. It's had a facelift. But they would go there and the owner, who was Caucasian, could not handle the language, the customs, so he hired my great-grandfather, and I understand he handled, he hired two others. And so somewhere down the line, I don't know if this gentleman passed away or if the three of them bought him out or what, but the three of them took over the mortuary and it became the Japanese Undertaking Company. Now who the three are, or the other, excuse me, other two are, absolutely no idea, and what happened to them, no idea.

JG: Do you know the name of the mortuary before?

GF: No.

JG: You don't, okay.

GF: No. And somewhere during that time, of course, he, my great-grandfather, called over his family, 'cause my grandfather was still in Hawaii. My grandfather was born in Hawaii.

JG: But up until this point, your great-grandfather, this was his first experience working in the mortuary business?

GF: Correct.

JG: Okay.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

JG: Tell me a little bit about your mother's family. Do you know anything about their history?

GF: My mother's mother, Chiye, is a Issei and she's from Japan. What city in Japan, I'm not sure. My great-grandfather came from Hiroshima and I believe my mother's mother... my sister knows. I believe she may have come from Yokohama. I may be totally wrong on that. And settled in the L.A. area. She was married and then got divorced at quite a early age, so when they got divorced, my grandfather, who I have never met, took my mother's sister and brother to Japan, and my mother stayed here with her mother. And my sister, my mother's siblings got stuck in Japan during the war, and I think it was quite brutal for my uncle. He was treated very poorly.

JG: As a Japanese American?

GF: As a Japanese American. So a lot of this timeline I'm not really clear on exactly when, but I do know that they both were stuck in Japan, my mother's siblings. Now, my mother herself lived here, and then my grandmother sent her to Japan prior to the war to attend high school, so she was at Toyo Eiwa in Tokyo until right before the war broke out, then she came back to Los Angeles.

JG: Where in Los Angeles were she and her mother living?

GF: I believe Boyle Heights.

JG: Oh, in Boyle Heights as well, okay. And what do you know of how your parents met?

GF: Parents met? They met down in the race tracks, Santa Anita racetracks after the evacuation.

JG: Okay.

GF: So after the order to evacuate the Japanese from the coast came down, they all, that was, I guess, a point where the government will determine which ones will go to which camp. And so they met there. And then my mother ended up going to... not Poston. The one in Utah.

JG: Topaz.

GF: Topaz. Thank you. Topaz, Utah. My father went to Heart Mountain, Wyoming.

JG: Oh, so they were separated?

GF: They were separated. They weren't married yet. They weren't married yet. They had just met.

JG: How did they continue their correspondence or their communication? How did they...

GF: Writing.

JG: Really?

GF: Yeah. And it's sad because my father's side, going to Heart Mountain, is really sad because my grandfather was actually, you may have seen in, in our website, is a World War I veteran and fought in France for General Pershing, but yet here he was a veteran, a U.S. citizen, and yet he was also put in a camp.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

JG: Well, let's go back a little bit and talking about... I mean, your great-grandfather had a pretty remarkable life, when you look at the scope of that. What do you know about his time here when he came to California? At what point did he enter the army to serve?

GF: That was my grandfather.

JG: That was your grandfather, okay.

GF: My grandfather, yeah.

JG: Did he come over from Hawaii?

GF: I think when my great-grandfather came over here, as I mentioned, went from Seattle to, and then back down to L.A., at some point he brought the, he did bring the whole family over. So my grandfather did come over at that time.

JG: And where was he born?

GF: He was born in Honomu, Hawaii.

JG: Okay. Okay, so he was born in Hawaii. What do you know about his life in Boyle Heights?

GF: My grandfather's life?

JG: Yes.

GF: Not a whole lot. I do know that he continued on in the mortuary with his father, my great-grandfather. I do know that he enlisted in the U.S. Army for World War I, and I have pictures. In fact, his picture's on the web, also, 364th Regiment, or unit. So I even have all that and a book has his name in there, when he served.

JG: That was so unusual for Japanese Americans to serve during the first World War.

GF: Oh, yeah. Right. Especially in a segregated army, but yet he served. Someone told me he was probably a cook. Now that's never been substantiated. The sad thing, I remember when my mother passed away, I cleared out her house and I found letters that he had written back from France, and on it it would be blacked out and it would say, "Censored, censored." So I guess certain things they, they couldn't say. And I don't know where those letters are, but they would've been priceless to us.

JG: Interesting. Very interesting. I'm curious about the connection between your great-grandfather and your grandfather and just this continuity in terms of entering into what has become the family business. At what point, or in what ways was the, the business kind of discussed within the family? In other words, thinking about... was there any kind of expectation that people would enter into the business?

GF: You know, probably with my great-grandfather there was. My great-grandfather passed away some time in the '40s. In fact, I think he passed away before World War II, and that, this is the only time that the mortuary did not operate, obviously, here in California, but I think my great-grandfather, my, excuse me, my grandfather stepped up and helped in camps when the camp residents would pass away. He would help with the arrangements there. But how he got into the business, when he got into the business, I'm not certain, but looking back at some of the pictures, it appears he probably got involved right after he got out of the army, and when the war, when did World War II, I mean I end? Probably 1918, 1919, around there?

JG: Yeah, right around there.

GF: So probably the late teens, early twenties is when he got involved, and he would've been in, I guess, mid-twenties.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

JG: What do you know about... so your family grew up in Boyle Heights, tell me a little about your own family, your siblings? How many, do you have any siblings?

GF: Well, to clarify something, my mother grew up in Boyle Heights. My father grew up in the mortuary, 'cause there's a residence upstairs. My father and my grandfather.

JG: Is that residence still there today?

GF: It's still there today.

JG: Does anyone occupy it?

GF: Just boxes, storage mainly.

JG: So he grew up in the mortuary.

GF: Yes, he did.

JG: Oh, wow.

GF: And if you saw the mortuary you would think, oh, that looks like a modern building, but it's, it's had a facelift, and we've put a facade around the outside of it. So it is circa eighteen, late 1800s, when it was built. Now, you asked me about my siblings. I have two. I have two sisters.

JG: Okay, what are their names?

GF: Cathy and then Chris. And they're both older than I am. They're, we're all about a year and a half apart. Cathy was born in 1949 in Japan, and then Chris and I were born here, at the Japanese hospital.

JG: Okay. What was your neighborhood like when you were growing up? What are your memories of growing up in Boyle Heights?

GF: Well, actually, when I was born, by that time my father had bought a house, and so we were living probably in the Olympic area, around Olympic and Arlington.

JG: Oh, okay. What are your memories of that neighborhood?

GF: Oh, quiet, clean, safe. I remember going outside on my own all the time, playing, just by myself. There's no worries. Not like there is today. I would never allow my kids, although they're grown up, but I would've never allowed my kids, in the past, to go out without watching them, having an eye on them. But there were no fears, no danger of that as there is now. We had another Japanese mortuary that was living just south of us and a Hispanic mortuary of -- did I say mortuary?

JG: Mortuary.

GF: I did, didn't I? A Japanese family living, just couple blocks south of us, and a Hispanic family, and I got along with both of 'em, 'cause they're all around my age. And I remember we used to go running around the neighborhood playing.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

JG: What kind of activities were you involved in?

GF: At that young of an age, there wasn't really organized sports as there is now that we have with the Japanese, such as the organized basketball teams, the T-ball or baseball teams. There wasn't until we, I got a little older. I became a, I was in middle school that I probably got involved with, like, YMCA, and I played baseball or sports such as that. But I was never good at sports. I was always terrible. It wasn't until I tried skiing that I found a sport that was really easy for me, and that's the only sport I've ever really excelled in.

JG: Thinking back about the kind of prominence that your family probably play, because so many families would have interacted with your own through the mortuary, what do you remember of your involvement with the Japanese American community as a youth?

GF: Very little, although my father was probably more involved in more organizations than I was, and so one of the organizations, of course, was also Nisei Week. And I'd remember just, maybe him taking me to the parade and taking me to the different events, but that was probably the limit of my involvement in the Japanese organizations. My dad was very involved. My dad was involved in the veterans' organizations, the church, a lot of the community organizations here.

JG: Was your family involved in any religious organizations?

GF: My father was an elder at Union Church, and he was instrumental in helping to build Union Church where, where it is now. It used to be over on Judge John Aiso Street. The old, it's now, it's now the East West Players Building. That was the original church, and then now we moved right down the street on Third, down in San Pedro. So he was instrumental in helping to raise funds and to build the building, and then I know he was, I believe, considered an elder at the church.

JG: Did your family attend church on a regular basis?

GF: When we were younger, but as we got older and became more involved in our own personal things or more independent, no, not as much.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

JG: I want to just take a step back a little bit to your parents and just talking about their experiences with their family. What did you know, growing up, about the, the wartime incarceration?

GF: Nothing.

JG: You... did they ever talk to you about it?

GF: No.

JG: So at what point did you learn anything about it?

GF: School.

JG: Okay.

GF: Yeah. Never talked about it, never complained. I think they just moved on with their lives. My father, at the time that the Executive Order came down, was in the second year at UC Berkeley, and so he had to leave Berkeley and came down, gathered his family and, as I mentioned, went to Santa Anita. That's where he met my mom. And then they were, they were relocated to Heart Mountain, and when he was at Heart Mountain some time they told the school age, college age internees that they could leave to finish their college education, so my father left and went to Oberlin College in Ohio and got his degree there, where he was pre-med. And as soon as he graduated Oberlin, he got his draft notice and he got drafted into the U.S. Army. And so, because he spoke Japanese -- I don't think he spoke it fluently, but I think he understood it enough, spoke it enough -- he went into the Military Intelligence Service, so of course, as we, we talked about it, it was a segregated army back there, and then Japanese would either go to the 442nd in Europe or they would go into the MIS in the Pacific Theater, so he went into the MIS.

JG: What was your mother doing at this time?

GF: My mother, at that time, also was allowed to leave Topaz, and she went to Hamline University in Minnesota and graduated there as a med tech, so she practiced as a med tech.

JG: And at what point did your, either of your parents return to California?

GF: I think... my mother, I have no idea. I do know that my aunt lived in Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, so of course she would've been in camp with my mother and -- oh, no, wait, wait, wait. My aunt didn't, wasn't in Japan. My uncle was the only one. Excuse me. I had mentioned that my mother's siblings, two of 'em, were sent to Japan. Just, I think it was just my uncle, 'cause my aunt was in Utah, so she had to have gone to camp. See, so a lot of that history, it's, it's pretty fuzzy to me.

JG: That's okay, though, 'cause you're piecing it together. It's a really fascinating history.

GF: Now that I'm thinking about it I'm piecing it together, but I do know my uncle was stuck there during the war, 'cause they would talk about how he was beaten and, and teased because he was an American, American-born Japanese.

JG: Did he remain there after the war?

GF: No. At some point he came, came back.

JG: Did, did anyone... I mean, did you ever speak to him about his experiences?

GF: No, I didn't. I didn't. I would speak to him all the time, but never about his experiences, and it's funny, none of my family ever really complained about their experiences.

JG: So your parents, they go, they leave the camps and they go to school.

GF: Yes, my father gets drafted. He does his basic, I think, I think it was at Camp Savage, and then he goes through the Japanese language school, and then after that he gets shipped overseas, but right when he gets shipped overseas we drop the bomb and so the war ends. So instead of having to go to fight in the Pacific, in one of the islands, he ends up being part of the occupational forces in Japan, in Tokyo. And so at that point, I understand he calls my mother over. Now, were they married then? I'm not sure. Did they get married in Japan? I don't know. But I do know that my sister was born in Japan in 1949, so my father stayed in Japan with the occupational forces 'til '49, and I think at some point he was discharged and then still worked for the government as a U.S. citizen.

JG: Did you ever talk to your father about this time?

GF: You know, a few things about how... so he almost killed his friend, because they were driving the jeep and he, he was drunk and turn, made a turn and his friend was gone. And another time they were kinda drunk and they hit some guy carrying those honey, you know honey buckets are? Got all over the jeep and... well it hit, didn't hit the car, the guy, but the honey buckets. But things like that, and they would, he and his best friend would go to, in the beginning, would go out to the bars and you're, I guess you're not supposed to really fraternize and mingle with the population, but they would just put on their civvies and the MPs would come in, look in, "Oh, they're all Japanese," they walk away. [Laughs]

JG: That's funny.

GF: Yeah.

JG: Did he ever tell you what it was like for the Japanese people who were rebuilding their lives?

GF: No. No, not at all. And I, in retrospect, I wish I had asked him a lot of this. There's so many questions, if he were alive today, I would have for him. Question people are, like you're asking me, people ask me, about the mortuary. What happened to the original owner of the mortuary? Who are the other two people who owned the mortuary with my great-grandfather and why did they leave? Why did it all of a sudden just become Fukui? And a lot of that I don't know. And when did it become Fukui? But somewhere down the line, the other two are out of the picture and it's just my great-grandfather.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

JG: But the thing that's interesting, even apart from knowing the history in its kind of detail, is the fact that there are five generations of your family that have continued in this business, and for anyone who would be, I mean, any kind of outside observer, would wonder what, what is it that draws each new generation into the mortuary? I mean, it's a, it's an interesting thing. Did you grow up with any sense that you would be doing this?

GF: No, not really. I remember my parents saying, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" And they said, "If you're a doctor you don't have to go in the war." Oh, maybe I'll become a doctor. That's when I was real young, but that's... my father never pressured me. I said, "Dad, what would you do if I don't go into the mortuary?" "I'll just sell it." Never ever pressured me. I think my father received pressure from his father to take over the business, and that's one of the reason why, besides my sister being born in Japan, the other reason is that he was calling him to come over to help at the mortuary, and that's why he left Japan. Had he not then, who knows? Maybe I'd be in Japan now. I don't know. But I... can I talk about myself?

JG: Yeah, absolutely.

GF: I graduated high school in 1970. I went to Dorsey High School, and from there I went to USC and graduated USC. My major was pharmacy. And unfortunately, I'm not like the students today who are very focused and know what they want to do, I still didn't know what I want to do. I just, I guess maybe took after my dad. "Where's the next party?" And I wasn't a bad student, but I think I could've been a better student, so when it came time to decide to go into pharmacy school, I looked at my grades. Ooh, Gerry, ain't no way in hell you're gonna get in pharmacy school with those grades, so then I took one year at a business college to learn accounting and then went into the mortuary business.

JG: So that was more, did you see that as kind of a fall back at that time?

GF: Probably, it was more motivated, because what else am I gonna do? I was too stupid to go into pharmacy school so I might as well go into the family business, and in retrospect it was the best decision I ever made. Although, when I started working the mortuary I hated it. I did not like working there. Obviously, people pass away twenty-four-seven. Doesn't matter whether it's Christmas. Doesn't matter whether it's weekends. There are times I would work 8:30 to 5:00, and back then majority of our, all of our funerals were in the evening, so maybe I would work a funeral, and then I'd come home and then get a call. Someone passed away in a hospital, go remove the remains, come all the way in to work, pick up the remains, and then come back and work again 8:30, and that was pretty tough.

JG: What did you know, I mean, just growing up, what did you know about what it was that your father did, what, and, and...

GF: We, you know, we were all aware of what he did. As I mentioned, when we were younger we used to go to church, and because it's in close proximity to where the, our church is in close proximity to where the mortuary is, every Sunday we would stop by the mortuary and eat. And so we'd be playing around, so I think I was always aware of death. I was, I was introduced to death very early, 'cause there'd be remains there in state, and it wouldn't bother us.

JG: Did you have any sense of the role that your family played in the larger community? Did people talk to you about what your... did your friends ask you about what your father did?

GF: Yeah. When I was young, they said, yeah, "What does your father do?" "He's a mortician," and they'd be all freaked out and everything, but majority of my friends, they didn't really care. They didn't care at all.

JG: And what about you? Did you have any, I mean, did you ever feel embarrassed, for example?

GF: No, not at all.

JG: No. Okay, so it seemed like a fairly natural thing that your...

GF: Uh-huh. It's just natural as being born.

JG: Did your dad ever talk about work at home, what he did?

GF: Not to me. He may have spoken to, to my mother about it, but very rarely will, would he talk to us. Once in a while I'd hear him come home and he would tell my mom So-and-So passed away, I guess someone they knew, and sometimes it may be someone that we knew, but otherwise he didn't speak very much of it. It's just like myself. When I go home and if my kids are there, I don't talk about it. And it's not like I'm keeping this repressed. It's nothing to talk about. You did your, your job. I worked that day and now it's time to enjoy yourself.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

JG: So when you entered the business, there were clearly these challenges that you faced. I mean, there was kind of a, a transition that occurred from being at USC and enjoying your time there and then entering into the, to the day. What were some of the things that you found surprising when you started working at the mortuary?

GF: Well, I think being twenty-one years old, coming out of college, you are quite coddled and you are quite spoiled. I guess that's why call it "University for Spoiled Children." And so I remember I was in sports law. We were playing, we used to play volleyball a lot, we would go camping a lot, we'd go fishing, we'd be doing a lot of things, and then all of a sudden here I am working at the mortuary. And because of the, the involvement and the dedication you have to put into it, I found that that was a very difficult thing to adjust to. And one thing I learned is that... and I went through a stage where all of a sudden I got really depressed, and I didn't know what it was for. I mean, I didn't know what was causing it. I went to go to see a movie. Do you remember Deer Hunter? And there was one scene where they grab Christopher Walken and one of the other person, stuck him on the table and put a gun between 'em and they played Russian Roulette and the Viet Cong would bet on who would survive, and I remember seeing the, that scene and it just unnerved me. And I remember going home, I couldn't sleep. Next day it was just really bothering me, and it bothered me so much I went to go talk to someone, and then after meeting with them, he says, "You know, your intelligence and everything else is normal, but what it is is that you're realizing" -- and it, and I realized he was right -- "you're realizing now that it's time to grow up. It's time to put all the toys away, time to become a man and be responsible." And that was a hard thing for me to do.

JG: What do you think that was, why do you think that was the case? Why was it so hard?

GF: I think, as I said, and I think with a lot of our, although I'm Yonsei, but I grew up in the Sansei generation, were very coddled by our family. You have your Issei generation, and they're the ones who are out there just... they're the, what do you call, gardeners, farmers, working really hard, saving every little bit just so their kids could have that opportunity. The opportunity to go out and get an education to be successful. They would tell their kids, they would tell the Niseis, "Don't speak Japanese. Learn English. It's the only way you're gonna get ahead." And so now the second generation Niseis do become successful, and then they have their kids and they spoil their kids. And I think I was probably one of 'em. Although we were one generation ahead, we still grew up in that era, and so all of a sudden realizing now I got to be responsible for myself was just difficult for me to handle at that time.

JG: To what extent... and it's, I'm trying to imagine as someone who doesn't know about, a lot about your business, how do you deal with the fact that people are dying, and that's, you have to attend, not only do you have to attend to those who've passed away, but you have to help others who are grieving. And as someone who is just entering into the business, how did you reconcile the fact that you were working? Because one of the things that you could take away from your story about The Deer Hunter is that, you know, death was becoming kind of a more, the reality of what it is you, you were doing for a living, was kind of hitting home. But how did you, how did you deal with, with that?

GF: I think being in that, that profession, you kinda have to enamor yourself. You have to prevent yourself from being too emotional, too emotionally involved. You have to be compassionate with the family, but yet you have to be professional. If you show your emotions, and it's happened before, but if you show your emotions, then how can you lead that family? How can you counsel that family successfully, if you're gonna get emotionally involved? And there are times that it is difficult, but I think you learn to keep your emotions out of it. One thing that, that's a little different with the Japanese is that they tend not to show emotion, so even though I'm meeting with a family who may have lost someone, generally they won't show a lot of emotion themselves, so of course, they don't show the emotion, then you don't empathize with that family as much and feel that. And so you, it's, you're much better able to counsel that family without getting involved and letting your feelings get involved. Although, there's been times, especially like after my father passed away, and I dealt with a family and it was a very, very similar situation. My father passed away quite young. He had just turned, just turned sixty and celebrated his sixtieth birthday when he passed away. He had a stroke. And so it was very difficult for me and I was wondering how would I handle it. Prior to this, I was wondering, how would I handle it if one of my parents passed away? And I thought I wouldn't want to talk anyone. Don't bother me. Don't come over. But then when he did pass away we had relatives come over, we had friends come over, and I found that, that was very relieving for me, and that really helped the healing process, to be with other people, to reminisce, to remember and to laugh. And I think laughing about things that, experiences we had with my father, or other people had with my father, really helped us to heal. And so when I saw the family had the same situation, it was sad for me, and I remember feeling it and almost tearing up, but generally I try and, and stay completely away from that.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

JG: Do you have any memories of when you were just starting out in the business? Is there, was there anything kind of memorable that stuck with you when you were just beginning the trade?

GF: Gosh, I hardly remember what happened yesterday, now you're talking... I've been working in the mortuary since I was seventeen, so forty-odd years. And most people retire after twenty-five, but I've been there for forty years. Memorable, memorable... nothing, you know, my father knew the only way I could learn the business is to start off at the bottom of the totem pole, which I did. And I would start off actually working in the -- [phone rings] excuse me. I would start off working in the morgue and I would dress remains, cosmetize them. I would clean the cars, gas the cars. I would drive the limousines. I would pick up the remains, get death certificates signed. So I learned from the very bottom, and so I guess that, that's something that's memorable to me, is that my father didn't say, "Okay, just because you're my son, I'm gonna start you at the top, or towards the top." He put me at the bottom, and that was good for me because I did learn all the different facets of the business. And it humbled me, too.

JG: What was... I'm sorry, please --

GF: No, I do, I mean, if you talk about memorable things, there are a couple of memorable things that happened, but not necessarily to me at the mortuary, I mean in the mortuary. But I do remember one time doing a funeral service, and it was actually at the old Centenary, and it was really funny because the, the procedure is, in a Christian service, that you seat the family and then the minister comes -- if the service starts at 7:30, for example, the minister comes to the funeral coach at 7:30, we pull the casket out, and we process into the sanctuary for the service, and the minister goes up to the altar and he starts the service. So that, that's the normal procedure, so here I am waiting at the curbside, and the pallbearers are there, the casket's partially pulled out and we're waiting for the minister to meet us to proceed. Then I hear "Amazing Grace." "Amazing Grace"? How come they're singing "Amazing Grace"? I open up the program and I see the order says processional, invocation and the hymn. He forgot to come and get the casket. [Laughs] So he started the service without having the casket in there. And so I told the pallbearers, "Okay, let's take the casket in." So we take the casket in, take it to the back of the chapel, and you can see his face. It's like, yeah, he realized, but he says, "Now as we sing the third verse, let's sing it triumphantly as Mrs. So-and-So is brought in in procession." Set it up, no one ever knew.

JG: Have you had a lot of instances like that?

GF: Oh yeah, I had another one, my very first funeral that I conducted solo by myself was at Venice Santa Monica Free Methodist Church. Jim Yami's church. And I went there, and back in the old days families used to love to take pictures at the cemetery. They would line up all the flowers at the cemetery and then -- we have a cart that we put the casket on -- and then they would stand behind the casket and you would have this picture that they would take. And so we would use our cart, and so there are some times where we're jumping all around from one service to another service, and so the counselor who went at that time had to take a picture, but they had to use the funeral coach for something else, so he was gonna finish the service, they would bury the casket and then he would bring the cart back, stick it back in the car. He never stuck it back in the car. So here, for the first time I went to my first service, and you learn the routine when you set things up, and one of the first things you do when you get there is you pull out the cart, but yet I'm a greenhorn. I don't know. And so it's 7:30, pallbearers are there and my assistant says, "Where's the cart?" And I go to open it. It wasn't there. And what are you gonna put the casket on? Milk crates? And my father just wanted to make sure everything went smooth, that I was doing my first service, and he's calmly, okay, goes inside the church, looks around, gets a piano bench, sticks the piano bench in front of the congregation, the family, and then we have the pallbearers take the casket all the way down to put it on the piano bench. And it just looked normal. No one ever knew. But what would I have done, except probably to panic? And I was ready to crawl into a hole, but my father was there and he was experienced so he knew what to do. So those are some of the funny little anecdotes that I remember.

JG: Did he talk to you about that afterwards?

GF: He probably did. I can't really recall, but I, ever since then, the first thing I would do before I even left, I would look in the car. Is there a cart in there? So I learned my lesson.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

JG: So going back, it's really interesting, 'cause you said that you were working the mortuary since you were seventeen years old.

GF: Correct, I was going to SC at the time, and I would work at the mortuary during the summer and during the winter so that I could have my own funds -- my parents paid for my tuition, but I would have my own funds to subsist on for my, my own personal things. Going skiing or eating.

JG: So at what point, I'm just trying to get a sense of what does a young person do in a mortuary? I mean, were you working with, were you working with the deceased at all?

GF: Uh-huh.

JG: You were.

GF: That's where I started out in the bottom of the totem pole, so I would dress the, help dress the remains. I would help our embalmer cosmetize them, place 'em in the caskets. I would, when the caskets would be delivered, I would receive the caskets. Every day we would clean the car, the funeral cars, 'cause they would get dusty, so I'd clean them or gas them up. And then as someone would pass away at a facility, a hospital or a residence, I would go pick up the remains.

JG: So at seventeen, did that have any kind of impact on you? I mean, had you seen many dead people?

GF: Oh, yeah.

JG: You had? So it wasn't anything unusual to you?

GF: No, I think, as I mentioned, we used to go there when we were young after church, and so I did see a lot of human remains. So when I actually started working in the mortuary and I actually had to be physical with them it never really bothered me. There are some times it, it is unpleasant, depending... not everyone passes away from old age. You have your car accidents, for example, you have your, maybe decomposition... we've had our cases where they didn't know the person passed away. The only reason why they did is maybe the postman noticed an odor coming out of the house, something like that. Or suicides, things like that. Then sometimes it's kind of unnerving to handle that.

JG: Did your father give you any instructions about how to deal with human remains, or did he talk to you about the importance of respect or dignity?

GF: No, he didn't have to, 'cause I already showed them, I mean, I already knew. I've always been that way where I respect everyone and everything, am very compassionate of people. You asked me do I remember anything when I was young, I do remember one thing when I was growing up and my father -- I had to have been fifteen, sixteen -- took me into the mortuary to show me someone who had passed away in an auto accident, young kid who had passed away in an auto accident and the accident, during the accident he was burned. And so he showed me that, and I think he was racing and so my father thought, "Well, this is a good thing to show my son to make him realize the dangers of, of driving." And so he showed that to me. I still drove crazy, but I was a teenager so... [Laughs] but I do remember that. I remember that. That did have an impact on -- no, I was, I probably was careful. I was always careful driving. I had my, my moments, but I was usually very careful.

JG: What are, what are some aspects of the job that you, you didn't enjoy?

GF: Well, I didn't mind working in what we call the morgue, dressing, cosmetizing, but of course after I graduated I would hope I would do something... it wasn't the type of work I would've liked to have done. I probably would've liked to have done something a little more clerical, at least. The other aspect, I think probably one other main aspect was the responsibility of always having to be there and that, the mortuary back then, we were a lot smaller. The staff was a lot smaller, so there were times that you may have plans, you may have a weekend planned, and you would have to cancel it because we would have to service our families, so that was kind of difficult. That was probably one area I didn't like that much in that it did take away from some of my free time.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

JG: So you enter into the mortuary business, and I'm... at what point did you, at what point did you meet your, your wife?

GF: Pam? I probably met Pam, when did I meet Pam? 1984/'85, around there, I met her and I met her through Nisei Week, 'cause she was one of the princesses on the court. And I knew her, and then she started working downtown and I wasn't interested with her at the time. She was working at Merit Savings and Loan, and because I knew her I said, "Hey, let's go out for lunch." So we went to have lunch, and then my sister was pregnant, became pregnant and so she had to take off for a while, so we needed someone to help cover for her, so I knew Pam was quitting Merit so I asked her if she wanted to work just temporarily 'til my sister came back, and that's basically how I met her. So we got married around 1987, and then married for twelve and a half years and we got divorced about ten years ago. But when people -- and she's remarried now -- when people see her they think we're still married. I mean, I go golfing with her husband. I went over there for dinner last night, so we have a very... we did get divorced. We got divorced because of differences between us two, and we talked and we says, "You know, no matter what, whatever the differences are between you and I, let's promise never ever to allow it to filter down to our children, never let it affect them." And we never did. And even after we separated, before the divorce was final, I still lived at home and we would act normal. We would have dinner together, we would talk normal, and so when the divorce was final then I moved out and I got my own place, and she sold the house and bought another house. And she's in quite close proximity to me but remained, remained friends ever since, probably closer friends now than when we were married. In fact, I employ her. She works for me a little bit, does data entry stuff. And her mother still works for me. Her mother used to work for me even before we got divorced. She used to cook for us, and so she still does.

JG: Did, was there ever any... when, as you two were, were dating and leading up into marriage, was there any, every any discussion about what it was that you did for a living?

GF: No, she already knew what I did for a living. Yeah, she already knew. It never bothered her. Yeah.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

JG: Let me ask you a little bit about, thinking about the community, I mean, it's clear you're... it's interesting when you look at your life 'cause in some sense, from what you've said, as a youth you weren't necessarily involved to a great extent in Japanese American cultural activities, but here you are now, very involved, and I'm just curious, how did that transition take place? I mean, at what point did you become, start becoming more fully involved?

GF: Well it wasn't because I wanted to. I was probably anywhere in my mid to, to late twenties, and I was asked to help... let's see, what did I get involved in first? Was it Nisei Week? Can't even remember now. I think it was Nisei Week. I was asked to help in Nisei Week from a friend who I knew who was involved, Randy Oba. And he asked me to help and I said, "Oh, I don't know if I want to help, but that's okay, I'll help." And then that's how I got involved in that. If I start something I finish it and I don't slack off on it, and so I was very efficient in doing it, so... "This is a good guy to keep," so they would ask me to do again the next year and then the next year, and next thing I knew I'd been cemented in there and I can't leave. So if you have any ideas how I could get out of there I'd like to. But as I mentioned, growing up very spoiled, you just want to do your own thing. You want to work, make your money, go home, go with your friends, go have a beer, go to the movies, go fishing, and do all this. And then all of a sudden you find that people ask you to get involved in the community. My dad used to me a member of the Japanese American Optimists Club, and one day the vice president of membership, John Fukushima, came by the office and he was coaxing me to join the Optimists Club. I was very reluctant and I didn't want to get involved, obviously, but he was going around town asking kids of a lot of the members, and some of these members, like Archie Miyatake, I guess you know the name? Alan and Gary, he went to Alan and Gary. He went to the Mayeharas, he went to the, I don't know if you know the Minakas? F.I. Insurance. He went to the Aiharas. And all of us, a lot of us joined the club at the same time, so a lot of us were second generation Optimist members, so that's how I got involved. And then next thing you know I'm being asked to join other organizations, so LTBA, JACCC, Keiro.

JG: So why did you do it, though? I mean, it, you know...

GF: Initially, Nisei Week was fun. You're working, I'm young, I'm working in the community, I'm working with the girls, and that's always interesting for a young man. But Nisei Week is probably a less stressful organization if you're gonna work for, to work for. And then JAO, it's the Optimists Club, only because this John Fukushima asked me to get involved. It wasn't until later on I realized, you know what, this is probably best for my business, too. And so then when people would ask me to join JACCC, for example, or, or LTSC or Keiro, I realized it's probably good for my business, and it is. It is, because we do find that people will use Fukui Mortuary as opposed to the other mortuary because of my involvement in the community. And so now my nephew, the fifth generation, thirty years old, Eric, I'm trying to get him more involved, for the same reason, because I'm not gonna be there forever. I don't want to be there forever. I've been there forty years. If my kids weren't in private college, I'd probably be retired, but I'm bone poor now 'cause I'm paying full tuition and my son is going to George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and if you Google that, at least last year, Forbes Magazine, it said the most expensive college in the nation or possibly the world. And then my daughter goes to Loyola Marymount University, which is also a private college.

JG: What are their names?

GF: Sarah, that's my daughter. She's twenty-one. And then my son is Cary, like Cary Grant. Cary. And he'll be turning twenty in a couple weeks.

JG: So has there been any discussion about them continuing in the family business?

GF: No, not really. I know Pam, my former wife, says, "You know, if you want to go in Dad's business it's up to you." But they don't want to, and I wouldn't force 'em to. My daughter was gonna go into medicine and she, when she was freshman, sophomore, she really wanted to go into pre-neo, neo-natal care, and she realized going to med school meant another, what, eight years? And so she doesn't think she wants to do that, so she's looking into child psychology. She's thinking of something shorter, such as pharmacy, optometry or something along that line. My son entered George Washington, well, it was great, he had a scholarship, twenty thousand dollar scholarship for engineering. First semester, "Dad, I don't think I want to do engineering." So there goes his scholarship. And so now he's in environmental studies, but doesn't know where he wants to go with that, whether he wants to go into law or where.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

JG: Going back, one of the things that's intriguing to me is the, thinking about Nisei Week in particular, something that you enjoy being part of, you're involved with, you're actively involved with. What would you say, given that the, the Japanese American community has certainly evolved, you know the Nisei, Nisei Week started, I guess, in the 1930s. It was a way to bring Nisei back to the community. The Issei decided that this would be a good thing, bring people back by in the community. I mean, what do you say to those, if someone were to say to you, why do we need to keep having Nisei Week? What is, what are the merits of this? Here we are, it's 2010, the community has really evolved and we're more or less integrated into mainstream American society now. What is the value of something like Nisei Week for the contemporary Japanese American community?

GF: That, that's a bone of contention for everyone. What is the value and why do we do it? And it's to always be there, and so that we can remember our heritage and we can teach our, our children, our next generation what their heritage is, and that we are still a vibrant community. It's very difficult because I've seen the change a lot, and it's our own fault. You look at Little Tokyo. Little Tokyo, the face of Little Tokyo's changed a hundred percent. You go there in the evening, you go there during the day, majority of people you see there are not Japanese. A lot of the businesses now are not owned by Japanese. They may be Japanese names, but they're not owned by Japanese. And we have ourselves to blame for that because the Japanese are the most assimilated of all the minorities. Sixty percent of all Japanese are marrying non-Japanese. I look at my own family. I look at my sisters, I look at my cousins, and you have Hispanic, Indonesian, Caucasian. It's just a mixture of all different races. And so obviously you get these family members that are like that and they say, "Well, I don't care about the Japanese community." But it's still their heritage. No matter what else, still be their heritage. Even their children, even if they're half Japanese, it's still part of their heritage. But that's really hard because it's just like with the mortuary. You get a Japanese spouse who's married to a non-Japanese and let's say she passes away, that spouse says, "Okay, why do we have to use the Japanese mortuary? I'll just use Forest Lawn." And so same thing with the community, "Why should I go to, to Little Tokyo for Nisei Week when we're not even, we don't even celebrate any Japanese culture?" I don't know. I think things are changing. I do notice, too, because the Japanese have assimilated so much that they spread out a lot, too. So you have your Japanese that live in San Fernando, South Bay, West L.A., Orange County, South Orange County, and so some of those may say, "Well, I'm not gonna go all the way into Little Tokyo to see a festival. I'll just go to OCBC's. I'll go to San Fernando's. I'll go to West L.A.'s Obon, and not go there." But we still want to continue it because we still feel that people should be aware of their heritage no matter what percent Japanese they are. But like I said, it has changed. The face of Little Tokyo has changed, where a lot of times we find a lot of people who are attending the events are all Caucasian. They want to learn more about it than some of the Japanese. But then I think over the past five, ten years, I do see more and more Japanese coming back. When JACCC puts on the, say, their Children's Day event, you do see more Japanese families, younger families, getting involved, wanting to, to participate, and I think that's good.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

JG: What do you say, now I'm interested in, in what would you say to someone, I mean, along the lines of what you're talking, why should we use a Japanese American mortuary? What is the necessity of that in this day and age? And I guess you could, another way of looking at that, too, is... well, let's ask that question first, then I've got another one. But what would you say to someone who was just asking you, honestly, why, why your mortuary? Why not Forest Lawn?

GF: Because we still know the little idiosyncrasies of being Japanese, the little customs of being Japanese. Forest Lawn would have no idea what koden is, and I don't care what generation you are, you still give koden. You still -- you're aware what koden is?

JG: Uh-huh.

GF: Yeah. You still find people, even your young people, your next generation, still giving koden. They're still aware of a lot of the little idiosyncrasies with the Japanese, the going out to the luncheon afterward, the otoki after the service. It's just, and then if it's a Buddhist service, for example, Forest Lawn would have no idea how to do a Buddhist service. They may have done Buddhist services, but they're very intricate, I think, and there are instructions that you have to deal with when you have a Buddhist service. When to do the incense offering, who goes first, how you have the people do the incense offering. With the Japanese, even with Christian, you have the floral offerings, so I think a lot of other mortuaries aren't aware of that. These are the things we still see people using.

JG: Have you noticed, I mean, just in, forty years is a long time to be in any organization, even longer, I guess, if you look at your family, your extended family's relationship to the mortuary. I mean, have customs changed?

GF: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely customs have changed, and you do, you do see, with the passing of the Issei generation who are a little more traditional, and as I mentioned, like one of the customs was where they're at the cemetery, they'll line up all the flowers and everyone stands in the picture. And the reason why they would do this is is some of these families would have relatives in Japan, so they'd take this picture, send it back to Japan. Now with your third, second, third, fourth generation, "Why do we have to take a picture if we don't need to?" So there are certain customs that have been changing and evolving. They used to have the funeral services in the evening, 7:30 during the winter, 8:00 at night, and the reason why is during the summer -- I'm hungry, too [laughs] -- during the summer you have longer daylight hours, so you would have it later, and the reason is back then, especially with the Issei generation, a lot of the people who would actually go to the funeral were day workers. They were your gardeners, they were your farmers, and so as not to inconvenience them from leaving the farms or leaving their routes, they would have the funerals in the evening. Now you find the Japanese are assimilating more, and you have more professional workers so that they can take off during the daytime, but you do find that more and more services are being held privately, more and more services are being held at the mortuary on Saturdays, more and more private services. So there are different customs that have changed. Limousine, I remember we would be driving limousines for all of our services, picking up the family, taking them to the funeral. We don't even own a limousine now, as most families prefer not being picked up in the limousine. So there are certain customs, certain traditions that are changing. I remember speaking to Reverend Russell Hamada and he's, he was up in, he passed away, but he was up in Mountain View, and he says even San Francisco has little different type of service than they do down here. And Hawaii, too, is different. Even though we're all Japanese, it's kind of a localized custom. In Hawaii, for example, at the funeral home they have a large gathering area and a kitchen, so after the funeral, then they go right next door and then they have the luncheon.

JG: And yet for, for all the changes that have occurred, there's still, in your estimation, there still is value in having a specifically ethnic mortuary to attend to the community.

GF: Uh-huh, I believe so. I think you're always gonna have your families who are gonna want -- plus we're very personal with our families, and we probably take that extra step to provide for our families, whereas I think if you go to your Forest Lawn it's not, it's not as personal. You don't always work with the same person. So I think a lot of our families found, find value in going to someone who really listens to them and takes care of their needs and stays with them, so we would try and have our counselors staying with a family from the beginning to the -- of course, sometimes he may do two families who both want their service at the same day, same time so it's impossible, but we try and have the same counselor stay with the family throughout the whole process.

JG: How does the process work when someone contacts you?

GF: As far as assigning?

JG: Well just how does, from beginning to end, if one of my family members have passed away and I need your services and I contact you, how does it all unfold?

GF: We would set up an appointment with the family, either at their residence or at the mortuary at the family's convenience, and then we would assign a counselor to that family, so we'll meet with them and go over the arrangements, what their desires are, whether they want to have private service, public service, memorial service, traditional service with church where and we would take care of contacting the church, setting up the arrangements, submitting the obituary and all this, printing the programs and all of that. And then attend the funeral and once the funeral's over then we would continue on to the cemetery to having the burial and completing with the burial.

JG: So now you have your nephew who has entered into the business. Did you, what kind of conversation took place as he was thinking about whether or not he wanted to do this? Did you sit down with him at any point?

GF: A couple times, yes, I did. He's been there for over ten years. He graduated Cal State Fullerton with a degree in business marketing, and I guess there wasn't a lot available for him. And so he would work at the mortuary part time when he was going to school, too, and I told him, "Hey, if you want to work you can," so he decided to do it. So after a couple years I said, "Well, what do you think? Do you like working here? Do you think you could do this, take over?" And he says, "Yeah, I think so." So he got his feet wet and made the determination on his own that it was something he could do as a career, and he's very good, for his age, for thirty years old. I wish I was that rooted and mature as he is, but even at thirty I was still fartin' around, so I, I'm very proud of him 'cause he's very focused.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

JG: So looking to the future, you've touched on, on some aspects of the importance of Little Tokyo ensuring its survival. What do you think the future is gonna look like for the Japanese American community here in Los Angeles?

GF: Here in Little Tokyo?

JG: Yeah.

GF: I don't know. I question myself on that quite often. When I look at the makeup of Little Tokyo now, you go there right now to the restaurants, I remember leaving work one time, I said, "You know what, I think I'm just gonna eat here before I go home," and the restaurant was packed and I was the only Japanese in there. I was the only Asian in there and that was T-O-T-S, Tots. And you look up, you look at how it's evolving, how it's changing, the makeup is changing, and you wonder, are we still gonna be a Little Tokyo? I don't know. Lot of the business, as I mentioned, are not owned by Japanese anymore. Little Tokyo Mall, where Yaohan was, is not owned by Japanese. Japanese Village Plaza is not owned by Japanese. Savoy, the large condominium complex on First and Alameda, majority of the people residing there are not Japanese. So it is gonna affect Little Tokyo, but hopefully we'll always remain Little Tokyo. We'll always have the museum there, we'll always have Nisei Week, we'll always have JACCC, LTSC, we'll always have some place to come back for our roots. And then we have majority of the churches here, Centenary, Higashi, Union, Koyosan, Nishi, they're all located here. Zenshuji. So hopefully we can keep the flavor of it still Japanese, but because the Japanese are involved in so much, I kinda, I wonder what that holds for the future. If it is gonna change. Although it's funny because I look at my son and I look at my daughter. My daughter is very much into the Japanese culture. She'll come here for a lot of different events 'cause she's involved in her, president of her student union, Nikkei Student Union, so she'll come here for events. My son, not involved in the Japanese -- he doesn't have any Japanese friends at all. And so would he have any interest in coming back? I hope so. I hope he would.

JG: Do you think that there are ways that the community could make more overtures to bring Japanese Americans back to Little Tokyo, or do you have any specific ideas?

GF: I think the community has tried, like Nisei Week we publicize, we publicize not only in the Rafu Shimpo, but we publicize and the Daily News and the L.A. Times, about the festival. It's hard. You have to bring the younger generation back because the younger generation is the future, and so you have to bring it back. Although the reason why I do feel there's, there's some hope, I look at Nisei Week itself, I look at the board, and I used to be the youngest one there, now I'm one of the oldest. And the makeup of the board is changing where there are quite a few of your third, fourth generation involved. It's a new generation, so they are coming back. They do want to get involved and they are enthusiastic, and I think it'd really help in the future, at least for Nisei Week. I see some of the other organizations and I kind of hope that the same thing happens. I'm on the board for JACCC and we're going through our struggles, and I look at the board there and it's kind of old school. There aren't a whole lot of young people, but that's something they need.

JG: How do you attract younger people into those roles?

GF: Well, there are those who are naturally attracted to you. You find that in any organization. You find people who really want to get involved. It's really hard. You just have to find the right person and you, you actually have to go out and get that person. You can't just say, open your doors and hope they'll come to you. I mean, they will. There's some that will. But they're not gonna flow in. You have to go out there and get them, and that's what we try and do on Nisei Week. If we see someone, we think this person would be good for the organization, we ask them to please join, please help us, get to know Nisei Week, get involved. I'm doing that with my nephew, I did that with one of my other friends, Steve, and now he's involved. JACCC, I don't see it as much. LTSC, I'm involved with LTSC and they're, they're trying to get younger people involved, too, and they are. Then I'm on the board at Keiro, and there aren't a whole lot of younger people. So I think it's imperative. Once you start losing the foundation to the community, your George Aratanis, your Paul Terasakis, then where are you gonna go? They are such big benefactors. There has, we have to go out and cultivate the next generation.

JG: It's interesting, I don't know, I know in the past you've, you've at least given materials, I mean, one of the reasons I knew about you early on is because of your grandfather's World War I uniform at the museum.

GF: Yeah, you mentioned that.

JG: Yeah, yeah, and it was such a, made such an impression on me when I was working there. I'm just wondering what you think about the role that the museum is playing in preserving both the history of Little Tokyo and the larger history of the Japanese American community.

GF: I'm not, I used to be on the board for the museum for very briefly, but I'm not actually on the board, and I try not be involved in everything. You can't wear too many hats. And sometimes I look at the museum, I say wow, they have the same thing up here, the same displays. And so that's the only thing I question is that why don't they constantly change? But I think it is important for them to be able to preserve that history and to, to not only present the history to us, to my generation, our future generations, but other people of other than Japanese ancestry. I think that's very important, and I think they're trying to do that and that's why I see busloads of, of kids there from schools, non-Japanese. So I think it's very important. Although I do know the museum, they must be having a hard time, too, with this economy. So I hope they're successful because I think the vibrancy of, or the future for Little Tokyo depends on some of these organizations always remaining here. JACCC, LTSC, the museum, the biggest three organizations in Little Tokyo, so very important to us.

JG: Is there anything you'd like to talk about that we haven't covered today?

GF: Not that I could think of off the top of my head.

JG: Well, thank you very much for agreeing to be with us today. This is very --

GF: Has it been two hours?

JG: It's almost, yeah, almost been two hours, but I figured we've, we've covered a lot of material and I just wanted to make sure that if there was anything else that you wanted to cover we, that we could talk about.

GF: No, I think we did cover a lot. And I just hope for the future, and it's funny, when I was younger, eh, I didn't care about Little Tokyo. Even though I was involved with a lot of different organizations, I didn't really care, but I think that's a younger person's attitude. But as I've gotten older I realize I want to preserve this heritage, 'cause it's something that was here for us, for our ancestors, for our Issei generation. And to lose that, and then I think about the Rafu Shimpo, I knew the, I know the Rafu Shimpo's having problems, but it's very important to keep the Rafu Shimpo 'cause that also binds us together.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

JG: Why do you think that, at least in your thinking, when did that occur that you started being... 'cause like most young people, you don't really, I think most young people are pretty oblivious about --

GF: They are.

JG: -- the communities in which they live, or can be, I guess. But what, what was, what made the difference for you, in terms of thinking about preserving the legacy of this community?

GF: I think when I saw the downturn of Little Tokyo community, probably it was after the riots, Los Angeles riots, and Little Tokyo became a desert. You would go there daytime, nighttime, you'd be the only one walking down the street. And I thought, gosh, what if we lose this? And I realized how important it was to our heritage, to always remember that, that this is where we all came from. No matter where you are, I mean, whether you're in South Orange County or where, this is where a lot of your ancestors came from. They settled here and built Boyle, Beverly Hills of downtown L.A., so it's probably around that time. And so the younger people, of course with the younger people, your twenty year olds, they have their own agenda. They're out there being young adults, having fun, maybe looking to get married, starting a family, so even going to that starting a family just preoccupies yourself. Your, that, your world evolves around your family and so you don't think about the community, at least not 'til you, I think, get a little older and you realize how much you community really mean to you if you lose it. But that's why I'm really happy when I look at Nisei Week and I do see a slew of young people involved, wanting to, to keep it going.

JG: How do you think, looking into the next ten years of, of Nisei Week in particular, what kinds of activities is Nisei Week doing now that is appealing to youth, what, what else could be doing to draw Japanese Americans into the community, into Little Tokyo specifically?

GF: Well, the parade is always the biggest thing, the ondo at the end of Nisei Week, the street arts fair. I'm not sure what other things we could do to bring... we're trying different things. We're trying the car show. We get involved with the anime; we have the anime festival and we have people walking up here for anime. We have other organizations that get involved and that want to do things during Nisei Week under the Nisei Week name, so I think we're doing a lot, as much as we can, but if we could keep these things going, and I'm, I question whether we can. I question whether we could do a parade in the future, because the city is becoming so restrictive now. It's gonna be very, very difficult. I don't know if you're aware of it, but the city now wants to charge for parades for any city personnel that is used during the parades, so if your Department of Transportation people who block off the street and man the barricades, we have to pay for that. We have to pay for the barricades themselves. We have to pay for each, like seven fifty, for example, for each sign that you may put on a lamp post that says "no parking Sunday." Seven fifty for each one of those. And then you have to pay for the police presence. And so this is gonna be really difficult for us, so it could raise the cost of the parade to the point where maybe we can't have a parade. If we can't have a parade, maybe there won't any more Nisei Week, I don't know. I think that's very integral to the Nisei Week, the parade, very important to us. 'Cause that's one thing where it does showcase our heritage and our culture, with the ondo groups, taiko groups, the different dancers whether it be the Okinawan dancers or Amodo, the Nabuta, the Tanabata, all of that. Very important.

JG: If you were to point to one organization would it be, would it be the organizers of Nisei Week, or would it be another organization with which you're affiliated that is really doing what you think is kind of innovative work and kind of sustaining community here in Little Tokyo?

GF: Probably Nisei Week would have to be pretty high on the list. JACCC does what they can, but I know JACCC is, hands are kind of tied by their budget. We do get a lot of support, a tremendous amount of support from the community and the businesses within the community, and I think as long as that continues that will help to propagate Nisei Week for the future. But the parade, I worry about that. It's fortunate that we have some people higher up in the city, such as Terry Hara. Terry Hara is a deputy chief, LAPD, who really knows a lot of the city council members so he helps, and so at least for this year, he's helped to reduce what the city wants to charge us for the parade. And Jan Perry really helps us.

JG: That's great.

GF: And then we do get a grant, the Cultural Affairs grant. And that's where Terry and Jan Perry help, in making sure that it goes through.

JG: So is a lot of this about money? I mean, 'cause at some level, a number of these different organizations are constrained by their budgets. Is money kind of the biggest solution to this issue of sustaining Japanese American community?

GF: Well, you do need money to do it. Obviously you can't put on any type of program without money. I think maybe for us, I think we have so much support from the community that we can survive on the money that is brought in, that is donated to us, as long as it continues, as long as our costs remain the same. But are our costs gonna remain the same with the restrictions that are gonna be occurring with the parade? That I don't know. But being the treasurer of Nisei Week, my dream is to somehow raise enough money where I could start an endowment, place it into some type of a fund where it would be an endowment, where it would help to continue Nisei Week on for the future. So I'm very stingy, so when people ask me for money I say, "What for? Well, you don't need that." [Laughs]

JG: Well that's an admirable quality in a treasurer, I think.

GF: Yeah, I, although I took accounting at Woodbury College one year after SC, I don't know crap about accounting, but I do know where I can save a penny and pinch a penny, and so I watch over the budget and question any time anyone has an expense that they need fulfilled. But I just want to make sure for the future Nisei Week has the funds to continue.

JG: Great. Well thank you, again. Is there anything else you would like to...

GF: No, but if you, if you ever have any questions just call me, email me and I'd be happy to answer.

JG: Excellent. Well, thank you so much. This has been a real treat to talk to you today.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.