2.4/23 Father's Eulogy by Philip Kan Gotanda
Wed, Apr 24, 2002, 4:27am (PDT+3)
I mentioned to you last night I would give you a copy of the eulogy. Here it is, as mentioned by Philip, it is more of an outline than a story. If you want to rewrite it to make it more of a narrative, please feel free to.
Take care and be well.
HENRI HIROYUKI TAKAHASHI EULOGY
Difficult to sum up a Man's life in a few minutes but as I look out and see family, friends, associates - I know you will be able will be able to fill in any spaces I may have missed with your own rich, rich memories of Henri.
Early years --
I. Henry Hiroyuki Takahashi -
Born Tokyo July 5, 1914 in Tokyo to Parents, Patrick Otoharu Takahashi, a young Christian minister and Masa Takahashi-Gomi, who had been studying to become a western trained doctor when she married Henri's father.
Henri moved to Hawaii at Age 3 with family, Father became minister at the local Congregational Church on Kauai. Spent his childhood and early teens there.
Two sisters - Helen, now Helen Akaki of St. Paul Minn, and, Julia Takahashi, now living in Japan.
Here, first surfaced a trait that would be a theme repeated by Henri all his life. That is, a natural ability for a surprising variety of activities.
Here it was marbles. He became the local hotshot marbles player. As he was once heard to say, "after you've played with kukui nuts(not round), marbles were easy".
In his early teens, family moved to Oakland, California where his father was assigned to Sycamore Church. Teased for his pidgin. However, his expert skill with marbles came in handy as it earned him respect and a place with the other local Nisei homies.
Little later, the father was reassigned and the family moved again to Riverside, California, where Henri attended High School.
Tomoye pointed out to me that this was a time when there were orange groves everywhere in Riverside.
1931 - After Graduation, his family returned to Japan but Henri chose to stay behind and attend Pomona College.
- Remember what I said about a variety of talents
Here, he majored in Sociology while minoring in Art. Played Shortstop on the Pomona Varsity Baseball Team. Sang in a top collegiate singing quartet that was invited to sing at the Hollywood Bowl. However, he wasn't able to attend as he couldn't afford a Tuxedo.
Not having money, he had to work his way through college with a variety of jobs. However, he was able to supplement his income in large part with his poker playing skills. (Yet another talent). He used to play poker with some wealthy scions such as Zellerbach son - all of whom were more than willing it seemed to finance Henri's college career.
He showed ability in another area, too. This story has two versions so I'll pick one. Norman said that his father, Henri, used to be a checkers whiz. He would be visit his friend's fraternity where the math students would line up in row to play him. Henri would walk down the row and play each of them simultaneously but what really bugged the math majors was that he did it while reading their Sunday Newspaper.
II. ADULT YEARS.
Moved to SF after graduation. English Editor of a local JA newspaper - "The Shin Sekai" - New World Sun Daily.
1938, important event - Went out on a double date with the eldest daughter of Tomoyuki Nozawa, a well-known Japantown businessman - owned a Laundry and Cleaners Business, as well as, part owner of Nichi Bei Bank and Nichi Bei Securities Company, one Tomoye Nozawa. This was Tomoye Nozawa.
They met and Henri began the courtship of Tomoye Nozawa. Also, important in the story was Tomoye's younger sister Martha who would later, after a successful career as a chemist, help with the financial aspect of the Takahashi Trading Corporation.
1941 Henri and Tomoye married but before they could start their lives, the War broke out. As with all JA and J's on the West Coast they were interned.
Tanforan - Henri with a friend started a newspaper to keep folks informed, the Tanforan Totalizer(play on the racing board)
Topaz, Utah - While interned there Henri became editor of the Camp newspaper, the Topaz Times.
While in Camp two very important events tooks place - the birth of their daughter, Masako, and son Norman.
1945 - After being released and allowed to return to the west coast, they settled back in SF. However, Henri was not able to find a job as a journalist because of the anti-Japanese sentiment. He finally found a job at the Iron Horse Restaurant on Maiden Lane as a dish washer which worked out fine as he was able to bring home extra food.
Eventually, they were able to purchase a building at 1661-1663 Post Street and started a small neighborhood department store, Takahashi Trading Company, getting an export license to ship pharmaceuticals, dry goods, sugar, condenced milk and other staples to war-torn Japan. These care or mercy packages were sent by locals to friends and relatives living there to help alleviate the dire living conditions.
[[Story behind the purchase of the Post Street Bldg: At the time Henri was working as a Dishwasher at Iron Horse on Maiden Lane - only job he could get due to Anti-Japanese sentiment - which was handy as he was able to bring home extra food. One day, Henri arrived home one day, and out of the blue, proudly announced to Tomoye and father he had bought a building. He had seen it on his walk home and - much to Tomoye and Mr. Nozawa's chagrin - bought it without bargaining(he didn't know you could) and without inspecting it. Henri had an idea for a business.]]
The business of sending of care packages grew quickly. Idea of their schedule - Store hours were from 9 am to 10 pm and packing and shipping went on until 11 pm. A jeep station wagon was then packed with parcel post gift packages going to Japan and driven by Henri to the Rincon Annex Post Office before its midnight closing. A midnight supper was prepared by Tomoye for their return while others assembled orders and restocked shelves for the next day. Soon there were 4 packers, six bilingual documentation clerks headed by Tomoye and a registered pharmacist. 8 office clerks kept accounts and ordered stock. There were now sales clerks in the store, too.
Along with their business success, the Post Street Store became a local hang-out for single men who were always welcome to drop in, sit around, chat and eat as guests around a big round table that was coined "The Forum".
It was a good and generative time.
After things adjusted in post-war Japan and the care packages slowed down, the Takahashi business anticipated the signing of the 1953 Commercial Treaty that would allow them to import goods for distribution and sale and gradually made the transition.
Henri thought by bringing in Japanese wares it would: bring a better understanding of Japan to Americans; and, also would be a smart business choice as it wouldn't intrude on the American existant businesses and thereby avoid a negative response.
The first things were Boy's Day Paper Fish, Paper Balloons, and Origami. And the business grew and expanded. They began to import more sophisticated wares.
Henri demonstrated his artistic side(another talent) by designing their own line of wares - most well-known were the Genji Screens, Kabuki Lamps and the Moku-Moku Salad Bowls all of which became quite popular in their day. Rivals would ask in Japan for the Moku-Moku Salad Bowl and Kabuki Lamps, not knowing it was Henri who had designed them. Not knowing Moku-Moku was pidgin not Japanese.
In addition, the businesses keen eye for artful Japanese wares - in particular folk craft wares - never before imported to America created a huge wave of interest from Museum directors to architects, collectors to artists.
While the store's reputation grew, Henri and the store received wide recognition and numerous awards. The Walker Art Institute in Minneapolis; Modern Museum of Art in Chicago; Cleveland Art Museum. Wares featured prominently in Architectural Digest, House Beautiful Magazine, Contemporary Art to name a few. Henri received the Young California Designer of the Year from the Museum of Modern Art. And his Paper Lanterns and Shoji screens featured prominently in the interior design Pacfica Movement of the 50's.
NOTE - now generally known that Henri Takahashi introduced the hinged SHOJI panels as Screens to the world outside of Japan.
Another thing - One of the first items to be imported, in the 1950, was the now famous lacquer ware. Henri gave the name "Persimmon" to the hot orange lacquer color that was evidenced on the lacquer wares.
III. LATER YEARS --
Henri's life continued on. Stores were opened on Grant Avenue at Geary, in Ghirardelli Square, two in Sausalito, another in New York at E.57th St and Lexington. A good and successful time. Life was lived well with Tomoye and the kids. The business flourished. The kids grew up and left home. Martha Suzuki joined the company and with her added business acumen, the business flourished even more.
Another one of Henri's talents was brought to my attention by Richard Matsumoto, that Henri was a superb bowler in his time. Yet another one of his talents. He was a scratch bowler. Which I have no idea what it means. Means he was damn good. One of his favorite bowling balls as well as some of his trophys are on display.
In later years, Henri along with Tomoye and Martha began the Henri & Tomoye Takahashi Charitable Foundation and entered a new phase, one of philanthropy, the sharing of their good fortune with others - giving to a wide variety of cultural, service, educational institutions both within and outside of the Japanese American Community. We all know how the Takahashis have contributed to this community. Surely the fact that we hold this memorial celebratory service here, in the Takahashi Gymnasium, is evidence enough.
As with all good and full stories, this one must come to an end. Henri as we all know was a man of few words. He only spoke when he had something to say and he was never one to toot his own horn. But as we can see by this very brief overview of his life, he had much to toot his horn over. A good husband and father, a highly successful businessman and a man of truly remarkable variety of talents.
Oh, one more talent that Henri had and this was told to me by Tomoye yesterday and confirmed by Martha. Remember he spent his high school years in Riverside where Oranges were abundant. She said this was what attributed to this other skill - he could peel an orange faster than anyone they'd met. And in one peel.
A life well lived.
July 5th 1914 to April 16th, 2002.