Monday, July 23, 2012

The Tashimas of Wintersburg

The celery section of a Japanese wholesale produce market in downtown Los Angeles prior to evacuation.* (War Relocation Authority, photographer Clem Albers, University of California - Berkeley Bancroft Library, April 11, 1942)


Pat Tashima: "Does anything stand out in your mind about Wintersburg?"

Masako Tashima: "I feel so nice, happy. And people in my neighborhood so nice to me and my family. So glad."


   When Pat Tashima interviewed her grandmother, Masako Yagi Tashima, thirty-eight years ago in 1974 for the California State University - Fullerton (CSUF) Japanese American Project, Masako was 78 years old.  She was the oldest Nisei (first generation American) in Orange County at the time.

   Masako's parents had emigrated from Japan in the late 1800s.  They established a hotel in San Francisco, where Masako was born in 1896.  Like many other Japanese, her parents had been affected by the post Meiji period dismantling of the Samurai in Japanese society.

   The National Park Service (NPS) report on the History Of Japanese Americans in California: Patterns of Settlement and Occupational Characteristics states in 1890, 590 Japanese were in San Francisco.  Masako's parents were among them.

     "My parents both come from Samurai family, and not very much," remembered Masako, "So they were thinking, 'Come outside, see foreign country.' "  Her parents were 19 and 17 years old when they left Japan for a new life.

   Masako's parents sent her to Japan for school during her younger years, bringing her back for their move to Los Angeles.  The NPS reports many Japanese moved from Northern to Southern California during the rapid expansion of the Los Angeles area (the early 20th Century Southern California boom period), and that many moved south in 1906 after the San Francisco earthquake.

   In Los Angeles, Masako met her husband, Junjiro (also spelled as "Gunjiro" in oral history records) and they moved to Wintersburg.

"Gunjiro, Hal and Nori ride to the store in the Duesenburg, 1919-1920." (Photo courtesy of the Tashima family) © All rights reserved.

The Tashima (Tajima) Market in Wintersburg

  The Tashima Market in Wintersburg was the former Asari Market, owned by Tsurumatsu "T.M." Asari (oral history records also spell the Tashima family name as "Tajima").   Junjiro had been a delivery boy for Asari, before taking ownership of the market himself.

   Yukiko Furuta described in her oral history the store--which specialized in Japanese groceries and clothing--as being fairly large, including a barbershop and pool hall.   The market was located across the street from the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission and the Furuta family home, on Wintersburg (now Warner) Avenue

   "All Japanese people who lived around here bought their groceries from this store," explained Yukiko, who was able to walk across Wintersburg Avenue to the market.  "The people lived scattered and not too close to the store...So, the store hired delivery boys..."  Yukiko recalled Wintersburg residents also shopped at MacIntosh's Meat House, off of what is now Nichols Street, and that the Tashima and MacIntosh's stores were the only markets in Wintersburg.
    The Tashima and Furuta families were friends. Yukiko Furuta recalls the five Tashima boys (Hiroyuki, Noriyuki, Takayuki, Masayuki, Yoshiyuki) and daughter (Kimiko) came to her home almost every day to play with the Furuta children.

Wintersburg's Asari Market--later the Tashima Market--was the scene of a dramatic armed robbery in September 1910 (the Asari name is misspelled, fairly common in the age of handset, hot type).  The market had a separate room used as a pool hall, also mentioned in the oral history of Yukiko Furuta.  (Image, Los Angeles Herald, September 3, 1910)

   During the early 1900s, there were numerous Nihonmachi (Japan street or Japan town) on the west coast, most larger than the small one in Wintersburg.  The Tashima Market served Wintersburg and the surrounding countryside, providing a meeting point for both the Japanese and other farmers from around Orange County.

   Masako Tashima seems to have loved Wintersburg, where the family set down roots.  Her children most likely attended the Ocean View Grammar School and Huntington Beach High School (archival information for the Poston Arizona Relocation Center--where the family was interned--indicate Masako's sons Masayuki and Takayuki attended Huntington Beach High School).

   While their friends, the Furutas, were Christian--attending the Wintersburg Presbyterian Mission--the Tashimas appear to have been Buddhist.  In his 1988 oral history, Clarence Nishizu recalls the Tashimas providing the second floor above the market for Sunday school and services for the local Buddhist community.

   "Mr. Tashima was an outgoing man and he was quite a leader in the community, taking part in organizing Seinen Kai, Young Men's Club," remembered Nishizu, explaining the Tashima Market's central role in the County's Japanese community.  

   "Around 1915 or so, (Tashima) built a two-story building with a grocery store on the first floor and a hall for social gatherings on the south side of (Wintersburg Avenue)... The second story above the Tashima store was used by the community as a meeting place," Nishizu continued.  "Since there were many young Issei in the area at that time, every year at the end of the year before New Year's, the Seinin Kai held what is called Bonen Kai, which consists of singing, Japanese plays, samurai dancing called Kembu, et cetera, to commemorate the sending off and forgetting the old year."


Pat Tashima:  "What was Orange County like back in the early 1900s?"

Masako Tashima: "Oh, very good. Quiet. And all my children born in Wintersburg, same place. They live there, go to school, so I like it there very much."

Pat Tashima: "How were you treated by the different people?"

Masako Tashima: "Well, all nationalities very good friends to me. Come everyday and every night and speak with me. I was so happy."


   Masako raised six children in Wintersburg, surviving a round of typhoid and the Great Depression.  Wintersburg established itself as an agricultural center for the County and a social center for the Japanese community.

   After working and raising their children in Wintersburg, the Tashimas moved their market to the intersection of Beach Boulevard and Garden Grove Boulevard, in the City of Garden Grove.  They were living in Garden Grove at the time of Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor, Detention and Evacuation

The Immigration and Natural Service commandeered the former Tuna  (Tajunga) Canyon camp to serve as a detention station for male enemy aliens one day after Pearl Harbor. The first Japanese nationals were received on Dec. 16, 1941 and by Christmas, nearly 100 Issei men arrested in Southern California were brought in.   (Photograph courtesy of Rafu Shimpo-Los Angeles Japanese Daily News, "Community Unites to Save Former Japanese Site", September 14, 2009)

Pat Tashima: "Do you remember what you were doing when you heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor?"

Masako Tashima: "Yes, 1941, morning around seven o'clock. We heard radio. My goodness. All of us standing up, 'What happened?' All children speaking, I feel so upside-down. I don't know what to say. So shaking, shaking."


   Masako recalled the days afterward, when no one was allowed to travel more than five miles from their home, the early evening curfew, and that all lights must be turned off at night.  She told her granddaughter she was scared "most of the time" and stayed home.  If she went out, it was fast and she returned home as quickly as possible.

   By May 1942, the orders for evacuation came.  Masako packed "one bag to put in clothes, and one plate each to eat; cup, knife, spoon, fork, that's all." Masako said she was "so scared, I don't know where I am going...Get on train, close windows, don't speak nothing, just few words."

   Masako's husband, Junjiro, had already been picked up by the FBI and taken to the Tajunga (Tuna Canyon) detention center--the former La Tuna Camp operated by the Civilian Conservation Corps--outside Los Angeles.  Those taken to Tajunga included teachers, clergy of all faiths, judo instructors, and those involved with language schools or Japanese associations.   Documents released by the National Archives in Laguna Niguel in 2006 indicate the breakdown of the detainees as: Japa­nese, 2,316; German, 131; Italian, 99; Austrian, 2; French, 2; Polish, 1; Ukrainian, 1; Russian, 1; Dutch, 1; Unknown, 8 (Rafu Shimpo-Los Angeles Japanese Daily News, "Community Unites to Save Former Japanese Site", September 14, 2009).

   The detainees were not allowed within ten feet of the fence, but were allowed two visits a week with a fence separating the detainees from the visitors.  The diary of one detainee recalls it was almost more demoralizing to have visitors, since the visits were only for 30 minutes and visitors talked with detainees through chain link, reaching their fingers through to make contact.

   In 1991, federal archivists discovered Los Angeles-area detainee files, including over 2,500  individual case files for both Tajunga and a relatively unknown U.S. Army-run detention facility in Griffith Park.  These records are available for public review through the National Archives, Pacific Region office in Laguna Niguel, California,

Civic involvement raised profiles

   Masako recalls her husband "went with reverends, schoolteachers, professors, and doctors--that kind of people. They moved them all over without knowing where they were going."  Masako believed he was taken because Junjiro had been involved with the Smeltzer Japanese Association and other Japanese community organizations when they lived in Wintersburg.  

   During the Association's years of activity between 1905 to 1940, Junjiro Tashima (Gunjiro Tajima) is one of the men documented as serving as president, as was his neighbor, Charles Mitsuji Furuta, Wintersburg and Smeltzer labor camp manager, Tsuneji Chino, and Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission charter member and elder, Kyutaro Ishii.

   Masako and her children managed to see Junjiro before he was moved to a U.S. Army center in New Mexico.  She was worried that he was ill (Junjiro suffered from Parkinson's Disease).  Recognizing the confusion and rumors of the time, he reassured Masako that "he didn't do any bad thing so, straight honest. (He) said, 'Ask me, I want to answer.' "

   During the 1974 oral history interview, it was explained that Junjiro "went willingly because he was taken. But he didn't do anything wrong...And had they asked him, he would have answered right away. Since he was never asked, he could never state his side."

   Junjiro later was moved from New Mexico to Arizona's Colorado River Relocation Center to join his family.

Evacuation from Huntington Beach

  Those evacuated from Wintersburg and around Orange County gathered with other Issei and Nissei at the Pacific Electric Railway station in Huntington Beach.  Evacuees were expected to make their own way to the station.  Arriving early in the morning, the evacuees were then put on buses for the day-long trip to the Colorado River Relocation Center, Poston, Arizona.  

The Pacific Electric Railway station in Huntington Beach was used as a point of departure for Orange County Japanese being evacuated to the Poston, Arizona Internment Center. (Photograph, Pacific Electric Railway Historical Society,

   Hitoshi Nitta of Santa Ana, remembers people were designated to arrive at the Huntington Beach station on different days.  During his 1966 oral history interview with Richard Curtiss for the CSUF Oral History Program, Japanese American Project, Hitoshi recalls there were "well over ten buses" on the day he evacuated.  The regulations and notices for evacuation were posted on Southern California Edison light poles.

   Nitta recalls there were Caucasians who were vocal in their opposition to the evacuation and that a group "served coffee and donuts to the evacuees the morning that we departed" from the Huntington Beach station.  Henry Kanegae, also interviewed in 1966 by Curtiss, remembered Baptist ladies from west Orange County serving coffee: "after I arrived at camp, I wrote them a letter thanking them for it."

   The Nittas put their farm into the hands of their Mexican American foreman, who operated the farm and sold the produce for them.  He visited them at Poston regularly.  At the time of Hitoshi Nitta's interview in 1966, the foreman was still with the Nitta family at their farm in Santa Ana.

Internees from California waiting while the buses arrive at the Poston Arizona Internment Center.  (Photograph courtesy of University of California-Berkeley Bancroft Library)

Enduring Poston

   Masako reacted like most Japanese regarding Poston: it was nothing but sand, in their shoes, in the food, in the barracks, everywhere.  "It was bleak," agreed Hitoshi Nitta.  The use of green lumber in barracks construction meant barrack walls dried and shrank in Arizona's dry heat, leaving gaps through which sand continually entered living quarters.

   The Tashima's second oldest son, Noriyuki, had been drafted into the U.S. Army prior to Pearl Harbor.  He was later awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded in France.  (Masako notes Noriyuki spoke three languages and later served as the first Japanese American postmaster in the mainland U.S., appointed by President Kennedy.) 

   Nori's brothers, Takayuki, Masayuki,  and Yoshiyuki later also served in the U.S. Army.  At one point, four of Masako's sons were serving in different parts of the world.

Masayuki Tashima left Poston for a work furlough on a sugar beet farm in Colorado. He later served in the U.S. Army.  (Photographer Tom Parker, Milliken, Colorado, November 3, 1942, California State University - Berkeley Bancroft Library)
John Fukushima and Masayuki Tashima topping beets for the Great Western Sugar Company near Milliken, Colorado, while on work furlough from the Poston, Arizona Relocation Center. Masayki later served in the U.S. Army, 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion Company A. (Photographer Tom Parker, Milliken, Colorado, November 3, 1942, California State University - Berkeley Bancroft Library)

    After World War II and the internment years, most of the Japanese markets and stores disappeared from Wintersburg and Huntington Beach.  

   Yukiko Furuta recalled, "Mr. and Mrs. Oda, came back after the war and started the barbershop again. But Mr. Gunjiro Tajima (Junjiro Tashima) who owned the grocery shop went to Cleveland after getting out of camp and didn't come back (note: Junjiro passed away from Parkinson's disease in 1959). The other grocery store in Talbert had been run by Mr. Gizo Noguchi, but he also didn't come back here after the war, so there were no Japanese grocery stores in Orange County after the war anymore."

   Eventually--although they did spend time in Cleveland--most of the Tashima family did return to California, according to the grandson of Gunjiro and Masako, Eugene Tashima, who has a Master's degree in Asian American Studies from the University of California - Los Angeles and currently teaches sociology at Victor Valley Community College in Victorville, California.

  "Masayuki and Kimiko settled in Cleveland permanently.  The rest of the family eventually moved back to California.  Hiroyuki and his wife, Mary, settled in the Crenshaw area.  Gunjiro and Masako lived with them in the Crenshaw area," explains Eugene.  "Hiroyuki eventually moved to Monterey Park.  Noriyuki and Takayuki married sisters (Janet and Frances Tsuchiya) and settled in their hometown, Livingston, CA.  After serving in the Army and graduating UC Davis, my other uncle, Yoshiyuki and his wife, Mary settled in Buena Park."


Pat Tashima: "Did you think it was kind of unfair?"

Masako Tashima: "Well, I can't tell how. Fate is so mixed-up sometime. Everything change quietly."

Pat Tashima:  "As you look back, how do you view your whole experience?"

Masako Tashima: "Well, not very sure. I don't like war. So many people sorry."

Pat Tashima: "Grandma, were your feelings ever divided between Japan and America?"

Masako Tashima: "Well, I lived in Japan so long, but I am so glad stay here. Of course, in Japan is all right--beautiful, I like. But if I want to stay, my life be in America. This is my country, so warm feeling." 


*Editor's note: The "Baptist ladies from west Orange County" likely included congregants of the Huntington Beach Baptist church (Sixth and Orange Streets in Huntington Beach) or the Baptist Church off Wintersburg Road (now Warner Avenue) and Gothard Avenue in Wintersburg, as they knew local families.  Constructed in 1906, the Sixth and Orange street Church was supported by farmer Lewis Preston, who also contributed to the then-Methodist Church at Warner and Gothard avenues, a few steps away from the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church.  It was not uncommon for early Wintersburg and Huntington Beach residents to support the efforts of churches or temples of faiths other than their own.

Special thanks to Eugene Tashima for contacting Historic Wintersburg to let us know where the family went after World War II.

Do you have photographs of the Tashima Market, the Smeltzer Japanese Association, MacIntosh's Meat House or other places in Wintersburg?  Please let us know.  Photographs can be scanned and archived for future generations.   

All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Wintersburg blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.  


  1. Enjoyed your article. My name is Lloyd Hitt, Historian at Little Landers Historical Society in Tujunga, CA. At the present time we are trying to get a LA Cultural Heritage Monument for the site and it's a uphill battle because nothing is left of the camp. We need the support of the Japanese American community. The photo you used is from our Museum. I have recently received pictures from David Scott, the Grandson of Merrill Scott the Officer in Charge, which show the Tuna Canyon Detention Station (not the CCC Camp) as an INS detention station with high fences, guard towers, barbed wire, and a lookout tower on hill. If you are interested E mail me. The pictures are the property of David Scott and Scott Family & Little Landers Historical Society. Lloyd 818 951 1041
    PS If you want more information on the historic marker let me know & I will forward the contacts for you.

    1. Hi Lloyd, I sent a letter of support for the Tuna Canyon Cultural Heritage Monument prior to the city council hearings. I am very happy the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to support the monument. Both Gunjiro Tashima and Charles Furuta (the Furuta farm on this blog) were taken to Tuna Canyon, before then being taken to Lordsburg, New Mexico. Tuna Canyon also is part of Wintersburg and Orange County history.

      For readers, here is more information about the decision to recognize Tuna Canyon, from the Manzanar Committee:

  2. My father David McIntosh may have photos of the MacIntosh Meat House. He still lives in Garden Grove.

    1. Hi Doug, Looking forward to meeting you and your father, and including your information with the history of Historic Wintersburg!


The Historic Wintersburg blog focuses on an overlooked history in Huntington Beach, Orange County, California, in the interest of saving a historic property from demolition. The author and publisher reserves the right not to publish comments. Please no promotional or political commentary. Zero tolerance for hate rhetoric. Comments with embedded commercial / advertising links or promoting other projects, books, or publications may not be published. If you have an interesting anecdote, question or comment about one of our features, it will be published.