Monday, November 26, 2012

Goldfish on Wintersburg Avenue Part 2: The living jewels of the Furuta Gold Fish Farm

ABOVE: Toshiko Furuta holds her sister, Grace, with Kazuko and Etsuko Furuta, near the Wintersburg Avenue frontage of the Gold Fish Farm, circa 1928.  The children are east of the barn, behind the Furuta bungalowAn automobile can be glimpsed just inside the barn.  Yukiko Furuta recalled her husband buying a Chevy, in which she was a little nervous to ride at first.  (Photograph courtesy of the Furuta family) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

   Did you ever wonder why goldfish and koi ponds have been a long tradition in landscapes around Orange County?  Most likely, the trend owes its roots to Wintersburg.

   One of Wintersburg's most unique business enterprises were the goldfish farms, all owned by Issei (Japanese immigrants).  While there was a long history of goldfish farming in Asia, this was a fairly new enterprise for America.  The glittering fish delighted the American public and ignited a trend that remains popular today.

   By the 1920s, Charles M. Furuta had established goldfish ponds on his property in Wintersburg, with help from his brother-in-law, Henry Kiyomi AkiyamaHenry Akiyama had tried a small goldfish pond as a hobby and found the fish multiplied easily.  

ABOVE: Goldfish have been bred in captivity for more than 1,500 years according to the Goldfish Society of America.  They reportedly made their way into the United States by at least the mid 1800s--perhaps earlier--and the public never lost their fascination.  This 1909 feature in the Los Angeles Herald describes goldfish aquariums as an "old time interest." (Image, Los Angeles Herald, January 17, 1909) 

   C.M. and Yukiko Furuta and Henry and Masuko Akiyama had been working and living in a large house on the Cole Ranch, off present-day Wintersburg (Warner) Avenue and Gothard Avenue.  The Cole Ranch is within short walking distance of the Furuta farm site and is the site of present-day Ocean View High School.  The Furutas were saving money while working on the Cole Ranch in order to develop their own property.

The first goldfish ponds
   The Furutas moved back to their property around 1914-1915 and began working the farm siteHenry Akiyama and his wife, Masuko (Yukiko Furuta's sister), began living in a small house C.M. Furuta previously had moved to his property (once lived in by the Terahata family). The goldfish ponds on the Furuta property may be the first commercial goldfish ponds developed in Orange County.

   Interviewed in 1982 for the Honorable Stephen K. Tamura Orange County Japanese American Oral History Project, Henry Akiyama recalled there were only three major goldfish farms in Orange County, all starting in Wintersburg: the Furuta Gold Fish Farm, the Asari Gold Fish Farm (owned by Tsurumatsu Asari), and later the Pacific Gold Fish Farm (owned by Henry Akiyama)---all three active members of the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission.  

   The only other major goldfish business Henry Akiyama knew of was in Los Angeles. (Editor's note: by 1928, Orange County City directories show a few stores in Santa Ana and Costa Mesa selling a variety of birds, cages, goldfish and aquariums, including "the pioneer bird man of Orange County," the Orana Bird and Goldfish Company in Santa Ana.) 

   The farmers took barrels of goldfish to Orange County, Long Beach and Los Angeles buyers, and later, goldfish were shipped in barrel containers by train to buyers around the country.  (Read about an early mishap trucking goldfish, Goldfish on Wintersburg Avenue part 1,

A walk on the Furuta Gold Fish Farm
   Henry Akiyama recalled some of his relatives in Japan had raised koi (carp) and had watched their farming practices.  When his hobby pond proved successful, he and C.M. Furuta increased the pond acreage at the Furuta farm site to cover three or more acres of the five-acre site.  The rest of the acreage included the Furuta home, Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission complex, and food and flower crops.

   The Furuta Gold Fish Farm ponds contained a variety of species, indicating local goldfish farmers were  specializing to accommodate growing market demands for the exotic fish.  In addition to the more common Comets, there were Black Moors, Fantails, Shubunkin, and Nymphs.  A fresh water well on the Furuta farm and a network of irrigation piping kept the pond acreage filled.

LEFT: This diagram was hand-drawn by C.M. Furuta in 1935, revealing the layout of the goldfish ponds on the Furuta farm site.  The top of the diagram is south, the bottom is north.  The Furuta home on Wintersburg Avenue is located at the bottom of the drawing; the unmarked site of the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission is located west (to the right) of the Furuta home. (Image courtesy of the Furuta family) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

   The Furuta Gold Fish Farm continued to operate up until World War II.  President of the Smeltzer Japanese Association at the time, C.M. Furuta was incarcerated along with other community and religious leaders* at the U.S. Army's Lordsburg, New Mexico detention center while his family was sent to the Poston, Arizona Relocation Center.  He later joined them at Poston, after a year's separation.  During their confinement at Poston, the Furuta family rented their house to a local family and asked they maintain the ponds.  Upon their return from internment, their home was in fairly good condition however the ponds were dried up and filled with silt.

   The Furutas did not restore the ponds for goldfish.  Instead, they recovered the former ponds' lily flower roots and began farming water lilies.  

   One of the rear additions on the Furuta barn holds what appear to be shallow sorting troughs.  Norman Furuta--grandson of C.M. Furuta and a graduate of Huntington Beach High School--recently said preparing cut water lilies is "a pretty labor-intensive process."

   "Each flower had to be 'waxed' by my parents (Ray and Martha Furuta) by dripping a candle around the center of the flower while it was open," explained Norman Furuta.  "If this was not done, the lily completely closes when the sun sets, and doesn't open again until morning."

   Norman Furuta notes his family's farm was "to the family's knowledge, the only source of cut water lilies in the United States during the last half of the 20th century. We were aware of other commercial sellers of water lily plants, but my father (Ray Furuta) said he wasn't aware of anyone else producing cut water lilies for commercial use."

   During those years, area florists selling water lilies undoubtedly purchased them from the Furuta farm.   This crop, along with sweet pea flowers, proved to be a successful enterprise for the Furuta family from the post World War II years through the end of the 20th Century.

Identifying the fish on the Furuta Gold Fish Farm
   Using the hand-drawn diagram of C.M. Furuta, we can identify some of the species of goldfish raised on the Furuta Gold Fish Farm.

Comets: The Furuta Gold Fish Farm diagram identifies some ponds holding "comets" and others "black comets."

 Fantails:  A Western form of the Ryukin goldfish species.

Moors:  Considered one of the "fancy" goldfish species, Moors have telescope or protruding eyes, referred to as kuro demekin in Japan.

Nymphs:  Considered half "fancy" and half "common," and related to the fantail goldfish.

Shubunkin:  Typically splashed with calico pattern colors, the Shubunkin name translates as "red painted" or "red brocade."  The fish is said to have been first bred in Japan by Yoshigoro Akiyama by the early 1900s (unknown if he is related to Wintersburg goldfish farmer Henry Akiyama).  It is a popular outdoor pond fish that can grow up to a foot or more in length.   

Paradise: Not a goldfish, a Paradise gouramis is a fish tolerant of most water conditions and can live in outdoor ponds.  It is an agressive fish and not usually put in the same aquarium or pond as goldfish.  Eating insects and larvae, it was an ideal mosquito fish.

   One Huntington Beach resident recently remembered the Furuta farm as a wonderful garden filled with sweet pea flowers and water lilies.  Another resident who grew up in the Ocean View neighborhood near the farm recalls it as a magical place for local children.  Congregants at the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission complex remember church carnivals held on the farm site.

   While most Wintersburg farmers grew food crops needed for kitchens around the country, the Furuta farm cultivated beauty in the form of the living jewels and flowers wanted for our homes.

ABOVE: Grace Furuta, C.M. and Yukiko Furuta's daughter, on an adventure in the Furuta Gold Fish Farm ponds, circa 1935. (Photograph courtesy of the Furuta family)  © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

*No Japanese Americans were involved in wrong doing, as confirmed during Congressional hearings in the 1970s and 1980s. Those first interrogated, arrested and incarcerated typically were land owners, civic leaders, teachers and religious leaders. In Wintersburg Village, that included Charles Furuta and Reverend Sohei Kowta.

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

Monday, November 19, 2012

A note of thanks

   Historic Wintersburg wishes all our readers a very Happy Thanksgiving!  We will return after the holiday with a story about the Furuta Gold Fish Farm in Wintersburg.

   We would like to express our thanks to all who supported the recent event for Historic Wintersburg, the screening of Lil  Tokyo Reporter.


Lil Tokyo Reporter producers,director and cast---we are grateful for your kindness and interest in our shared history. You have created a truly moving film.  Everyone left the theater loving the film and wanting to know more!

Little Tokyo Historical Society---it has been a wonderful experience getting to know you.  We look forward to seeing you again!

Special thanks also to our sponsors:


Thank you for your generosity----we could not have done it without you!

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Sei Fujii legacy, Little Tokyo and Wintersburg

"Sei Fujii lived spectacularly and died spectacularly. It's like an opera," says Fumiko Carole Fujita, a founding member of the Little Tokyo Historical Society. 
                                                                                      Pacific Citizen, September 2, 2011

~Updated March 2015~

   In a unique collaboration, the Little Tokyo Historical Society, along with the producers, director and cast of the new film, Lil Tokyo Reporter, are coming to aid the preservation efforts of Historic Wintersburg.  

   Sei Fujii, on whom the narrative film is based, must be smiling.  

   The Pacific Citizen describes Sei Fujii's life, "with Depression-era drama, violent run-ins with gangster gamblers, stabbings, shootings, Supreme Court battles, a dramatic death — and not just one, but two scandalous lovers — (his) life has the makings of a juicy soap opera, or at least an interesting documentary."

The story of Sei Fujii
    Sei Fujii arrived in the United States in 1903.  Earning a law degree in 1911 from USC, he battled to protect Japanese American farmers, like those in Wintersburg.   Unable to practice law because he was a non-citizen, Sei Fujii started the newspaper, Kashu Mainichi, and began educating the Japanese community.  

   Through his newspaper, Sei Fujii warned farmers of gangsters running the Little Tokyo Club.   Many of the single, Japanese male farmers looking for a place to eat, drink sake and socialize were losing all their money in rigged card games.  Sei Fujii contronted the corruption, as relayed in Lil Tokyo Reporter.  

  What happened next has the makings of a great movie----and, it is real life.  The gangsters running the Little Tokyo Club tried to kill him.  Sei Fujii--trained in judo--fought them off and managed to survive.  Carol Fujita, one of the film's producers and a key researcher on Sei Fujii's life, said he was "found on Second Street near First in front of the New York Hotel by a pimp."  The pimp took him to the Japanese Hospital he had helped found in 1929. 

   Sei Fujii continued reaching out to the Japanese community to educate them and help them assimilate to American life.  He was known to travel to Orange County to meet with local farmers.

   With World War II, his active role in the Japanese community led to incarceration at the  Department of Justice Detention Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico (Note: Fountain Valley's first mayor James Kanno's father, Shuji Kanno, and goldfish farmer Charles Mitsuji Furuta---both Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission congregants---were taken to the U.S. Army's Lordsburg, New Mexico, detention center before being allowed to join their families at the Poston Arizona Internment Center.)

   Upon his release in 1946, Sei Fujii famously purchased a small piece of land in Los Angeles County and challenged California's Alien Land Law of 1913.  Through his efforts--and that of his long-time law school colleague and friend, J. Marion Wright--the law was overturned by the California Supreme Court in 1952.  Two years later, and only 51 days after being granted U. S. citizenship, he died.

ABOVE: Little Tokyo, circa 1935, the time period of Lil Tokyo Reporter. (Photo, Frasher Foto Collection, Pomona Public Library)

Memories of Little Tokyo
   Wintersburg farmers worked long days, so a trip to Little Tokyo was a special occasion.  Yukiko Furuta, Clarence Nishizu and Henry Kiyomi Akiyama, all Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission congregants, talked about Little Tokyo in their 1982 oral history interviews*.  Akiyama said he traveled into Los Angeles a couple times a month to watch baseball.

   "Other people from (Wintersburg) went to Los Angeles often, mostly to buy clothes or to see movies, and some people visited their relatives," explained Akiyama.  "There was already an established Japan Town in Los Angeles, which wasn't yet called Little Tokyo; the people called it Nihonjin Machi at that time, and it was already the center of Japanese laborers, who stayed in Imperial Valley in May and moved to Fresno in July or to Smeltzer (next to Wintersburg in North Huntington Beach) in October to work on farms." 

   Yukiko Furuta remembered living in a hotel in Little Tokyo in 1912, while her husband, Charles Mitsuji Furuta, built their new home in Wintersburg.  New to America, she ventured out to  Fugetsu-do, a Japanese confectionary store, and went  back to the hotel room to enjoy the treats.  She recalled her husband leaving her money for sweets when he left for work in Huntington Beach.  Later, living in Wintersburg and a little more acclimated to America, Yukiko Furuta would ride the Pacific Electric Railroad into Little Tokyo for shopping.

Left: Fugetsu-do opened in 1903 and still exists in Little Tokyo, an historic, artisan sweet shop.  Now at 315 E. First Street,  The mochi is worth the trip.

   "Let me tell you a little about that area during the time we lived there. Transportation in Little Tokyo was by yellow streetcar," relayed Nishizu.  "I remember that all fire engines were drawn by horses, not mechanical engines. There were two to three teams of horses in front of the fire engine which had a big water tank in the middle of the fire wagon. When there was a fire, the wagon rang a bell like the church bell."

    "I was born in an apartment building on the southwest corner of Jackson Street and Central Avenue. On the south side of this street, just north of the present Los Angeles police station's parking lot, there was a two-story building with a big community hall, where they used to have shibai, Japanese shows," continued Nishizu, who moved to Orange County as a small child.  "I remember taking a box lunch, bento, like they do in Japan, and watching Kabuki plays."

   Nishizu remembered Sei Fujii coming to Orange County and recalled the Little Tokyo gambling that concerned him.

   "Gambling among the Issei was quite extensive. Most of the gamblers were the single Japanese farm workers who traveled up and down California working on farms. These workers used to call themselves “blanket katsugi” (blanket carriers)," said Nishizu.  "Frequently they lost all of their earnings to the professional Issei gamblers from Los Angeles, Fresno, Sacramento, and other cities where Japanese farm workers stayed between jobs."

ABOVE: Huntington Beach's Holly Sugar Company, circa 1910.  (Photo, USC Libraries)

Wintersburg and Little Tokyo
   Some of the children of Wintersburg's Issei farmers went on to help develop not only Orange County, but also Little Tokyo.   During his oral history interview, Clarence Nishizu remembered Yasuo Goto, who farmed 180 acres of sugar beets for the Holly Sugar Company.

   "Goto was the father of  Dr. James Goto, M.D., who (maintained) a medical practice on East Second Street in Honda Plaza, part of the Little Tokyo district," recalled Nishizu.  "Dr. Goto has informed me that his father came to the Wintersburg area...and settled right next to Mr. Tsurumatsu Asari, the father of Harley Asari, who operated a goldfish farm on Warner Avenue east of Beach Boulevard..."(Note: this Honda Plaza area is now part of the Sawtelle Japantown district.)

   Goto lived near and most likely knew all three of Wintersburg's goldfish farmers, including T.M. Asari, Charles Mitsuji Furuta and Henry Kiyomi Akiyama

   "(Yasuo) Goto first was in the labor camp business. He arranged room and board for many Issei laborers from Japan who worked in Orange County," explained Nishizu to interviewer Arthur A. Hansen.  "From the labor camps, he transported the laborers on wagons pulled by horses, of course, to different farms in the area. This was in about 1910. The next year, 1911, Dr. Jim Goto was born. Later, the senior Goto went into farming California chilies, celery, cabbage, melon, and other vegetables."

   From farming roots, Dr. James Goto, went on to graduate from UCLA and then USC's medical school.  He set up his medical practice--West L.A. Medical-Dental Offices-- on the corner of Sawtelle and Mississippi, the former "Little Osaka", now designated Sawtelle Japantown, as of 2015.

The return of Sei Fujii to Orange County
   Sei Fujii, yet again, comes to the aid of farmers.  The Orange County film premier of Lil Tokyo Reporter will help raise funds for preservation of Historic Wintersburg, the five-acre home and farm of Charles Mitsuji and Yukiko Furuta, and the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission complex.  Screening times are 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 17, and 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 18.  The cast, director and producers will be at every screening.

   The film's cast includes Academy Award® winner Chris Tashima (VISAS AND VIRTUE), Keiko Agena (GILMORE GIRLS), Eijiro Ozaki (LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA), Ikuma Ando (LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA), Sewell Whitney (BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT, CSI-NY), with direction from Jeffrey Chin.  

   More about Lil Tokyo Reporter at  Advance ticket sales online at 
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Lil Tokyo Reporter producers,director and cast---we are grateful for your kindness and interest in our shared history.  Special thanks also to REGENCY THEATRES and to the HUNTINGTON BEACH AUTOMOBILE DEALERS ASSOCIATION, KIM KRAMER and the HUNTINGTON BEACH DOWNTOWN RESIDENTS ASSOCIATION, and SCOTT LAND PHOTOGRAPHY for sponsoring the Lil Tokyo Reporter screenings.  Additional thanks to the HILTON WATERFRONT BEACH RESORT for sponsoring the after-hours reception Saturday, Nov. 17. Thank you for your generosity!

*The oral histories of Clarence Nishizu, Yukiko Furuta and Henry Kiyomia Akiyama were conducted in 1982 by the Historical and Cultural Foundation of Orange County, the Japanese American Council, and California State University-Fullerton Oral History Program, Honorable Stephen K. Tamura Orange County Japanese American Oral History Project.

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.