Saturday, November 16, 2019

Welcoming the Consul General of Japan, present and past

ABOVE: California Senate Majority Leader Robert Hertzberg greeting the new Consul General of Japan Akira Muto at the assumption of post reception. Representatives for Historic Wintersburg were invited guests, along with representatives for the Huntington Beach Sister City Association. Huntington Beach has been a Sister City with Anjo, Japan, since 1992. (Photograph, October 3, 2019, M. Urashima) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

    Southern California welcomed a new Consul General of Japan at a recent reception held in Los Angeles. Consul General Akira Muto has served in Washington D.C., and Boston, and was a visiting scholar at Stanford University's Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. The Los Angeles consulate post includes Southern California and Arizona.

LEFT: Consul General Akira Muto speaks at the Assumption of Post reception. The ever gracious consulate staff at right. (Photograph, October 3, 2019, M. Urashima)  © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

   In his remarks upon the assumption of his new post, Consul General Muto stated, "I am greatly honored to be able to serve as consul general in a region with such deep ties to Japan, and look forward to wonderful new encounters that may differ from those during my time as Consul General of Japan in Boston." 

   Consul General Muto takes his position as the Emperor of Japan Naruhito ascends to the Throne in the new era of Reiwa. Japan also is readying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic games in July. Surfing will make its debut in the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020. The shortboard competition will take place at Tsurigasaki Beach, in Chiba

   "Once engaged in war, our nations have overcome those past troubled times to become close allies connected in deep friendship. Japan's solid relationship with Southern California and Arizona exemplifies our strong Japan-U.S. ties, " remarked Consul General Muto. "My utmost duty as Consul General of Japan in Los Angeles will be to further cultivate goodwill between Japan and the U.S."

   Wintersburg Village and Huntington Beach have a long history with Japan, with Japanese pioneers contributing significantly to regional agriculture and development. The growing communities welcomed an important consulate visit in 1912, holding a luncheon at the Huntington Inn for Consul General Matsuzo Nagai, who was stationed in San Francisco. The Consul General arrived at 8:30 a.m. for a meeting at Huntington Beach city hall with Mayor W.D. Seely and then spoke to an assembly of students at Huntington Beach High School, before the luncheon.

RIGHT: A 1917 advertisement from the Santa Ana Register for the Dragon Cafe in Santa Ana, which hosted a banquet for the Consul General of Japan Matsuzo Nagai in May 1912 (with leading Japanese and American citizens of Orange County). The Dragon Cafe hosted many important Orange County events in the 1910s. They advertised heavily for Valentine's Day, offering to deliver heart-shaped cakes, ice cream and chocolate in heart-shaped satin candy boxes. (Advertisement, Santa Ana Register, November 2, 1917)

   The Santa Ana Register reported, "In addition to leading Japanese of this section there will be present 25 American guests. Those from this City will be Mayor W. D. Seely, Principal A.E. Paine of the High School, President T.B. Talbert of the Board of Trade, Louis Paul Hart of the Huntington Beach News, and Rev. E.J. Harlow." Consul General Nagai then spoke at the Talbert Hall in what is now Fountain Valley and then enjoyed a banquet at the famous Dragon Cafe in Santa Ana.  

LEFT: Consul General Matsuzo Nagai, circa 1917, five years after his visit to Orange County. Consul General Nagai would have been enthusiastic about the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics. He served on the governmental committee in Japan charged with preparing for the Tokyo games in 1940 (which were cancelled) and also as a member of the International Olympic Committee until 1950. (Photograph, WikiCommons)

   An activist for the Olympic Games, Consul General Nagai would not have been introduced to surfing during his 1912 visit to "Surf City", as the sport was just beginning to take hold along the southern California coast. Irish Hawaiian George Freeth is considered the first to surf the Huntington Beach pier at its re-dedication in 1914. Delbert "Bud" Higgins, one of the first local surfers, noted that "the first use of boards was about 1912 when they used a piece of 1 by 12 board about 4 feet long and pushed off from 5 foot water. There were no surfboards on the coast except the one belonging to George Freeth of Redondo Beach and it was a very makeshift one made of several boards with cross pieces nailed to hold it together."

   Consul General Nagai undoubtedly would have been delighted that 107 years after his visit to Orange County, surfers from Japan are training near the Huntington Beach pier as they prepare for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Huntington Beach's Kanoa Igarashi--a two time champion of the U.S. Open of Surfing competition near the Huntington Beach pier--has qualified for the 2020 surfing competition and will join them in Japan.

More about Huntington Beach's long history with Japan: Read about the 1935 reception for Japanese Consul General Tomokazu Hori, Cherry blossoms and poppies: A 1935 banquet with the Japanese Consul in Huntington Beach.

ABOVE: Consul General Matsuzo Nagai, to the left of Mayor W.D. Seely, standing center front, on the steps of the Huntington Inn in Huntington Beach in May 1912 with representatives of the Smeltzer Japanese Association and City leaders. Consul General Nagai's post was in San Francisco. The Smeltzer Japanese Association provided the first fireworks in 1905 for Huntington Beach July 4th celebrations and also supported fundraising for the rebuilding of the Huntington Beach pier in 1912. Charles Furuta, owner of the Furuta farm at Historic Wintersburg, is standing in the front row, second from left. Reverend Barnabus Hisayoshi Teresawa, a founder of the Wintersburg Japanese Mission, to the right of Mayor W.D. Seely. Huntington Beach's first mayor, Ed Manning, is second row, far right in light-color suit.  Another Huntington Beach mayor, Orange County supervisor, and pioneer realtor, Thomas Talbert, is in the second row (on step), fourth from left with hat in hand.  (Photograph courtesy of Wintersburg Church, May 31, 1912) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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