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J-TOWN BEAT: Dad’s Three Cats


Dad has three cats. This is a new development in his life, and a welcome one.

They are all the color of a starless night. Scaredy is skittish and will take off at the slightest movement. Beautie has a bright white spot on her chest. Smartie, his favorite, lets Dad stroke her glossy fur as he sits outside in the backyard giving them treats and bits of cat kibble.

For his daughter, this has been a strange new chapter to witness. You see, he never was a pet person; unlike his older brother Shig, who kept many cats on his farm in Yorba Linda, and had a small carrier for each to make sure they were safe at night away from coyotes.

He was never so angry as when I brought home Cooper, a black-and-tan dachshund, after my stepdad Mas Uriu was given the puppy as a birthday present by his dear friend Bob Nagamoto. But I eventually wore him down and Dad grudgingly came to accept my dog, who, despite his squat frame, liked to jump on tables and gobble up Giuliano’s sandwiches when no one was looking.

With these three felines, it’s different. Originally they were stray kittens, and now they only respond to him and will bolt the minute any of the rest of us approach. He spends his time feeding them and recently, it has been quite an adventure making sure the cats are caught and fixed. I am so grateful to my aunt Amy who has helped to trap them and take them to the veterinarian.

It has made me think of what it means to age and how you hope as the years go by to be blessed with good health and good friends, and have something or someone that makes you smile everyday.

They say that pets have therapeutic value for seniors and I see the truth in that. Dad has always been exceptionally kind and these three lucky strays are now the beneficiaries of his kindness. They give him something to look forward to and keep him engaged and active. Although I am not a cat person, I am glad they’re a part of his life.

Simply put, these little guys make Dad smile.

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Photo editor Mario Reyes shot this photo of Jack Kunitomi, then 92 years old, back in June 2008 at the dedication of the Aoyama Tree. It’s just one of many photos of Jack that have graced the pages of The Rafu over the years.

Jack Kunitomi poses in front of the Aoyama Tree in Little Tokyo in June 2008. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

He passed away in January at the remarkable age of 102; family and friends gathered at Centenary on Friday night to bid farewell. It seems we are losing so many of our community stalwarts, but we will have our memories and I smile when I remember Jack on that day of the dedication of the Aoyama Tree.

Today, the Moreton Bay fig stands over 70 feet tall, but Jack recalled a much smaller tree that he once climbed upon as a young lad. He even demonstrated some of his technique to an appreciative group that included Huell Howser, who filmed the dedication for a segment on his show.

The tree, which is located in the parking lot next to the Tateuchi Democracy Forum, was designated as the city’s first living Historic-Cultural Monument, thanks to the efforts of the Little Tokyo Historical Society and then-Councilmember Jan Perry. It was planted in 1920 by members of the Koyasan Buddhist Temple at the temple’s entrance and it stands as a living witness to the history of the Japanese American community in Little Tokyo.

I thought of the Aoyama Tree and Jack when the Little Tokyo Community Council took up the issue of Tuna Canyon. The L.A. City Council voted this week to install a sign at the location, noting its designation as a historical-cultural monument.

James Okazaki, a member of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition, talked about the one-acre stand of oak trees at the former site of the detention station. The coalition continues to advocate for the placement of a monument at the site of former detention center. Even though the buildings are long gone, the trees — like the Aoyama Tree — tell a story, they carry the memories of what happened there, Okazaki said with conviction.

Even though many of the detainees are gone, Okazaki speaking for the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition said simply, “We can’t let them down. We are their voices.”

Hopefully the trees will remain to share those memories for generations to come.


Gwen Muranaka, senior editor of The Rafu Shimpo, can be contacted at Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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