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The Founders II: Yosh Sogioka Part 2

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1964 was a crucial year for the ESGVJCC. At the center of West Covina’s “road to progress,” and right smack on the actual path for the Walnut Creek Parkway, the Center’s property was the ideal candidate for an “eminent domain” takeover. The Center yielded, closed that chapter of its life, and went after its current site at 1203 Puente Avenue. The Sogioka counted among the top supporters of the Capital Campaign to acquire the property.

Six years later, in 1970, Yosh’s father died.

Son Norman became a medical doctor in 1973, and later a specialist in plastic surgery. Bruce became a pharmacist in 1974, and received his PhD in Pharmacy in 1977. Kathy became a medical technologist, a profession she followed with enthusiasm despite her long bout with arthritis. Several grand children were added to enlarge the Sogioka “tribe.” Yosh and Kay managed to travel extensively, and always brought new experiences to share with other Center’s members.

When Frank Yamashita, no longer could continue creating his exquisite toro, he turned molds and savvy to his brother in law, Yosh. Shortly thereafter, Yosh produced two classical pieces for the Center. Then, he began donating every year several smaller toro to the Leisure Club for its Akimatsuri fund-raiser.

Yosh and Kay were always deeply involved in the Leisure Club activities.

Yosh and Kay Sogioka

Frequently he was elected the club’s President, by acclamation. Almost every week, particularly from spring to winter, Yosh brought part of his “backyard farm” crops to share with the Club’s members: Chinese cabbage; daikon; gobō; fruits, and the like; and during the fishing season, delightful sashimi for the entire group. At every meeting, he had something precious to share, whether on fraud prevention; other Club member’s accomplishments; investment tips, and even the dubious pleasures of getting old.

After her retirement as a designer for the Hang Ten Company, Kay started creating kimekomi dolls; and soon became an excellent teacher of that precious art. She suffered a “stroke”- a brain aneurysm in 1998. Miraculously she recovered almost completely.

My wife and I visited them occasionally, and if we neglected them, the phone would ring, with unvarnished incentives:

Do you like gobō? You know what gobo is, don’t you? (He knew darn well I loved it.) Come on, I’ll pull some for you. It’s beautiful this year.

Beans’s coming back today, loaded with tuna.  Do you like sashimi? Your wife loves it. So come on, and bring the large cooler with you, and a batch of old newspapers.

Beans would be there, sometimes with company I never met. Not far from the shed where Yosh kept his farming gear, a long table, dressed and immaculately clean would be ready for filleting the fish. I envied their expertise in that area, and one time I said:

Can I try my hand at helping? Yosh stopped for a second, and without flinching, retorted:

Have you ever done that before? Nooo… right? My father used to say: ‘Remember you have only ten fingers. When using the hocho (knife), pay attention only to what you are doing.’ I’ve done that, and avoided a lot of cuts… but I’ve also had my share of scares.

Another time I began pontificating on how Mexican people make delicious soup with fish heads.

Here, take it, said Yosh.

With horror in her face, my wife yelled:

Are you nuts? I can’t stand the look in their dead eyes!

Of course, said Yosh.  We just dump the tail, fins and head at that hole, there. In time, they’ll soon decompose. There is no better soil fertilizer.… Sabe?...and something else less complimentary in Spanish.

Now that Yosh was making the toro , I asked him if I could buy one from him. He chose a beautiful piece for us, and would not let me take it to the car. In his words, I was overdressed for that chore- maybe too old to lift it? 

According to my wife, a squatting toro must have company; so weeks later, I asked Yosh if we could buy a new pair.

Come and choose them, he said.

Like a couple of museum visitors, we paraded together through the winding entry way to his property, where his artwork was displayed. We stopped several times in silence, and finally he selected the best pair.

They’re yours, he added with finality.

You can’t do that, my wife said. It’s your hard work, your materials, and you even carried the last one to the car for us. 

They wrangled for at least a half-hour; he wouldn’t take ANY money. Finally, Yosh surrendered, but just a little:

Well, what the heck! Give me ten bucks. It was useless to continue arguing. He’d made his point.

Yosh experimented with various crops in his “backyard farm.” In several consecutive years, he planted black berries and raspberries, both excellent sellers at his friends’ markets. One early morning day, the cherished call from Chino came:

Like raspberries? Yosh said. Come and get some, they are beautiful this year. 

Our grandson Ed joined us. Yosh treated him like a close relative.  He took him to the backyard farm.

See? He said holding some of the canes, you start here; I’ll show you which ones are the best. 

In those days, a small flat, maybe 6”x6” sold for at the market for at least $3.00. Yet he pushed the kid to fill a couple of large plastic sacks that Kay provided to him. Believe me, not a single precious berry went to waste.

In 2001, Kay suffered a second stroke, with more severe results.  Yosh redesigned the interior of their home, installing support bars all over; and provided 24/7 home care for her, with him as the chief “nurse.” Because Kay hated showers, he had a very expensive walk-in bath built in an area adjacent to Kay’s bedroom.

He kept attending Leisure Club meets, bringing Kay and her caretaker along. Remarkably, Kay would still be able to socialize, until her death. During those demanding years, Yosh developed an extraordinary feedback sense. At 84, he still had much of the strength acquired through years of hard work. Though he now moved more deliberately, his sharp mind keenly-eerily- anticipated each of his wife’s needs.

I’ve always loved and respected Kay, he’d say; but until her illness, I never completely understood the great value of having a wife. I‘ve ended up knowing every inch of her body, and instantly knowing what she needs.

(Shades of the Takasago legend: “They had loved so well, and so splendidly in old age as in youth…”1.)

Kay died shortly after Christmas, 2005.  And although Yosh kept active, and mobile, he too had to begin depending on a caretaker. One could sense his slow decline; sometimes his speech lost its characteristic agility; and a few times he rambled seeking to make a point.  But his sense of humor never failed him. 

He died in 2007, at the age of 91, after an exemplary life of sharing, which he must have thoroughly enjoyed. The Center and especially our Leisure Club membership owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for all his efforts on our behalf. Warm thanks to Dr. Norman Sogioka, and to Yosh’s many relatives and friends for sharing their information about him with me.

1. Davis, F. Hadland; “The Pine Tree Lovers.” Myths and Legends of Japan . New York, 1992: Dover. Pp. 187-89

*This article was first appeared in the East San Gabriel Valley’s Japanese Community Center’s “Newsette” in September 2008.

© 2008 Edward Moreno

ESGVJCC San Gabriel the center yosh sogioka