A Moment in Time 2

Sample Articles from Footprints

A MOMENT IN TIME 2:  A Classic Photo from the JAHSSD Archives
by Don Estes
[JAHSSD Footprints, Spring 2003, Vol. 12 No. 1]

Recently a photo was donated to our society’s archives by Mr. Ray Kuniteru Mayeda, formally of San Diego who now lives in Torrance. Ray had been kind enough to write us a letter which we printed in the Winter, 2001 issue of the Footprints. In that letter Ray told us that he enjoyed our newsletter and incidently mentioned that we had used a photo in the Fall, 2001 issue that had been taken by his uncle Masashi Shimotsusa.

At that point all we knew of Ray’s uncle was that he had been a professional photographer here in San Diego in the 1920s. The fact that we had made contact with a relative of one of San Diego’s earliest Nikkei photographers was exciting. In point of fact, we have over a dozen original photographs taken by Mr. Shimotsusa in our archives and probably an equal number of photo copies where the Shimotsusa indicia can be plainly seen. Ray recently and very generously donated an original family photograph taken by his uncle to our photo archive.

Receiving a new photo is always exciting for us, but inevitably, with the gift comes no small amount of mystery too. Who was Masashi Shimotsusa and what’s the story behind the photograph?

With Ray’s help; an article from the November 29, 1974 issue of the Weekly Asahi Magazine , material from our archives and a little luck, we started to piece together a brief biography of Masashi Shimotsusa and his photograph.

Masashi Shimotsusa was born in 1885 in Kagoshima-ken. After studying at Kajiki High School he applied for entrance to the Japanese Naval Academy at Eta Jima but was turned down because he was underweight. Following the death of his Father and with funds from his older brother, Masashi sailed from Kobe for San Francisco. Traveling across the United States the young Japanese settled first in New York were he studied art and later photography. In 1917 he traveled to London and later Paris to continue his photographic studies.

In 1918 Masashi returned to the United States and opened a photo studio in Los Angeles. The next year he returned to Japan and married Miss Toki Mayeda, Ray Mayeda’s aunt. Because of increasing anti-Japanese activity in Los Angeles the newly married couple moved to San Diego where Masashi opened a photo studio in 1919 located at 538 Fifth Avenue in the heart of San Diego’s Japanese business district. Two years later he moved his family and studio to a new location in Room 8 at 427 E Street.

The same year he moved his new studio, Shimotsusa shot the photo accompanying this article. With Ray’s help we’ve identified the date and the occasion that prompted the photo.

Taken in July, 1921, the occasion is the sixth birthday of the of the young man in the center of the photograph wearing the Buster Brown collar. His name is unknown, but his father, Shigeyuki Yuda is standing behind him in a three piece suit and his mother, Masu Yuda is setting to the boy’s left with her hands on her lap. In the front row moving from the left, the third woman holding the baby, believed to be Hedi, is Mrs. Mine Takeshita. Behind her is her husband, Mr. Ikuyo Takeshita.

The sixth woman from the left in the front row is Mrs. Yoshi Mayeda, Ray’s mother. The baby in her arms is Alfred Fugiyo, Ray’s older brother. The woman to her left is Mrs. Toki Shimotsusa, the wife of the photographer holding their daughter Kazuko. The fifth lady, front left, is Mrs. H. Sato holding baby Satoru. Mr. Tokuzo Sato, wearing glasses, is directly behind his wife. Mr. Sato owned the Courtland Hotel located at 725 Fourth Avenue in San Diego. He and his family returned to Japan in the late 1920s.

The sixth woman from the left in the front row is Mrs. Yoshi Mayeda, Ray’s mother. The baby in her arms is Alfred Fugiyo, Ray’s older brother. The woman to her left is Mrs. Toki Shimotsusa, the wife of the photographer holding their daughter Kazuko. The fifth lady, front left, is Mrs. H. Sato holding baby Satoru. Mr. Tokuzo Sato, wearing glasses, is directly behind his wife. Mr. Sato owned the Courtland Hotel located at 725 Fourth Avenue in San Diego. He and his family returned to Japan in the late 1920s.

Masashi Shimotsusa’s reputation as a photographer spread as he exhibited his work in London and Paris. In 1927 he won the Grand Prix at the Budapest International Photo Contest.

A year later the Shimotsusa family returned to Japan settling in Tokyo’s Minato Ward. In his distinguished career Masashi was known for his photographs of movie stars, Takarazuka Review girls and noted military and political leaders. They all came to his studio. One of his phonographs of Admiral Heihachiro Togo was used in 1937 to produce a four sen stamp of the hero of the Russo Japanese War.

Masashi Shimotsusa died in Tokyo in 1959 at age 74, but he left a rich photograph legacy that includes his years in San Diego.

(Contributing to this story were Ray Mayeda, Bruce Sherman and Mich Himaka.)