Yamaguchi is a general store that practically made Sawtelle Blvd. Growing up in the area, I have distinct memories of being in the store and strolling through the aisles. My mom would buy me fragrant erasers which I’d take to school to amaze the non-Japanese American kids. On top of that, I’d get cool Japanese pencils, Japanese super hero pencil cases which even had pencil sharpeners and secret compartments built in, Japanese ruled notebooks for hiragana, katakana, and kanji practice, my “Year of the Cock” t-shirt, and Mazinga and Raideen robot toys.
This is Deluxe Raideen purchased from Yamaguchi. If it were in mint condition in the original box, it’d be worth over $500. But know this: “There are many like it, but this one is mine.”
As I got “older,” in later elementary school, Yamaguchi was the destination to buy candy and a soda either before or after Japanese school which was conveniently around the corner. The shortened name was “Yama’s” as in, “Do you want to go to Yama’s?” It was almost a writ of passage to leave the campus which is really just a small lot with a few classrooms. We’d walk either before or after class that one block to make a purchase without ours parents scrutiny. Picking out candies or erasers, we’d then get a handful of change, which at least for me, would make me feel good about buying something. It became almost a daily trip, and was an important part of the day.
A lot of us might say that going to Japanese school was a waste, “I wish we studied more” in retrospect, but part of my memory of the school, is it’s indelible and unbreakable link it had with Yamaguchi’s. Going to school wasn’t a waste of time, as long as I got to visit my favorite shop. It was definitely part of “growing up” which to me meant joining the economic force of the real world and perhaps spending my first bits of saved money.
In the middle years, my 20′s. I’ll admit, I visited very little. I thought I outgrew the shop. My memories of the store still remained from my juvenile days. Erasers, toys, construction paper, candy, ice-cream, and soda. But maybe five years ago, I discovered Yamaguchi’s carried Dickies pants for the gardners! I went in maybe twice and bought years worth of unpleated and denim Dickies. If I bought 8 pairs, I got the 9th free, which explains why a lot of you might think I’m wearing the same pants over and over.
Before I was born, I’m sure this shop was already a community fixture. Yet today the sign reads, “After over 60 years in business, we’ll be soon closing our doors. It has been our pleasure to serve 4 generations of loyal customers and friends. We thank you for your loyalty and patronage these many years. Henry and Jack Yamaguchi.” I can only guess that in later 40s and 50s, this was the place where post war / internment families did their household shopping, including mine who lived somewhere in the neighboring blocks. How many items in people’s homes in the area are from Yamaguchi’s? A tea pot, tea cup, lamp, or a greeting card?
The two Yamaguchi brothers, Jack and Henry have run Yamaguchi from at least when I was a little kid. I don’t remember anyone else ever behind the counters. Today, they’re retiring after a huge and successful run at retail. Stores come and go but 60 years marks them as an establishment. A store is special when it goes beyond serving the folks who run it. Sure pocket money, a new car, a house, and materialistic crap’s important, but when you cross the line into being a part of neighborhood, then that’s another story. It takes years and years to become an important part of history. They made it a long time ago.
I’ve been visiting, and checking things out, and seeing the last days of this store. Today is monday August 7th, and it’s supposedly the last day of Yamaguchi. I walked in today and grabbed a few weird leftover things, which I’m sure they dug up from “the back.” I asked Henry, “how does it feel?” In the Japanese American manner of not saying too much, but saying just enough, he said, “oh it’s good, but kind of sad.” I congratulated him and took a photo of the brothers, and Henry relayed, “People have come in crying.” If I were gangster and drank Old English 800, I’d definitely pour some out.
Remember the umbrella stand by the door? It’s friggin’ mine. Henry handed it to me today and said, “this has been around so long…, it’s good to know where it’s going.” It doesn’t rain much in Southern California, but I’m putting it by my door.
LASTLY: If you have any Yamaguchi stories, or pics, post em here, or email them to me at email@example.com
I’ll post ‘em here.