Kanji Nakatani, photo courtesy of the Nakatani Family

Kenji Nakatani, longtime owner of Osaka-ya, Sacramento’s popular Japanese sweets shop, died on Sept. 17 at the age of 80 from a rare form of cancer that attacks blood vessels. A veteran of the Korean War, Nakatani operated the manju-ya for 46 years.

With his children at his bedside, he succumbed to a two-year battle with cancer after a second round of radiation treatment had left him weak. In the last month of his life, he refused medication but did not complain about pain, said his daughter and business partner Linda Nakatani.

“He was a quiet man,” Nakatani said. “He hardly ever got upset; he was always mellow.”

Born in Sacramento on June 5, 1929, he graduated from Sacramento High School in 1948 and spent his entire life in the city, except for the four years during World War II when he was incarcerated at the Tule Lake concentration camp.

He was drafted into service in the Army during the Korean War and met his wife, Asako, in Japan. After returning to California, he decided to purchase Osaka-ya from a friend’s father in 1963.

At first, they hired someone from Japan to come and teach them how to make manju, but they were unsatisfied with the products so Asako developed her own recipes instead. At that time, Nakatani was also working at the post office and as a gardener, but the business took off, and he joined her full-time in the shop. “Ever since then, he’s never had a day off,” Nakatani said.

Since the age of 12, Nakatani learned how to make Japanese confections from her parents and joined her father as his business partner in 1990 after her mother’s death.

“My Dad pretty much taught me everything,” Nakatani said. He was “very gentle, very humble, and a very hard worker,” she added.

Osaka-ya is located at 2215 10th St. in an area where many Japanese businesses opened after World War II. It sells traditional Japanese sweets and, in the summer, is popular for its snow cones.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Nakatani was preceded in death by his father, Torataro, and mother, Otoku; his wife, Asako (Sato); his elder brother David Kiyoshi; and his younger sister, Jane Miyoko (Tsuchida). He is survived by his sister-in-law, Yachio Nakatani (Hatanaka); his nephews and nieces, June Yaiko Kim, John Seji, Betty Kiyoko, Nancy Sachi Kunst, Glenn Masashi, Michael Tsuchida, Ricky Tsuchida, and all of their children. He is also survived by his children, Alan (Shirley), Joanne Rabe (Victor), John (Diana), daughter and business partner Linda. Nakatani also leaves behind beloved grandchildren, Clint, Douglas, Chandra, Alan Jr., April and Scottie, David and Yoshi.

The memorial service was held on Sept. 25.

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