OBITUARY: Jack Hirose

Jack Hirose, a generous community philanthropist and pioneering Japanese American certified public accountant, passed away peacefully on Christmas morning, 2009. He was 86.

Hirose was born on Feb. 10, 1923, the second son of parents who emigrated to the U.S. from Japan’s Yamanashi Prefecture. He was raised in the family home in San Francisco’s Mission District.

A January 1941 graduate of Mission High School, he was a geometry and math wiz who loved to play basketball. He went on to study engineering at Golden Gate College.

During World War II, Hirose and his family were first forcibly relocated to the Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno, Calif., before being moved to the Topaz (Central Utah) concentration camp.

He left the camp when given the opportunity to pick sugar beets in Idaho and subsequently worked at a steel foundry in Cleveland, Ohio.

Hirose joined the U.S. Army’s Military Intelligence Service Language School (MIS) at Fort Snelling in Minnesota to learn the Japanese language. Soldiers of the MIS were used in the Pacific Theater of World War II to provide translation and intelligence gathering to help defeat Japan’s armed forces.

Hirose completed his MIS training in August 1945. After Hirose made it to the Philippines, Japan surrendered. He then served under General Douglass MacArthur’s occupation forces in Tokyo, translating documents.

“I was lucky in that, in the one year I studied Japanese, the war ended,” he said in an interview published in the August 2006 newsletter of Nihonmachi Little Friends, a multicultural childcare agency in San Francisco’s Japantown.

Back from the war, Hirose re-enrolled at Golden Gate College, studying accounting and business administration. He obtained a license to practice as a public accountant in 1948, but due to the racism of the time, he was unable to find work with corporate American firms.

In 1951, after completing his internship as an accountant, he became “one of the first — if not the first — Asian CPA in San Francisco,” he said in the Nihonmachi Little Friends interview. As one of the first Japanese American CPAs, he had a number of the Japanese American flower family accounts.

He wed Kiyo Matsumoto from Lodi, Calif., in 1951. And his accounting practice started to bloom in the 1950s as he used his language skills to work with Japanese corporations.

In the 1960s, he became the sole concessionaire of the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, running the tea house and gift shop until 1992.

Hirose, who continued his accounting practice until his passing, generously supported the Golden Gate Optimist Club, Nihonmachi Little Friends and various programs, and monuments that detailed the legacy of Nisei soldiers who served in the armed forces during World War II. He also gave $100,000 to support the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism in Washington, D.C.

In his later years, he began to support the programs of Kimochi, Inc., a San Francisco Japantown-based senior service agency.

His final achievement was donating some $500,000 to the San Francisco Japantown Foundation, which was earmarked for capital improvements to be made to the aging structures in the Japanese Tea Garden. This enabled a return of the concession to the Japanese American community and ensured that authentic Japanese tea service would be held at the facility.

Hirose was remembered by various Japantown community leaders.

“The San Francisco Japantown Foundation mourns the loss of our board member Jack Hirose,” said a statement on the organization’s Website. “We honor Jack’s great legacy from his contributions as a local businessman and as one of the community’s most generous philanthropists.”

“I think that for those who were old time friends of Jack knew the real Jack Hirose,” said Allen Okamoto, a Japantown Realtor. “For those who were acquaintances couldn’t quite figure him out. To me for many years he was a tough hard-drinking irascible Nisei. But as I got to know him …I saw a side of him that few see. He was one of the great philanthropists in Japantown… I think they broke the mold when they made Jack.”

“Jackson’s generous support for the 2008 Kimochi home capital renovation was at $25,000,” said Sandy Mori, the recently-retired development director at Kimochi, Inc. “Kimochi’s board of directors, staff, volunteers, and seniors appreciate his commitment to seniors. His style was one being behind the scenes and not desiring any publicity for his philanthropy.”

“We have lost a wonderful friend and generous supporter who will be greatly missed,” said Cathy Inamasu, executive director of Nihonmachi Little Friends. “Jack helped with the retirement of NLF’s mortgage on its 1830 Sutter Street building, and funded renovations to the building.”

At a Nihonmachi Little Friends event, he pledged the remaining $95,000 left on the mortgage.

“He was a very modest man, who never wanted to be publicly acknowledged for his contributions,” Inamasu added.

Friend and fellow Nisei philanthropist Hats Aizawa said that Hirose was a “very difficult individual to get along with” but had “a heart as large as possible.”

A memorial service was held on Dec. 31 at Ashley & McMullen in San Francisco.

Hirose is survived by his wife of 58 years, Kiyo; his son Don (Christina) of San Marino, Calif.; sister Motoko Kanzawa of Ft. Wayne, Ind.; and brothers Dr. Frank Hirose of Palos Verdes Peninsula, Calif. and William Hirose (May) of El Cerrito, Calif.

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