Watsonville’s ‘gentle giant’ Mas Hashimoto passes

Masaru “Mas” Hashimoto passed away at the age of 86 on June 20, 2022 with his wife Marcia Hashimoto at his side. According to his obituary published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel and written by Marcia Hashimoto, Hashimoto passed away due to a complication from pulmonary fibrosis, which he was diagnosed with in 2019.

Hashimoto, born Sept. 15, 1935, lost his father early in life in 1938. According to the Sentinel, his mother and brothers became field laborers after his father died. Hashimoto himself worked in the fields from age 10 until 23. He spent the war incarcerated with his family in Poston, Ariz. and later returned to Watsonville where he graduated from Watsonville High School in 1953. He would later return to his alma mater, to teach there for 36 years.

Hashimoto is known for his work as both a teacher and a vocal member of the Japanese American Citizens League. According to the Sentinel, he was editor for the Watsonville-Santa Cruz chapter’s newsletter for a quarter of a century while serving on the boards of the Watsonville Buddhist Temple and Watsonville High School Foundation.

Those in the JACL remembered Hashimoto fondly. Patty Wada, Northern California/Western Nevada/Pacific regional director, considered Hashimoto a “gentle giant” who was not afraid to speak up for what’s right.

“He had a genuine sweetness about him, a soft voice, but was no push over,” she said in an e-mail to the Nichi Bei Weekly. “He had a strength of character where he had no fear to speak truth to power, to speak up against any injustice, no matter large or small, and who called upon each of us to do the same.”

While his work was based out of Watsonville, his stalwart activism, both as a teacher and member of the JACL, brought him recognition nationally, according to David Inoue, national executive director of the JACL.

“Mas was really dearly beloved by everybody in JACL,” Inoue told the Nichi Bei Weekly over the phone. “He was a regular fixture at the convention. It’s gonna be a little empty without him being there this year.”

Inoue said Hashimoto regularly served as the Watsonville-Santa Cruz chapter’s delegate to the conference and was someone everyone recognized and would listen to because his words were “relevant, but also of strong moral conviction.”

Inoue also looked to Hashimoto as a principled leader who brought allies to the JACL. He noted that many of the Watsonville-Santa Cruz chapter members were not Japanese Americans and were members inspired by Hashimoto’s activism to join JACL’s mission.

“I think that, we as an organization, need to further that at the national level, to really emphasize that you don’t need to be Japanese American to join the JACL. That it is a recognition of the importance of our story of the Japanese American community, and to leverage that story to speak out about moral injustice against other communities,” he said.

Hashimoto was predeceased by his parents Ikuta and Nami Hashimoto from Fukuoka Prefecture, along with brothers Hiroshi, Wataru, Tsuyoshi, Tadashi, Noriyuki and Mitsuru. Hashimoto was the seventh son in the family. “He is survived by Marcia, his wife of 51 years, several brothers and sisters-in-law, many nieces and nephews and great-nieces and nephews, who are his pride and joy.”

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the family will hold a service for immediate family members, but postpone a larger celebration of life for when it is safer to do so. Those wishing to honor his memory are encouraged to send a donation/contribution to the Watsonville-Santa Cruz chapter of the JACL: P.O. Box 163, Watsonville, CA 95077-0163.

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