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Man in motion 

by Dan Richardson


Spokane must be one of the most Western of cities, with its history of Indians, mining and railroads; its Caucasian population; its landscape, poised between the mountains and the rolling prairie of the Palouse.


There are cosmopolitan flourishes, though. Across the river from downtown is the campus of the Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute, where 180 Japanese students arrive each semester to study English. In the heart of the city is Riverfront Park, its Pavilion a reminder of the 1974 World's Fair, when the global community gathered on the river's banks. And up the South Hill rests the reflective, Oriental quietness of the Spokane-Nishinomiya Japanese Garden .


One thing these three flourishes have in common, along with many other Spokane institutions, is Ed Tsutakawa.


Tsutakawa (pronounced "Soot-a-kawa") labored inside the small circle of volunteers, financiers and planners that brought these landmarks to fruition.


The paradoxes of Spokane -- a Western city with flourishes of the East -- mirror those of Tsutakawa himself. Born in the U.S., he spent many formative years in Japan. Though raised in a family business, he pursued art as a calling. Despite citizenship, he was hauled behind barbed wire with other Japanese-Americans during World War II; interned, he turned patriot, using his art for the war effort.


"I didn't want to let the grass grow under my feet," recalls the 80-year-old Tsutakawa.


In person, Tsutakawa possesses a gentle, friendly demeanor. It's like a current of warm water atop the depths of his personality, where he is energetic and driven. He gets passionate, for example, during a conversation about the 24-foot purpleheart wood bridge in the midst of the Japanese Garden. It's too clunky for the garden, he says.


Tsutakawa stands in the foremost ranks of Spokane's citizens. He's devoted time -- in several cases, decades -- to groups like the Boy Scouts, United Way and the YMCA, plus numerous local government boards and committees. Tsutakawa's "voice of sweet reason cuts silkily and softly through to the heart of the issue. Not much noise, but things happen immediately," wrote a Spokesman-Review columnist in 1987.


Rob Higgins, the president of Spokane's City Council, has seen Tsutakawa in public service for 20 years, as has every city mayor in recent times.


"They all knew Ed Tsutakawa and loved him," says Higgins, who describes him as a "very humble man. A very gracious individual. Very well connected."


Born Edward Masao Tsutakawa on May 15, 1921, in Seattle, as was his wife, Hide ("He-day"), he is closer to five feet tall than six, and stooped with age. His swept silver hair retains a hint of its youthful black. Back pain has hobbled his beloved golf game -- he once drove over- night from Seattle to attend a morning golf tournament in Spokane -- and he laughs off minor surgeries as "timely adjustments." But his voice is firm. His hands are steady. He readily picks up an ink pen and sketches illustrations to accompany his conversation.


His is a cheerful demeanor, and his face often wrinkles up with smiles. Tsutakawa still works, half-time, at the Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute, where he is vice president.


His ambition and energy brought Tsutakawa to the halls of power on two continents. He counts as good friends the mayor of Nishinomiya and the chief of the prestigious Mukogawa Institute in Japan, and former Rep. Tom Foley in the U.S. Everyone at the Spokane Club knows him. "Hey, Ed," they call, and several stop for a handshake and a quick word. Scholars, business owners, politicians, industrialists -- Tsutakawa is one of them, one of the movers and shakers.


It was not always so.The Tsutakawa family operated an import-export business with a branch office in Seattle. They maintained close ties with the home country, though, and the family is rife with the cross-cultural currents of American immigrants. The second-generation boys were given Anglo first names -- George (the well-known painter and fountain-builder), Ed, Henry (now an attorney in Japan) -- and Japanese middle names.


The family moved to Japan when Tsutakawa was five, and he grew up there, in the village of Nauro, on the banks of the Mukogawa River. Their house was an American-style timber frame structure, with cedar shingles. The village was then a suburb of Nishinomiya. Ten years later, in 1936, the family moved back to the States. Ed and his cousin George were both interested in painting and sketching. Ed Tsutakawa entered the University of Washington in 1939; he took a few pre-med classes but quickly switched to art.


His parents "didn't like the idea at all," says Tsutakawa of his artistic pursuits. "I kind of believed in being independent, more of my own thing, to see how far I could go with it."


Tsutakawa thrived at school and was a college junior well into his art studies in December 1941. The Japanese attack changed everything. "Pearl Harbor," Tsutakawa recently said, "was the worst thing that happened to me and to the world."


He says he and other Japanese in the U.S. felt betrayed by their home country and hated its military government, and were simultaneously alienated from other Americans. "We didn't like the kind of things that were being said. Things like, 'Once a Jap, always a Jap.' "


Fearing disloyalty, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 two months after Pearl Harbor. It was the order that forced 110,000 people of Japanese descent from their homes into internment camps. Tsutakawa was yanked from school and sent, along with his family, to a holding camp at the Puyallup Fair Grounds ("Camp Harmony") outside Tacoma. Then in August 1942, authorities shipped them to Camp Minidoka, near Pocatello, Idaho.


Many behind the barbed wire fences grew angry, says Tsutakawa. Others, including him, joined the war effort. Tsutakawa joined the Japanese-American Citizen's League and, inside the camps, helped to organize art classes and other projects for internees. He and several other artists -- including Keith Oka, a "darn good artist" who later moved to Spokane -- turned their talents to the war effort, painting giant canvas signs urging Americans to buy war bonds.


There were hard feelings and hard times, but the camps are far from the final chapter of Tsutakawa's story. Indeed, intervment spurred many Japanese-Americans like Tsutakawa to leap into civic affairs after the war. Contemplating the police concentration today on some Arab-Americans in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Tsutakawa says the internees hung on to their belief in the U.S. way of life. Arab-Americans, he says, "have to learn to do that." Tsutakawa also believes the United States learned a lesson when it locked up Japanese-Americans, and he believes widespread roundups of all Arab-Americans will never happen as a result. "I don't think it will get that bad."


Times were difficult in the internment camp. Tsutakawa's father Jin died in camp at just 52. "He didn't have a chance," lacking adequate medical supplies, says Tsutakawa. Meanwhile, his brother Henry, who had been in Japan when the war broke out, was drafted by the military there and sent to Manchuria.


While interned, Tsutakawa wasn't letting the grass grow under him. He came and went often, having volunteered to work on Idaho farms and to drive the coal truck for camp. Meanwhile, he was also painting watercolor scenes, a kind of muted visual record from an internees' eyes. Those paintings are still displayed in museums along the West Coast. And in camp, Tsutakawa met his future bride, Hide.


It was the military authorities that imprisoned Tsutakawa's family and in the camps, and the military that got him out. Two Army captains asked him if he wanted out to help the war effort. He did. In April 1943, Tsutakawa left the camp. His first stop: Spokane.


His friend Oka was getting married in Spokane, so Tsutakawa attended the wedding. He had been through town once before, prior to the war, as an art student sketching the old mines around Coeur d'Alene. This time, he was in town only briefly, but the taste of freedom lingered -- it was a fine place to start his own life, and other artists were gathering there, like Oka, and like Paul Horiuchi and Herman Keys, with whom Tsutakawa would share a studio.


The Army assigned him to an intelligence unit in Chicago to teach Japanese language to military officers. His service time was a sort of limbo, though. Perhaps because he was just 23 years old, the Army gave him small side assignments like carrying papers between schools. He didn't have enough to do. The grass was growing under his feet.


"I had all kinds of time, so I went to school," he recalls. Living in relative luxury at the YMCA -- he'd serve on its board for more than 20 years -- Tsutakawa for a while attended design school and took classes at the Chicago Art Institute. Meanwhile, his Japanese buddies were in Europe fighting the Nazis and dying. "That's where I wanted to go," he says.


He volunteered, but the war ended. Tsutakawa landed back in Spokane and immediately immersed himself in art. Imminently practical, he turned his talents to graphic design: "not real serious art," he says, but commercial work for logos, letterheads and catalogs. Working first freelance, then for a letter shop and later at his own business, Tsutakawa flourished when his creative and pragmatic sides merged.


"It was the right time, the right business. And it was busy. I worked 16 to 17 hours a day... whatever had to be done," he says.


It was a time of paradox and adjustment, too. Though he'd gained his freedom, Tsutakawa's portion of sorrow was not over. He met a young woman, Tama, and they married in January 1946. They had a daughter, Nancy, but shortly thereafter, in December, Tama died. Mother and daughter "were in the hospital together, but never saw each other," says Tsutakawa. Influenced by Tama's Christianity, Tsutakawa was baptized on Jan. 1, 1947, the day after he buried her.


"I was still young," he says. "I think about that time, I started to find out life was very fragile."


Fragile, but resilient, too. Tsutakawa reconnected with Hide, whom he'd met in camp, and married her in 1949. They had two children -- Margaret and Mark -- and have been together ever since. As their family grew, their roots in Spokane ran ever deeper, and the city became their home.


"Sometimes you put your priorities, but they're not fitting," says Tsutakawa. "For instance, the artist's life. Then, you want a family. It changes your way of thinking, your way of living. I wanted to stay at the best place for raising children."


In 1954, Tsutakawa and Morris "Ed" Jeffers founded Litho-Art Printers. With help from friends and even a previous employer, the partners' company grew rapidly. Meanwhile, the young Tsutakawa could be found at all kinds of groups about town. He was, according to one report, a member of at least five professional Spokane art associations. Jeffers' former wife, Elaine (he's moved out of town, while she's still here), lent a hand at the shop and knew Tsutakawa for years.


"He was always the outstanding one who had the membership at the City Club," she recalls. Tsutakawa was often gone on civic affairs, but the shop was a good fit for the partners, she says. "He was a fabulous artist and my husband was a very good printer, so it worked out."


By 1960, Tsutakawa and his family were well established in Spokane. He was, however, just getting started in public life.The 1960s was a period, for many Americans, of rebellion, of casting off Middle American values and embracing rebellion. Not for a core of civic-minded Spokanites, though, among them Ed Tsutakawa. With his civic action and artistic vision, this was to be the decade he began making his mark on Spokane.


In the 1950s and '60s, the sister city movement was taking root. Old-timers and old news reports generally credit resident Ken Maddocks and the Rev. Shigeo Shimada, of the Highland Park Methodist Church, with raising the idea of a Spokane sister city in 1961. Then-Mayor Neal Fosseen supported the idea and Tsutakawa, who attended Shimada's church, got involved early on. So what city should Spokane look to? Why, Nishinomiya, of course.


"I didn't think we could find anything in common with Spokane and Nishinomiya," says Tsutakawa. But he became of the principal leaders of the sister-city committee and later bore a letter to the Japanese city from the mayor. The idea caught fire. The two cities exchanged gifts, students and delegations. This October, a group of Spokane politicians and community activists visited Nishinomiya to celebrate 40 years as sister cities.


That's one trip of more than 120 Tsutakawa says he's taken to Japan in his 57 years in town. He's gone there for business, family and pleasure; and many Japanese visitors have stayed with the Tsutakawa family in Spokane over the years.


Growing out of the sister city relationship was another idea that would make a lasting change in the Spokane landscape: a friendship garden. The 12-year tale of the Spokane-Nishinomiya Japanese Garden is an epic in itself. Suffice it to say that when the 1.5-acre corner of Manito Park opened in 1974, Tsutakawa was one of the three or four central figures in its creation. Others included gardening guru Polly Mitchell Judd and garden designer Nagao Sakurai.


Sakurai had designed more than a hundred gardens in Japan, including one at the imperial palace. Tsutakawa says, "Traditionally, a Japanese garden is a reminder of life. It uses sadness or tragedy or those kinds of things and finds the beauty in it."


The garden's creation was not entirely placid. Sakurai was commissioned in 1967, but part way through construction he was stricken by a stroke. Reports from the time credit both Judd and Tsutakawa with visiting the convalescing Sakurai, showing him outlines of the emerging garden and in turn taking his sketches to the construction site. Judd and Tsutakawa had, reports say, somewhat competing visions of the garden. Tsutakawa acknowledges tensions with Judd and others, caused at least in part by his passion for the project. "I was too hard on the people working on it," he says. Judd wanted a park reflecting more sadness, a purer Japanese garden, with Eastern religious touches, Tsutakawa says, while he wanted to celebrate the sister city bond.


Visiting with Sakurai, he asked the designer, "Is there any way you can build or emphasize friendship in it?"


Sakurai looked at him, eyes wide with surprise. He thought for a moment, then answered: Yes, he could do that for Tsutakawa. And, Tsutakawa says, "He did."


Three decades later, Tsutakawa is still passionate about the garden. He recalls donations that people made to build the garden, like the money -- around $10,000 -- that Davenport Hotel dishwasher Wasaburo Kiri gave to jump-start the construction. (The garden's reflection pond is named in his honor.) He names with pride the stone lanterns that grace the garden, and describes the sound of the waterfall -- a signature piece in any garden -- as "chatting, a light sort of conversation." (Beside the waterfall is the small Tsutakawa Pagoda.) He bristles a little when talking about the bridge, which has high safety rails that defy Japanese garden bridge convention.


Perhaps it takes an artist's perfection to create something like the garden, with its shaded walks and hidden alcoves. But that perfectionism took its toll, and Tsutakawa's health began to suffer, he was so intent on the garden's details. One news report from the time describes the project bogging down several times over the years, "but he buoyed it up on each occasion."


The Japanese speak of shibui, meaning a natural beauty or understated elegance. A garden gains shibui with time as trees grow and moss embraces stone. "Does the Japanese Garden have shibui?" a visitor asks Tsutakawa. He nods. "It's getting there."


The garden was dedicated in 1974, but capturing the city's more immediate attention was a construction project in the heart of downtown: Expo '74.


The World's Fair opened in May 1974, just weeks after the garden did. It featured a disappointingly small number of exhibitor nations, but observers praised the size and magnificence of their pavilions. The Soviet Union boasted the largest, but nearly as big was the Japanese pavilion, which drew 30,000 Japanese visitors. In charge of the pavilion was Tsutakawa.


When organizers like King Cole, Neal Fosseen and others began discussing the idea of hosting a World's Fair in the late-1960s, Tsutakawa was still, he says, a somewhat struggling businessman. But he had vision and strong ties to Japan, an integral place in the sister city program (one observer calls him the "glue" of that relationship). The organizers placed Tsutakawa on the coordinating board. By the time the Expo landed in Spokane, Tsutakawa had journeyed to the East on a six-month sabbatical from work to negotiate for Japanese involvement. It paid off handsomely in their participation, further strengthening Tsutakawa's contacts there.


All things, however -- including businesses -- must come to an end. In 1980 or shortly after, Tsutakawa sold his share of Litho-Art to the Jeffers and retired from printing. He started a freelance company to broker negotiations between Japanese and American firms and also dabbled in a number of businesses. One of these was a Seattle-based Japanese language newspaper (now shuttered), which, he says, he was hired to overhaul. Perhaps Tsutakawa brought a too-aggressive vision of growth to the paper; it was the only job from which he was ever fired.


The Mukogawa Institute in Japan is a school with five divisions, from junior high school through doctorate programs. It was sending students on U.S. field trips in the early-1980s, and officials there began thinking about opening an American branch campus for its students. The Institute needed a trusted scout, someone with knowledge of its needs and of the United States. In 1988, school officials approached Tsutakawa.


"I knew Spokane had a lot of potential," Tsutakawa says. He points to things like universities, a comfortable size and natural resources; available land, open buildings and excellent medical facilities.


"It's a great place to incubate businesses. But I think we need to look at the world outside and study their needs," Tsutakawa says. With the airport, Spokane can be a vital player in the Pacific Rim, he says. Forget "Spokane, Washington." Think, "Spokane, U.S.A." "We need to get away from the Inland bit," he says.


In scouting for Mukogawa, Tsutakawa visited potential campus sites in cities like San Francisco and Portland before settling with his Spokane decision. Mukogawa officials loved the historic brick buildings of Fort Wright, some of which were vacant. Mukogawa closed on the property in July 1990, and students began arriving two months later. The school has poured millions into renovating the campus, says Tsutakawa. Higgins, the city council president, calls Mukogawa the "crowning achievement" of Tsutakawa's civic career.


I told my wife, this is where I want to be buried," Tsutakawa says of Spokane. (He ought to know, having served on the city's cemetery committee for 28 years, and having designed the memorial at the Japanese-American cemetery.)


Tsutakawa's legacy is born of competing tensions, his yin and yang of Japanese and American influences, striving yet balanced.


"We are born to actually work on, unconsciously work on, legacies to pass on -- better work, better world to future generations. I believe that," says Tsutakawa. He adds, "I'm very lucky I got into these things and people let me do it."


Tsutakawa's legacy is more than the plaques and awards that hang on his office walls. It's a legacy perhaps best measured in stones and trees and bricks -- actual things that one can see and touch, like the beauty of the Japanese Garden with its green pond and gold fish; and things one can hear, like the laughing chatter of Japanese students at Mukogawa, with its revitalized brick dorms.


Now, Tsutakawa speaks of trying out some "serious painting" in his free time. Or, perhaps he'll find time and allies to revitalize the small, overgrown garden in a lonely corner of Riverfront Park, left over from the Expo '74's Japanese exhibit.


Seeing his eyes light with passion for deeds yet undone, it's easy to believe that Tsutakawa might not be quite finished with Spokane.


Now if only they'd get that bridge right.
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