Obituary: Jack Fujimoto, 93 years old; Administrator of the College, Promoter of the teaching of the Japanese language
Masakazu Jack Fujimoto, longtime university professor, promoter of Japanese language education and author of a book on Sawtelle Japantown, died on November 26. He was 93 years old.
Services were held on December 7 at the West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple with Rev. Koho Takata, the temple’s resident minister, as officiant. The Dharma Message was given by Reverend Marvin Harada, Bishop, Buddhist Churches of America, in English and Reverend George Matsubayashi, Minister Emeritus, BCA, in Japanese. The president was Connie Yahata, temple president. Randall Fujimoto expressed his gratitude on behalf of the family.
Fujimoto was born on July 19, 1928 in National City to parents Morizo (Issei d’Hiroshima) and Emi (Nisei born in Glendale). At the age of 13, he was evacuated from Encinitas with his parents and siblings and sent to the Poston War Relocation Center in Arizona. The family was released from Poston in 1945 and relocated to Encinitas.
After graduating from high school, Fujimoto volunteered in the United States Army, where he was trained in counterintelligence and served in Japan during the Korean War.
Coming from an agricultural background, he was supposed to follow the tradition of the eldest son following the patriarch. However, he was released to be the first in his family to pursue a college education and received his AA degree from Pasadena City College and his BS, MBA, and Ph.D. from UCLA.
Fujimoto’s specialty in the Japanese language continued in his life. He taught Japanese for 12 years at Venice Gakuen, a private community school at the Venice Japanese Community Center. He worked closely with schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District and Culver City Unified School District to obtain credit for Venice Gakuen Japanese students to meet the language requirements of University of California institutions. . Today, this credit recognition continues for all private learners of Japanese who pass a credit test.
In 1969, Fujimoto was chosen as dean of Los Angeles Pierce College in Woodland Hills. In 1977, he became president of Sacramento City College, making him the first Asian American to become president of a community college in the Americas. In 1979, he accepted the post of president of West Los Angeles College.
In 1986, reporting declining enrollment numbers, Chancellor Leslie Koltai recommended to Los Angeles Community College district administrators that Fujimoto be removed as president. But due to an intense lobbying effort on the part of Asian American community groups, he was retained as assistant chancellor by the chairman of the board.
He became president of Los Angeles Mission College in San Fernando Valley in 1989 and served until 1996. From 2002 to 2003, he was Acting Superintendent-President of Imperial Valley College in Imperial County.
Fujimoto was the oldest of six siblings: Jack, Fumie, Yoko, Takashi, Judy and Eiko. He met his wife, Grace Fusaye Toya, while working at a gas station in the Sawtelle area. He married her at the West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple on October 7, 1956. They had four children: Crystal, Randall, Jolene and Maya; and four grandchildren: Matthew, Jaxon, Hailey and Tess.
Fujimoto has visited Japan several times in addition to his time there during the Korean War. He was able to visit various universities as well as the Ministry of Education. For 30 years he was an advisor at Kobe Women’s University in Kobe and also taught at the Japanese Language Institute in Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture.
From 1983 to 1995, he chaired the board of directors of the Institute for Buddhist Studies, a graduate seminary affiliated with the Graduate Theological Union based in Berkeley.
From 1986, Fujimoto was involved with the Japanese Sawtelle Institute in West Los Angeles. He orchestrated the merger of the institute and its language school, Sawtelle Gakuin, and in 2000 became its founding president and president, a position he held until 2005, when he chaired the 80th anniversary of the institute and of gakuin. In 2007, he authored the book “Sawtelle: West Los Angeles Japantown”, an illustrated neighborhood history.
After retiring from the Los Angeles Community College school district, Fujimoto and his wife spent many years traveling to other parts of the country. One of their greatest accomplishments was visiting all 50 states. Their travels have also taken them to Europe and Japan to visit relatives at least once a year. Throughout their travels, Fujimoto maintained his blogs to document their visits.
In June 2020, after the arrival of the pandemic, he began to feel the effects of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis which he had been diagnosed with a few years earlier. He had difficulty breathing and went to the emergency room. In July, the couple moved to Torrance to be closer to their children.
Even in his weakened state, Fujimoto continued to be a prolific writer. His goals were to complete the biographies of his parents. The first was reached when he finished the draft of “The Morizo Story” last January. The book was officially published by Friesen Press in November and is now on Amazon and other online book sites. He was on the verge of ending the life of his mother, Emi, when he passed away.
He was remembered by his family as “a loving husband, Dad and Gampy, whose life was guided by compassion, gratitude and humility”.