by Susan Muto Knight
Among the many remarkable stories that have arisen from those who were incarcerated at Manzanar, the experiences of Takio “Tak” and Masako Muto (we called her, “Ma”) are among them.
The photo at right is from their wedding in Los Angeles, taken just before World War II, a time that would change their lives in profound ways and find the young couple incarcerated at Manzanar.
Tak was among many in the camps who tried to make the best of their situation and created gardens within the barren, windy and dusty environment of Manzanar. The garden at Merritt Park was designed by Tak with fellow incarceree friend, Kuichiro Nishi, and has since been recreated at the Manzanar National Historic Site.
The following is from an article on Tak and Kuichiro’s garden from the Manzanar Committee:
“Created by former Manzanar incarcerees Kuichiro Nishi and Takio Muto, Merritt Park was a welcome respite from Manzanar’s stark barracks, barbed wire fences, and guard towers. Descendants of Kuichiro and their family and friends initiated the reconstruction of the historic bridge, an iconic, and much-photographed, feature of the park.”
Above is Masako’s ID card, taken in 1945 (front and rear of the card is shown above), when the incarcerated families were allowed to travel back into the war restricted areas of California.
Tak was born in Los Angeles, in the Hollywood area, the son of immigrant Japanese parents. His family moved from Hollywood to the San Fernando Valley, where his father established a flower business. Tak was a likeable, mischievous kid who made many friends in the Flower Market which he saw as his playground growing up.
After graduating from high school, Tak married Masako Hirama, who was born in the Crenshaw District of Los Angeles, which, at that time, had a large Japanese American population.
When World War II broke out, Tak, Ma and his father, mother, a brother, and his three younger sisters, were incarcerated at Manzanar, in California’s Owens Valley. Other members of their family were incarcerated in camps scattered from California to Texas.
All families of Japanese heritage on the West Coast were ordered to live in internment camps in isolated locations such as Manzanar for the duration of the war. No disloyal or spy activity was ever found among the camps and many years later President Ronald Reagan signed legislation that provided a formal apology with modest compensation to all the Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II.
Many families lost their homes and businesses during the incarceration. Tak was informed in 1943, before he was allowed to return to his father’s flower farm, that ten acres of the family’s San Fernando Valley property had been sold for taxes. The sale had occurred six months earlier, without notice to the Muto’s—they had no recourse.
After the war ended, and the incarcerated families were allowed to return to their homes or start new lives if their homes were not saved, Tak and Ma returned to the family’s San Fernando farm with two children who were born during the war years, but life was not the same.
Tak returned to the old Flower Market to see friends that he had missed during his incarceration and he recalled the story that no one would talk to him in public, which saddened him. However, he was touched that one by one, some friends came to him in back of the market in private to greet him and were happy to see him back.
Tak was drafted into the United States Army and in these post-war years they had their third and fourth child. Tak and Ma made the decision to move the family to Encinitas, California to start their own flower farm/business. This move was significant in that Dad was able to carry out his true calling in life as a flower farmer and a true nature lover.
Encinitas was the perfect place for Tak to move his family to start his own thriving flower farm, Gold Coast Flowers, a flower co-op and wholesale business, shipping beautiful locally grown flowers from his farm, and several other local farms, to stores as far as the East Coast.
Tak was an active community leader and elected president of the San Diego County Flower Growers Association and served as the president of the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce.
Residents of Encinitas are familiar with the Encinitas slogan, “Flower Capital of the World.” Tak helped promote this uplifting image for the city when he served in the early years of the Chamber of Commerce, before the city had a mayor. One of his greatest contributions to Encinitas, as chamber president, was to rename one of the major streets in the city and change its name from San Marcos to Encinitas Boulevard, thus putting Encinitas on the map for travelers on Interstate 5.
Tak and Ma worked as a couple in their flower business through the years. Tak passed away in 2001, and Ma passed away in 2013. Both will be remembered for their gentleness, kindness and devotion to family. Dad was a “people” person and is remembered for his light-hearted sense of humor that aided him through the difficult times. Throughout Tak’s entire life he consistently loved sharing the beauty of nature with others.
Artist/illustrator Susan Muto Knight, the youngest of the Muto’s four children, is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. She writes from Carlsbad, California.
The views expressed in this story are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.
Photos courtesy the Muto Family Collection.
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