Eugene Okada

More Information

  • Born: April 3, 1919
    Died: Sept. 21, 2012
    Survived by: Sister, Agnes Kojima of Hyogo Ken, Japan
    Services: 2:30 p.m. Monday at Sacramento Buddhist Church, 2401 Riverside Blvd., Sacramento

Obituary: Eugene Okada sustained family's landmark Sacramento store

Published: Friday, Oct. 5, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 4B

Eugene Okada, a humble businessman whose family owned and operated a landmark Japanese gift shop in Sacramento for about a century, died Sept. 21. He was 93 and had prostate cancer.

Until two weeks before his death, Mr. Okada greeted customers six days a week at the Yorozu store on Riverside Boulevard near Broadway. Believed to have opened in 1904, the business was started by his parents as a department store on 13th Street selling Japanese household items, toys, books, magazines and other products to immigrants, who were known as issei.

Yorozu was a venerable institution in the Japanese community that settled on the west side of downtown before World War II. Business flourished as American nisei grew up and started their own families. The store also attracted war brides who began arriving from Japan in 1945.

As redevelopment progressed downtown, Yorozu moved near Fourth and N streets and then Third and O streets. Mr. Okada, who took over the business after his father died, relocated to the Land Park neighborhood in 1968. Never married, he ran the store for many years with his younger brother Harold.

"He drove to work six days a week, even when he couldn't walk (in recent years) and was using a walker and wheelchair," said Eugene Okada's estate trustee, Michael Sawamura. "His work was his life."

Sawamura said the store likely will be closed.

Although he was a private man of few words, Mr. Okada was active in the community. He donated money and store merchandise to religious and charity groups. He belonged to the Sacramento Buddhist Church and was a charter member of the Sacramento Senator Lions Club.

An avid bowler, he helped break down postwar racial barriers as president of the Sacramento Bowling Association and the Sacramento Nisei Bowling Association. He was inducted into the SBA Hall of Fame and named "Mr. Bowling" by the Sacramento Union newspaper for organizing many tournaments.

"I'm just a bachelor who enjoys bowling," he told the Union. "It's my only recreation."

The second of three children, Eugene Hirohisa Okada was born in Sacramento in 1919 to Jiro and Kichi Okada. He graduated from Sacramento High School and Sacramento City College.

His studies at UC Berkeley were interrupted by World War II, when he was interned with his brother and mother at Tule Lake. His father, who drew suspicion because he traveled often to Japan on business, was separated and sent to a special camp in New Mexico with Americans of German ancestry.

Mr. Okada and his brother were freed early to live with their elder sister in New York, where he worked at a Japanese specialty store and was president of the Young Buddhist Association. He returned to Sacramento in 1946 and joined his father in reopening the Yorozu store.

He lived with his brother – also a bachelor – and cared for their mother in their Land Park home until her death in 1994. Except for close neighbors who checked on him, he was alone since his brother's death in 2006.

Longtime friend Lynne Marty-Gonzales recalled a "delightful" man who who enjoyed giving gifts but shunned attention. When the Sacramento Buddhist Church began raising money to replace its ceremonial bell, which had been stolen, Mr. Okada and his brother stepped in and ordered a replacement bell made in Japan and shipped to the church without fanfare.

"He always had a twinkle in his eye, but he was very humble," Marty-Gonzales said. "He just did things in his own quiet way."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Robert D. Dávila



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