Kikuwo Tashiro

Name Kikuwo Tashiro
Born September 1 1894
Died February 5 1953
Birth Location Kumamoto, Japan
Generational Identifier


Dr. Kikuwo Tashiro was an Issei physician and surgeon who was instrumental in establishing the Japanese Hospital of Los Angeles . On behalf of four other Japanese immigrant doctors, Tashiro appealed the State of California's decision to deny the hospital's application for incorporation. On behalf of his colleagues and the Los Angeles Japanese American community, Tashiro became the petitioner in the 1927 California State Supreme Court case, known as Tashiro v. Jordan . The following year, the Jordan v. Tashiro case went before the US Supreme Court. The doctors prevailed in both court cases and the Japanese Hospital opened in 1929. Dr. Tashiro was its chief surgeon and president until the outbreak of World War II. Just prior to the forced removal, Tashiro contracted tuberculosis and was admitted to the Maryknoll Sanitarium in Monrovia for the duration of the war while his family was incarcerated at Poston . He returned to his medical career for a short time after the war before retiring in 1950.

Early Years

Kikuwo Tashiro was born on September 1, 1894, in Kumamoto, Japan. He was the oldest of Mono and Saburo Tashiro's four children. Around 1900, Kikuwo and his younger brother contracted tuberculosis. [1] Despite recovering, Kikuwo developed a chronic respiratory condition. In 1907, Saburo Tashiro immigrated to the United States in hopes of earning enough money to provide a good education for his children. Saburo wanted his eldest son to become a physician. In 1914, Kikuwo honored his father's wishes, gaining admittance to Nagasaki Medical College. In that same year, Mono left for the United States to rejoin her husband.

Medical education and training in Japan had been modernizing rapidly for several decades before Kikuwo began his studies. Nagasaki Medical College had a reputation for being at the forefront of medical studies. [2] Following completion of medical school in 1918, Tashiro joined the faculty of the medical school in Nagasaki and later focused on specializing in gastroenterology. This is where he met his future wife, Moto. The following year, he secured a coveted position at the Kyushu University Medical School. While he honed his surgical skills and published medical research, Kikuwo also kept up with the latest medical findings and improved his English language skills, in preparation to join his family in the United States.

Kikuwo and Moto Mori married in 1920. The couple moved to Fukuoka so that Kikuwo could conclude his work at Kyushu University. Soon, Moto became pregnant with the couple's first child. She would stay behind while Kikuwo continued with plans to immigrate to the United States. Once Moto gave birth to daughter Akiko, they would join Kikuwo.

Early Career

In 1922, Kikuwo arrived in Los Angeles, where he began practicing medicine at Turner Street Hospital in Los Angeles's Little Tokyo . Turner Street Hospital, later renamed the Southern California Japanese Hospital, catered to the health care needs of the Japanese immigrant community.

Later that year, Moto and Akiko joined Kikuwo in California. The Tashiro family settled in Gardena. Moto and Kikuwo continued to expand their family, which later included son Hiroshi (died in infancy), daughter Sachiko, daughter Midori (Frances), son Ken (died as a young child), and daughter Arbutus Kaoru "Cookie."

Although Tashiro passed the California State medical exam in 1923, he—like other medical professionals educated in Japan—was unable to find employment at any of the local mainstream hospitals. [3] Although discriminatory hiring practices could have ended Tashiro's medical career in his adopted country, he persevered, recognizing the community's need for medical care. Dr. Tashiro opened an office in Little Tokyo at 210 N. San Pedro Street to provide medical treatment to the large number of Japanese in the area. [4] He also operated a clinic out of his residence. After seeing patients at his clinic in Gardena, he would typically drive to Little Tokyo to see patients in his clinic there, and tend to patients at the Southern California Japanese Hospital each day. Additionally, he often made house calls to attend to his patients. Dr. Tashiro traveled with anesthetic and surgical instruments, in case he needed to perform medical procedures during one of his house calls.

Despite the relatively low number of reported influenza cases in Los Angeles, the 1918 pandemic had an adverse effect on the local Japanese population. In the aftermath, Japanese physicians began thinking about how they could establish a facility with the capacity to address the growing community's medical needs. It was clear to Tashiro and other Japanese doctors that the existing options were no longer adequate.

In 1926, Tashiro and four other Japanese doctors (Daishiro Kuroiwa, Fusataro Nayaka, Toru Ozasa, and Matsuta Takahashi) combined their savings to establish a medical hospital on land they acquired at First and Fickett Streets in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood just east of downtown Los Angeles. Members of the Japanese community rallied behind the doctors' efforts and began to contribute money. As construction was about to begin, Tashiro submitted articles of incorporation for the Japanese Hospital of Los Angeles. California Secretary of State Frank C. Jordan refused the request on the grounds that the application conflicted with a 1911 treaty between the United States and Japan as well as the Alien Land Law of California . [5]

Within five years of immigrating to the United States, Dr. Tashiro made a notable impact. Despite not having the rights of a US citizen, Tashiro led efforts on behalf of the doctors to challenge Jordan's decision. Tashiro's name appeared as the plaintiff in the California State Supreme Court case, Tashiro v. Jordan in 1927 and later as the defendant in the US Supreme Court case, Jordan v. Tashiro in 1928. With legal counsel from J. Marion Wright and Sei Fujii, Tashiro and his colleagues prevailed in both court cases, which allowed for incorporation and construction to proceed.

On December 1, 1929 opening day of the hospital, Dr. Tashiro was installed as the corporation's president as well as the chief surgeon. In addition to his residency at the new Japanese Hospital, Tashiro maintained his medical office in Little Tokyo and his clinic at his Gardena residence.

Shortly following the monumental civil rights victory, Dr. Tashiro experienced tragic loss when his father and young son passed. To deal with his grief, Dr. Tashiro poured his energy into his work, finding purpose in keeping a demanding schedule and mentoring new doctors. In 1934, Dr. Tashiro submitted a dissertation to complete the requirements for the doctoral program he began at Kyushu Imperial Medical University under his mentor Dr. Shichiro Goto. [6] Additionally, Dr. Tashiro mentored several Nisei doctors, including Dr. Norman Kobayashi. [7] By the 1930s, Nisei physicians began graduating from medical schools, but found it difficult to find residencies at local hospitals due to discrimination. In addition to following Dr. Tashiro on his rounds at the Japanese Hospital and his clinics, the young physicians boarded at the Tashiro's residence until they were able to start their own practices. [8]

Dr. Tashiro constantly honed his surgical skills, advanced research in his specialty, and shared his techniques with colleagues. In the biography on Tashiro that Moto commissioned following her husband's passing, a Japanese Hospital nurse, who assisted the chief physician recalled: "Dr. Tashiro's expertise as a surgeon was so highly acclaimed that many hakujin physicians used to visit the hospital in order to study Dr. Tashiro's expert surgical technique. Dr. Tashiro was the real pride of the Japanese Hospital and all of the Japanese physicians." [9]

War Years

Dr. Tashiro contracted tuberculosis prior to the forced removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast. Daughter Frances recalled that her father's condition required him to take a leave from his work prior to the outbreak of the war. His illness required hospitalization and surgery, prior to being admitted to the Maryknoll Sanitarium in Monrovia, a suburb east of Los Angeles. The Maryknoll Sanitarium accommodated fifty patients within a ward as well as in small cottages on the property. Numerous Japanese patients with respiratory ailments were admitted there due to Dr. Daishiro Kuroiwa's connections to Maryknoll as a devout Catholic. [10] Dr. Tashiro had previously made rounds there to attend to his patients. Tashiro's respiratory illness required him to remain at the Maryknoll Sanitarium for the duration of the war, which exempted him from incarceration and caused him to be separated from his family. [11] Although Dr. Tashiro's situation of remaining behind in Southern California was unusual, it was not entirely unique. There were likely scores more, like Tashiro, whose poor health precluded them from the forced removal.

Kikuwo instructed his wife to move the family to Fresno, in California's Central Valley, which was rumored to be a "free zone," beyond the boundaries of the exclusionary zone. Numerous Japanese families voluntarily relocated in hopes of avoiding the forced removal, but the boundaries of the exclusionary zone eventually enveloped this area. Moto and her four daughters were subsequently incarcerated at Pinedale temporary detention center and later at the Poston concentration camp. From the Maryknoll Sanitarium, Dr. Tashiro maintained correspondence with former patients at Poston as well as those who had voluntarily relocated to Colorado, in hopes they would be able to look out for Moto and his daughters in his absence. Tashiro orchestrated an arrangement for employment for his wife and daughters in Colorado. In 1943, Father Hugh Lavery of Maryknoll drove Dr. Tashiro's car to Poston to drive Moto and her daughters to Denver, Colorado where they would work on the Koga farm. [12] Eventually, once Dr. Tashiro convalesced from tuberculosis, he joined his family in Denver . Although he wasn't licensed to practice medicine in Colorado, he continued to stay on top of the latest medical findings, which included the discovery of penicillin.


Following the reopening of the West Coast, the Tashiro family settled in Boyle Heights, near the Japanese Hospital. Dr. Tashiro resumed his medical practice at 312 E 1st Street as well as his residency at the Japanese Hospital when in reopened in March 1946.

In July 1950, Dr. Tashiro announced his impending retirement from his medical practice due to ill health. The Shin Nichibei reported Tashiro's announcement, describing him as "one of the most prominent and outstanding surgeons in Southern California." [13] The article acknowledged Dr. Tashiro's significant impact on the Japanese American community by providing access to health care.

On February 5, 1953, Dr. Tashiro died from a massive heart attack. He was 59 years old. In honor of his incredible efforts to establish the hospital, the leadership decided to rename it the Japanese Memorial Hospital to honor Dr. Tashiro. His legacy lives on through his descendants who dedicated their lives to the local Japanese American community.

Authored by Kristen Hayashi , Japanese American National Museum

For More Information

Kaji, Frances Midori Tashiro, interview by Tom Ikeda (primary) and Martha Nakagawa (secondary) , Sept. 21, 2009, Torrance California. Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Repository.

"Obituary: Dr. Kikuo Tashiro." Rafu Shimpo Feb. 9, 1953.


  1. Troy Kaji. Re-write of Shin Hasegawa's biography on Kikuwo Tashiro, Exodus from Japan: Dr. Tashiro of Los Angeles , Section 1 "Saburo," 5. (Page number refers to Troy Kaji's rewrite in 2020). The biographies are available in the permanent collection at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, California.
  2. Directory of Physicians and Surgeons, Osteopaths Drugless Practitioners, Chiropodists, Midwives Holding Certificates Issued under the Medical Practice Acts of the State of California, Board of Medical Examiners of the State of California , 1929, 197.
  3. Directory of Physicians , 197. The 1929 Directory of Physicians lists "(A-03437) 1923" as part of Tashiro's entry, which is presumably his license number followed by the year that he became licensed in the United States to practice medicine.
  4. "Tashiro," in the Directory of Physicians , 1929, 197
  5. "Japanese Case Meets Setback," Los Angeles Times , Apr. 14, 1928, A5.
  6. Kikuwo Tashiro,"Clinical, Pathological, and Anatomical Research on the Fissiparous Young Tapeworm," PhD diss, Kyushu Imperial Medical University, 1934.
  7. Drs. Tashiro and Kobayashi jointly published an influential paper in the flagship journal for surgery in the United States. Kikuwo Tashiro, M.D., Ph.D. and Norman Kobayashi, M.D., "Duodenal Ulcer in Infancy and Childhood: A case of perforated duodenal ulcer in a child of seven," The American Journal of Surgery , Volume XXIX, No. 3, Sept 1935: 379-383. Kaji and Hasegawa, Exodus from Japan , Section 8, 2.
  8. Kaji and Hasegawa, Exodus from Japan , Section 7, 5.
  9. Kaji and Hasegawa, Exodus from Japan , Section 7, 6.
  10. Frances Midori Tashiro Kaji, interview by Tom Ikeda (primary) and Martha Nakagawa (secondary), Segment 15, Sept. 21, 2009, Torrance California, Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Archive, accessed on June 17, 2020 at ; Naomi Hirahara, An American Son: The Story of George Aratani Founder of Mikasa and Kenwood (Los Angeles: Japanese American National Museum), 60-61.
  11. Dr. Tashiro's tuberculosis diagnosis and decision to admit him to the Maryknoll Sanitarium likely came right as the family was facing removal from the West Coast. The WRA assigned the Tashiro family 39807 when oldest daughter Akiko registered the family. Akiko was assigned 39807A. No one was assigned "B." Moto was assigned "C", Sachiko "D," Frances "E," and Kaoru/Arbutus "F." There is no WRA record for Kikuwo Tashiro in the WRA's records. He was likely supposed to be assigned 39807B.
  12. Frances Kaji interview, Segment 18, .
  13. Shin Nichibei New Japanese American News , July 29, 1950, 4.

Last updated Jan. 22, 2021, 1:51 a.m..