In 1913, when Pasadena’s center of town was Fair Oaks Avenue and Colorado Street, orange orchards and farms stretched beyond Lake Avenue, there were about 100 to 150 Japanese here, mostly young men who were students or domestic workers. There were only about 10 Japanese women here in those days.
At the time, the First Congregational Church maintained a mission, started in 1905 or 1906, which reached out to these young Japanese. The Friends Church also had a mission with a similar purpose, to offer these newcomers a night school, dormitory facilities and introduction to the teachings of Christ.
In 1913 the two missions combined and, joined by other churches, formed the Federated Missions for the expressed purpose of providing a church to serve the Japanese in the community.
The churches in the Federated Missions made spiritual, educational and financial contributions. They were the Central Christian, First Baptist, First Congregational, First Friends, and Lake Avenue Congregational and Pasadena Presbyterian churches. Their participation included providing leaders who worked in the mission and served with the Japanese leaders who came to the community for short periods of time.
The immigrants were single men, not yet settled in homes and jobs, and many of them floated from town to town. The charter members of the new church, the “Pasadena Japanese Union Church,” numbered 23 and most of them were only 18 to 30 years old. Some attended Pasadena High School, then located at Los Robles Avenue and Walnut Street, diagonally across street from where the First Congregational Church is today.
In 1973, as part of our church’s 60th anniversary, a plaque was placed in our sanctuary foyer, listing the charter members of our church. They were Hajime Arima, Takesuke Chigami, K. Hashimura, Nihachi Hayashida, Heizaburo Iijima, Kenzo Iijima, Ryoji Kato, Makoto Kobukata, Hitoshi Makino, Nisuke Mitsumori, Yasohachi Miyawaki, and Jiro Morita, Naonori Morita, Ryoichi Nishio, Nami Ohtomo, Yusaku Sato, Shigetaru Shiraishi, Kozo Tabuchi, Ichiro Takemura, Kuniyoshi Uchida, Kuzo Uyeda, Rokuro Watanabe and Kensaku Yatsu.
Three of these men attended that celebration 15 years ago. They were Nisuke Mitsumori, Kuniyoshi Uchida and Kensaku Yatsu. Today Mr. Yatsu is the only charter member still living. He is 104 and quite alert living in a retirement home in Seattle.