Culver City resident Natsuko Takaki celebrates 104 years of adventure

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By Carol Takaki Freisleben

Culver City native Natsuko Takaki has had an eventful 104 years of life, but she will be remembered for how far she went to care for others during all the tough times of the past century. 

Her parents had three children while living in Japan. Her father emigrated to the United States around 1905, leaving his wife and children in Japan. He planned to eventually send for them but when 10 years passed, his wife left the two surviving children with relatives and came to the United States. There, they had three daughters, Natsuko being the oldest of the three.

Her mother passed away at the age of 48, leaving her husband and three daughters, ages 11, 9 and 6.

The girls attended public schools, which were segregated at that time. Children of color attended a different school from caucasian children. However, they went to an integrated high school, where she was valedictorian of her class. She completed one semester of college at UCLA before she quit to get married.

At age 19, she married Shigetoshi Takaki, by then a 36 year old businessman, who moved to the United States when he was 19 years old. He was an Acme beer distributor and owned several trucks. They lived in the Boyle Heights area and had three children (Shirley, George and Gerald) before WWII. When the Japanese were sent to the Relocation Camps, the family was sent to Heart Mountain, Wyoming. While there, they had two more children (Patricia and Carol). Carol was born two months after her husband passed away of tuberculosis in June 1944. Her father passed away earlier that year too. Her middle sister, Fumiko, and her husband offered to raise the new baby, but she declined their offer.

Natsuko was helped by her youngest sister, Hisato, who was not yet married. After camp, they returned to California, and lived in a temporary resettlement trailor park in Burbank.

Natsuko did not want her sister Hisato to spend her life helping her and so she encouraged her to go to school and get a life of her own. Natsuko heard that there was housing for Japanese in Montebello, where the family moved and lived until all the children graduated from high school.

Initially, the family lived on welfare and Natsuko was a stay at home mother raising all five children by herself. She would eventually get different part time jobs cleaning houses, working at a nursery (plants) owned by neighbors. She also went to Los Angeles Trade Tech and took bookkeeping classes. When she was in her late 30’s, she got an accounts payable job with the County of Los Angeles, and worked for the County until she retired at age 65. She worked her way up from a clerk to a senior accountant because a college degree wasn’t required at that time.

All five of her children graduated from college and four went on to get their Master’s degree. Her oldest daughter, Shirley Chami, and her husband, Daniel Kerson, also live in Culver City and were previous owners of The Aquarium on Sepulveda Boulevard.

Two of her children have passed away. Her daughter, Patricia, passed away in 2001 of leukemia and her son, Gerald, passed away in 2015 of cancer.

According to her children, Natsuko is an amazing mother and woman. She is bright, resilient, determined, steadfast and very calm and quiet. No matter what has happened in her life, she has moved forward quietly. The term “gaman” describes her life perfectly. 

She has three grandchildren and seven great grandsons.