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Frank Masato Yamada, Temple Founder, Dies at 92

Times Staff Writer

Frank Masato Yamada, one of the first and most prominent members of San Diego’s Japanese community, died Tuesday of natural causes in his San Diego home at the age of 92.

Yamada was the founder of the Market Street Buddhist Temple and several San Diego businesses, a landscaping firm and a restaurant.

Born in Japan in 1894, Yamada emigrated to the United States at the age of 16 with his father and brother. At that time, Japanese families were clustered along Imperial Avenue and in the Logan Heights area while the first Japanese-owned downtown businesses were being established. Like many members of the Japanese community, Yamada grew vegetables in the Chula Vista area, later finding employment at the Westgate Tuna Company, where he became a foreman.

Yamada soon established one of his first restaurants, The Frisco Cafe, on 5th Avenue. Today, Yamada’s grandchildren operate the New Mikayo restaurant on Rosecrans Boulevard, which his wife’s family founded after World War II.

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With the outbreak of that war, Yamada, along with many of San Diego’s other Japanese-American families, was placed in internment by his adopted country. The day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Yamada was transported to a camp near Santa Fe, N.M., and the family was forced to liquidate all its holdings. After two years, he was permitted to join his wife and two sons in a second internment center in Poston, Ariz., later harvesting sugar beets until the war’s end.

The Yamadas returned to San Diego after the war, having lost all their business interests, but retaining their home, which a friend had held for them. Despite his wartime experiences, Yamada remained loyal to the United States and never expressed any bitterness toward the government, according to his son, Joseph, of La Jolla.

Yamada returned to landscape gardening and opened several other businesses downtown, including a pool hall and the first Miyako Cafe, on Market Street.

Yamada is survived by two sons, Joseph and Eugene of San Diego, and three grandchildren.

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Services will he held at 1:30 p.m. today at the Lewis Colonial-Benbough Mortuary. Burial will be in Mount Hope Cemetery. Memorials should be sent to the temple.


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