Ted Tajima dies at 88; longtime Alhambra High journalism teacher

If a student dared to use the word “reveal” in a story, Alhambra High School journalism teacher Ted Tajima would wield his red pencil and boom in his eloquent baritone, “Only God reveals.”

To his students, he was “T” or “Mr. T,” a man of inspiration and exacting standards. He spent his entire teaching career at the school, from 1948 to 1983, and under his tutelage the student newspaper had a decades-long run as one of the best in the country.

Tajima died Feb. 20 at his Altadena home of complications from emphysema, said his daughter, Elaine Tajima Johnston. He was 88.

“Like most of the top advisors of the era, Ted had his own vision of what a high school paper could and should be, and I think that inspired his students year after year,” said Wayne Brasler, a high school journalism teacher in Chicago who knew Tajima well.

“He was the healthy, grounded, vibrant kind of guy high school students flock to,” Brasler said.


Tajima wanted to be a journalist after he graduated from Occidental College in 1946. Anti-Japanese bias after the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II thwarted that career goal, he later said.

The “only newspapers that were hiring ethnic minorities were ethnic minority papers,” Tajima said in a 2006 Occidental College oral history. “My wife said, ‘Why don’t you teach?’ Best thing she ever said to me.”

During his tenure, Alhambra High’s weekly student newspaper, the Moor, earned 26 All-American awards, the highest honor bestowed by the National Scholastic Press Assn. In 1968 and 1972, the group named the Moor one of the six best student newspapers in the country.

“Ted taught his students that fairness and accuracy were the keys to good journalism,” said Joe Saltzman, a USC journalism professor who graduated from Alhambra High in 1957. “He taught us to not only be good journalists, but to also be good people.”

He was born Keizo Tajima on Aug. 6, 1922, in Salt Lake City, one of five children of a minister and his schoolteacher wife who emigrated from Japan. Growing up, he decided to use Ted as his first name.

At 6, he moved to Pasadena with his family. He later recalled being able to swim at the pool in Brookside Park only on Tuesdays, when people of color were allowed in for “International Day.”

In early 1942, Tajima interrupted his studies at Occidental and moved to Salt Lake City to avoid being sent to an internment camp. His parents were sent to an Arizona relocation center for citizens of Japanese descent.

A year later he married Setsuko, whom he had met in high school, after she got out of an internment camp in Arizona. They had been married almost 59 years when she died at 82 in 2002.

Tajima attended the University of Utah before returning in 1945 to Occidental, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English and a teaching credential. He received a master’s from USC in 1957.

After World War II, he was drafted into the Army and taught Japanese to counter-intelligence agents. Tajima also schooled them in English, which he later called “a bit ironic.”

As an English and journalism teacher at Alhambra High, “I can truthfully say I never had a student whom I didn’t like,” he told The Times upon retiring.

Former student Arnold Shapiro, the Oscar-winning producer of the documentary “Scared Straight!,” helped raise money to send Tajima to Japan, Hawaii and Hong Kong upon the teacher’s retirement.

Tajima edited the Clarion, the weekly newsletter of First Presbyterian Church of Altadena, from 1950 until last fall. He hewed to a principle that he taught students: A newspaper must be part of the community while setting standards for it.

Besides his daughter Elaine of Los Angeles, Tajima is survived by three other daughters, Pam Praeger of Spokane, Wash.; Linda Tajima of Claremont; and Wendy Tajima of Altadena; a brother, Calvin of Altadena; and three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. March 12 at First Presbyterian Church, 2775 Lincoln Ave., Altadena.