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Voices of Chicago

Masaru Funai Chicago Lawyer

I am a transplant in Chicago, having arrived from Hawaii with my wife, Carolyn, in 1954 to attend Northwestern University Law School. Our children, Bryan and Shari, were both born in Chicago and we have made this city our home for the past 55 years.

I have been asked a countless number of times what made me leave the Hawaiian Islands and relocate in Chicago. My short answer has always been, “You can’t eat sand and sunshine.” My real reason for choosing Chicago as our permanent home was the fact that attempting to establish a law practice in Hawaii in 1957 was not appealing, encouraging or promising to me. I wanted to be in the “mainstream” of America and not confined to a few islands in the Pacific, as beautiful and romantic has they may have been touted to be. California where many people from Hawaii have relocated in the past half century did not appeal to me because of the forced relocation to concentration camps (politely call internment camps by the government) that Japanese Americans experienced during the tragic war years. Chicago was a new frontier to me with its many challenges and opportunities. My wife fully concurred in our decision to give up the Hawaiian Islands permanently.

Thomas Masuda, Masaru Funai, James R Mitchell, Helmet Eifert

Like all young families, our first few years in the late 1950s were lean and taxing to me and my family. I latched on to any work I could find, working for an insurance company, selling real estate on a part-time basis, etc. to keep my family fed and sheltered. The most fruitful endeavor was providing law clerk service to Thomas Masuda who himself had relocated to Chicago in the not-too-distant past from the internment camps of World War II. All of this changed dramatically as though the heaven had opened up for me when I was offered the opportunity to join Mr. Masuda in his law practice in 1961. The global economy had begun to change, the scars of World War II were healing to some extent, and Japanese businesses began to appear in the Midwest. (Most Japanese transplant companies coming to the Midwest initially found their home in Chicago.) Many of these newcomers found the services of Masuda & Funai helpful in their start-up operations. I suddenly found myself with an unlimited opportunity to develop a corporate—business law practice under the tutelage of Tom Masuda. It was imperative for me to learn on a crash basis the Japanese language, the culture of modern day, post war Japan and, most importantly, the business psychology and priorities of Japanese businessmen. This was the new found challenge that I was looking for and which I found in Chicago and the Midwest. I can only attribute to the good Lord and fate the fact that my choice to be in Chicago during the ‘60s was a correct decision.

The firm of Masuda & Funai which began in the 1960s found no end to business opportunities and clients. The firm grew from a two-man office, weathered ups and downs in the U.S. economy and grew, after 48 years of continued existence, to a firm of over 45 lawyers with offices in Los Angeles, Chicago and the suburbs. It has provided legal services to hundreds of corporate enterprises in the Midwest and throughout the United States. It has developed a network of relations with members of the Japanese legal profession. It has provided training to a countless number of attorneys who went on to pursue their practice elsewhere. Hopefully, and God willing, it will be a part of Chicago and the Midwest for many more decades to come.

Mas with Carolyn

More information on the Masuda Funai law firm: http://www.masudafunai.com/about.aspx

* This article was originally published in Voices of Chicago, online journal of the Chicago Japanese American Historical Society.

© 2009 Masaru Funai

attorney chicago

About this series

The articles in this series were originally published in Voices of Chicago, the online journal of the Chicago Japanese American Historical Society, which has been a Discover Nikkei Participating Organization since December 2004.

Voices of Chicago is a collection of first-person narratives about the experiences of people of Japanese descent living in Chicago. The community is composed of three waves of immigration, and their descendants: The first, about 300 people, came to Chicago around the time of the Columbian Exposition in 1899. The second, and largest, group is descended from 30,000 who came to Chicago directly from the internment camps after World War II. Called the “ReSettlers,” they created a community built around social service organizations, Buddhist and Christian churches and small businesses. The third, more recent, group are Japanese nationals who came to Chicago, beginning in the 1980s, as artists and students and remained. A fourth, non-immigrant, group are Japanese business executives and their families who live in Chicago for extended periods, sometimes permanently.

Chicago has always been a place where people can re-create themselves, and where diverse ethnic communities live and work together. Voices of Chicago tells the stories of members of each of these four groups, and how they fit into the mosaic of a great city.

Visit the Chicago Japanese American Historical Society website >>