Naomi Hirahara

Naomi Hirahara is the author of the Edgar Award-winning Mas Arai mystery series, which features a Kibei Nisei gardener and atomic-bomb survivor who solves crimes, Officer Ellie Rush series, and now the new Leilani Santiago mysteries. A former editor of The Rafu Shimpo, she has written a number of nonfiction books on the Japanese American experience and several 12-part serials for Discover Nikkei.

Updated October 2019

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How West L.A. Became a Haven for Japanese-Americans

Long Before It Was the Westside’s Ramen Epicenter, Sawtelle Boulevard Bustled with Japanese-Owned Nurseries and ‘Gardeners’ Colleges’

My introduction to the West Los Angeles neighborhood my parents called “So-ta-ru” came in the 1970s when we visited relatives there. I still am unclear on exactly how we are related—it was definitely on my mother’s side and it may go back to some village in Hiroshima. But for my immigrant mother, these relatives were her only blood relatives in the United States.

The first thing I noticed was how much cooler it was in West L.A. than back ...

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Nikkei Detective

Chapter Nine—The Last Selfie

Read Chapter Eight >>

“I’m a private investigator. Kevin Shirota,” I flash my license as if it really means something to a woman sitting behind a clear desk in the lobby of Fine Bank. This place is not like any financial institution I’ve ever been in. First of all, there are no tellers perched on high stools, but men and women dressed in high-tone suits that probably cost more than the SUV I had to sell to afford my defense attorney in my DUI case.

“You’ll have to talk to our legal department—” The receptionist is on her ...

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Excerpt from A Grave on Grand Avenue: An officer Ellie Rush Mystery

I get on the Gold Line light rail—I may be missing my car but unlike some Angelenos, I know how to use public transportation; my dad is an engineer with the Metro—and get off at Little Tokyo.

Two blocks east from the station is our hangout, Osaka’s, the best ramen in the neighborhood. Inside, I find my friends—Nay, my ex-boyfriend Benjamin, and the fourth member of our little posse, Rickie, the ultimate Mohawked diva—right where I knew they’d be.

“You won’t believe this,” I announce. “Someone stole the Green Mile!”

The whole table ...

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Nikkei Detective

Chapter Eight—She Cleans Houses, Doesn’t She?

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“She was my friend. Perhaps my only friend.” Mrs. Yokoyama carefully enunciates each syllable. 

My fourteen-year-old daughter Maddy and I sit on a pure white fabric couch as we listen to the Japanese woman speak. Maddy, as usual, can’t stay still and I am worried that one of her muddy Doc Martens will leave a brown footprint on the bottom of Mrs. Yokoyama’s spotless couch.

In a middle-class Buddhahead household, our shoes would be off and left on the floor by the front door. But the Yokoyamas aren’t middle-class. They are upper class with ...

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Nikkei Detective

Chapter Seven—Do You Know the Way to Hancock Park?

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I stare at the message a second time. It’s printed out on a regular white letter-sized paper, the standard offering of any office store. The font is Helvetica, also totally nondescript. The content, however, is not anything typical. It’s a blatant threat, telling me to stop investigating the murder of a seventy-something Japanese woman in Little Tokyo. Or else.

If it’s just me, I’d wad up the paper and say, “What the hell.” But I’m a dad of a fourteen-year-old daughter, Maddy, whom I’m responsible for, and I’m not going ...

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