July 12, 1917
Woodrow Wilson is president. The world is engulfed in the first World War and in Hollywood, California, a star is born! Joining four brothers and parents, Hatsu and Kiichiro (immigrants from Fukushima prefecture), Chiyo’s early years are spent on leased farmland in the Los Feliz area not far from the Greek Theater. Now, 100 years later, Chiyo still stars as the central figure in a mural overlooking Burke Gilman Trail, a major bike path near the University of Washington (painted by her granddaughter, Mari).
Let’s look back over the decades and cover some of the highlights of Chiyo’s life using old photos with brief, possibly true, comments.
1920s and 30s
The growing Muto clan, which totaled nine children, moves to the San Fernando Valley and begin raising flowers on acreage henceforth called “The Ranch”. The flower growing business expands but also suffers reversals during the Great Depression. Fueled by a steady diet of natto and rice, Chiyo and her siblings still were able to enjoy a typical American high school experience. Chiyo always wanted to be a teacher, and briefly attended San Francisco State College. The hard economic reality of the times, brought her back to the Ranch, and Chiyo attended business school instead.
1940s and 50s
These are years of change for Chiyo and her family. World War II brings marriage to George Shibuya, and the unfortunate internment at Manzanar. George and Chiyo were able to leave Camp early, to farm potatoes and sugar beets, close to Twin Falls, Idaho. After several years of freezing exile in Idaho, the war ended, and Chiyo convinced George to return to Southern California. There they were reunited with friends and family. As with all Niseis, they had to start from scratch.
Returning to California with three year old daughter Linda, the family grew with the birth of Jeff (1948) and Julie (1955). Family life is probably the hallmark of this period as the extended family works hard to rebuild their lives. With the constant addition of grandchildren, social life often centered around family gatherings at the Ranch, with both the Muto and Shibuya sides, and at the SF Japanese Community Center.
1960s and 70s
Chiyo and George move to Sun Valley and the kids grew up and went away to college. Chiyo, now freed from greater family responsibilities, started working for the LA City School system. All three kids graduated from universities, fulfilling a dream of both George and Chiyo. Now there’s time for ballroom dancing lessons at the Community Center, socializing with old friends from Utah and camp, spending time with family, and expanding her friend network via the LA School District.
1980s and 90s
After George’s untimely early death, Chiyo continues to work for LASD and begins traveling to conventions across the US with best friend Helen and workmates. There’s time for cruises to the Bahamas and through the Panama Canal and many short jaunts to Las Vegas. The kids all marry and grandchildren arrive with the births of Alex (83), Kendall/KC (88), and Jordan/Mari (90).
2000 to 2012
The new century brings retirement and life moves a little slower. After selling the Sun Valley house, Uncle Danny and Jeff move her to Keiro in Little Tokyo, which she hated. Next stop is an apartment in Burbank, close to friend Dorothy Watanabe, and sister Kuni Nakao. Together, they followed all the Los Angeles professional and UCLA and USC games. Chiyo continues to socialize with other Nikkei seniors at the Community Center and yes, there are multiple trips to Las Vegas, and jaunts, to visit kids.
LA School District
With all the kids gone, the friends from the LASD became a large part of Chiyo’s social calendar, with convention sorties with Helen Orchard, and constant lunches and dinners. Then you add trips to the East and South with sister Kuni, to visit her sons, Chiyo is a busy girl indeed.
2013 To Present
With a couple of health issues, Jeff moved Chiyo up to Renton, Washington, in 2008, to a independent retirement Center, Merrill Gardens, where she resides today. With Jeff and his family living nearby, last November she received the best present: her first great grandchild, Kenji (son of Kendall and Ryan)!
Happy100th Birthday, Chiyo! You’ve been the star of the 36,500 days of your life! Please join us on wishing Chiyo a Happy 100th Birthday, by leaving birthday wishes and comments. on this site. You can even attach a picture of yourselves, if you like?? Thanks, Linda, Jeff and Julie
Happy 100th Birthday Chiyo!