It was via a cartoon. Back when I was four or five years-old in 1969.
A wonderful cartoon called Hashimoto-san.
Back when I first watched it, it was in black and white because that's the type of television set we had. It wasn't until I was about 14 years-old that I first saw it in color... and, when you get to the bottom of this blog and see the cartoon there for you, it seemed to have that same yellowy look to it. I'm unsure to this day if that was how it was supposed to look or whether or not the television station just had an old worn copy of film.
A total of 14 cartoons were made between 1959 and 1963 for the Terrytoons Animation company (the folks who brought us Heckle and Jeckle the talking magpies) as created by Bob Kuwahara, a Japanese-born American animator who drew on his own family's culture.
Hashimoto-san describes himself as a Japanese house mouse. He's a young male, married to Hanako Hashimoto, and together they have a son, Saburo, and a daughter named Yuriko.
Hashimoto-san defied the Japanese Hollywood stereotype of being a businessman with a navy blue pinstripe suit and glasses and stiff non-funny sense of humor. He seems warm, a proud family man, speaks stilted but perfect English with a slight accent in a calm relaxing manner and is intent on teaching the viewer a thing or three about his country of Japan, of which he is quite proud of.
In these cartoons, Hashimoto-san spoke to the camera (and audience) as though he were being asked to describe things about Japan. In fact, he was. His stories were related to American reporter G.I. Joe (no not the army brat with the kung-fu grip).
John Myhers did all of the voice characterization in these cartoons, with Kuwahara directing all of the cartoons.
Between 1963 and 1965, the Hashimoto cartoons were placed into The Hector Heathcote Show on NBC for Saturday television viewing. An unlikely pairing, as Heathcote was known as the Minute-and-a-Half Man, a U.S. Revolutionary War figure.
Do you know what was really cool about this character? aside from taking down the evil cat that threatened his family, he was a simple man/mouse with a family. There was no need to portray him as a bumbling stooge, manservant or houseboy - all Hollywood favorites at the time. It is believed that this little Japanese house mouse may have been the first positive representation of the Japanese in U.S. cartoon history... certainly a daring thing since WWII had ended only 15 years previous.
At this time, Hashimoto-san is not yet available on DVD. Sucks. Dame dai-yo! However, a quick perusal of You Tube will net you a few of the episodes. To help you with that, let Japan - It's A Wonderful Rife present an episode for you here. It's called The Doll Festival. Enjoy, please.
By Andrew Joseph