Frances Hashimoto, a Japanese American businesswoman who created the popular dessert mochi ice cream, died Sunday from lung cancer. She was 69.
Hashimoto’s family business, Mikawaya, sells Japanese pastries. But an American creation — mochi ice cream — catapulted the company to national recognition. Hashimoto and her husband, Joel Friedman, came up with the idea to cover round balls of ice cream with a thin layer of sweet, chewy rice flour. The product, sold at grocery stores across the country, represents the majority of Mikawaya’s sales.
“By being able to mix the American ice cream with mochi, it brought more awareness to the general public about one of the most important food traditions in Japan,” said Noriaki Ito, a bishop at Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple and a friend of Hashimoto’s.
Hashimoto grew up in L.A.'s Little Tokyo and graduated from the University of Southern California in 1966. She left her job as an elementary school teacher in 1970, after her mother asked her to take over the family food business.
Today the business is more than 100 years old, with four stores in Little Tokyo, Torrance and Gardena.
Hashimoto was passionate about preserving Japanese American culture, Ito said. She was involved in several boards including the Nisei Week Foundation, the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center and the Little Tokyo Business Association.
“She was a person who had unlimited amounts of energy and we all were so impressed that she worked so hard,” Ito said.
It was common to see her devote long hours to the family business, an institution among Japanese Americans in L.A.
Ito recalls seeing her car in the factory’s parking lot as he drove home from the temple on many late nights.
Ito would call her up and say, “Frances, you’re still working. You should be getting home.”
Then, Ito recalls, Hashimoto would laugh and say, “Well, pretty soon.”
Hashimoto is survived by her husband and her two sons and her sister, Sachiko June Osugi. A funeral open to the public will take place Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Aratani Japan America Theatre.