by Debbie Marcus
If Wally Yonamine’s plane hadn’t stopped to refuel in San Francisco Airport some 36 years ago, Japanese baseball probably would not be what it is today—and thousands upon thousands of ladies would have missed the opportunity to wear Jane Yomimine’s pearls. How perilously close we came to missing the presence of this couple in Japan.
It all started with a multi-athletic high school star from Maui, Hawaii — Wally Yonamine. He received offers from 11 colleges on the mainland of the United States upon graduation from high school and. after much deliberation, he chose to attend Ohio State on a football scholarship. On the way to Ohio, his plane stopped to refuel at the San Francisco Airport. During the refueling, the San Francisco 49ers pro football team intercepted him and signed him up right then and there.
As a result of this, Wally became the first Oriental professional football player in the history of the sport in the United States.
After a wrist injury which ended his football career, he turned to his second love — baseball. It was after he signed with the San Francisco Seals that he was recommended as the guy to come to Japan as a means of bringing the two countries closer together. Postwar Occupation authorities decided that baseball would be a good common ground and Japanese baseball officials decided to recruit an American. But the Japanese balked at the idea of recruiting a tall, blue-eyed blond and opted, instead, for a candidate who hopefully would be more in tune with Japan and its customs.
That is how Wally Yonamine came to Japan and it is largely through his influence that Japanese baseball changed from a game played more like tennis to what it is today, lie spent 10 years with the Tokyo Giants during which he helped lead the Giants to eight championships. After that came 14 years with Chunichi Dragons, the last six of which he served as manager. At present he is a coach with the Nippon Ham Fighters. This man has not taken off his uniform in 35 years.
He has also coached with the Lotte Orions, Nankai Hawks and Seibu Lions.
Wally now considers that football injury as the best thing that ever happened to him, otherwise he probably never would have made it to Japan. Women all over the world would certainly agree with this as Wally’s dynamite wife, Jane, has owned and operated her own successful pearl business in Roppongi for the last 21 years.
In fact, when she started her business in 1964, her store was located in the then tallest building in Roppongi. Situated across from the Hotel Ibis, that building today is dwarfed by huge edifices that have sprung up around Jane’s shop, entering Jane’s pearl paradise is, to me, like walking into Sardi’s Restaurant in New York City. It’s much smaller than Sardi’s but has that same feeling.
Pictures and autographs of famous people, Jane’s clients, adorn the walls and you are seated in a cozy booth. You never know who is going to walk in the front door. Recently Liz Taylor walked in unannounced, purchased a black pearl necklace and invited Wally and Jane to have dinner with her that evening.
There isn’t too much written about pearls, so over the years Jane has had to learn from experience and from the questions her customers ask. A professor from Columbia University in New York City dropped in to buy some pearls during a trip to Tokyo and asked Jane how oysters mate.
She had no idea exactly how this phenomenon took place, so she called Tokyo University to find out. It seems that the life span of the pearl-bearing oyster is seven years and, during that time, they change from male to female and back several times. All it takes is for one male to decide to release his spermatozoa and then all the others follow suit, both male and female doing so all at the same time.
Upon hearing this the professor quickly deduced that he was happy to be human and his comment of “that’s no fun” ended the subject.
Jane lectures her customers on how to buy pearls: “When you’re selling good things, you want your customers to become pearl experts.” She buys “the best pearls” and goes through each one personally. She doesn’t comparison shop; she wants the customer to. With the purchase of Yonamine pearls comes a guarantee that if you can find it for less somewhere else, Wally and Jane will buy it back. You can return the pearls at any time.
Ninety per cent of her clients are men. The traveling businessman who shops for pearls at Yonamine’s has an overjoyed wife when she learns he has to go to Japan on a business trip! For men who live in Tokyo, life is also made easier as Jane keeps a “wish book” in which is recorded the desires of wives or girl friends so the men can purchase jewelry and know for sure it’s what the little woman wants.
One of the first questions I asked Jane about pearls (something I always wondered about but was afraid to ask) was how to tell if a pearl is fake or not. Jane’s instructions are to rub the pearl along the bottom of your upper-front teeth. If the pearl is very gritty it is real. If it’s smooth, you’ve been had!
Another good thing to sink your teeth into is Jane’s delicious chicken salad. It’s a recipe that Jane brought from Hawaii years ago. Having been born on the Parker Ranch on the big island of Hawaii, she is used to big barbecues and lots of summer salads to go with whatever is on the grill.
When Wally brings the baseball team home for dinner, 45 people show up! This happens quite often, so she does what every other good Hawaiian does: Throw something on the grill outside and mix up a couple of light, delicious salads. This salad is a favorite with the baseball players and soon to be with whoever reads this column.
HOME RUN CHICKEN SALAD
1/4 cup salad oil
3 tbsp vinegar
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ajinomoto (monosodium glutamate)
1 head lettuce (shred and place in refrigerator to keep crispy)
2 tbsp sesame seeds (toasted optional, but better)
2 tbsp chopped nuts (macadamia best but walnuts or almonds O.K.)
1/2 – 1/4 package harusame (Japanese) or bifun (Chinese). Bean-thread noodles that look like fish line.
7-8 chicken filets (sasami), boiled and shredded
Mix the dressing in a jar.
Deep fry the thread-like noodles by heating at least 1 inch of oil in a fry pan or wok. Separate the noodles into small handfuls by cutting with kitchen scissors. Drop a small handful of noodles into the oil one handful at a time. They will puff up immediately. If they do not, the oil isn’t hot enough. Turn over if not completely immersed in oil. Lift out right away and drain on paper towels. Repeat until all are fried. The color will be an off-white. This can be done ahead of time.
Toss lettuce, sesame seed, nuts and chicken. Just before serving pour dressing and mix. Crumble fried noodles on the top and serve.
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During a recent trip to San Francisco, Jane had a healthy and happy salad at a restaurant there. She couldn’t figure out whether she was happy because she was healthy after eating it or whether she was healthy because she was happy to be in San Francisco. Anyway it made such a hit that she now makes it for home and away parlies.
TOFU SALAD A LA SAN FRANCISCO
1. Start with a bed of shredded lettuce on a round platter.
2. Take a block of momen (cotton) tofu and cut into 1-inch pieces. Put the tofu on top of the lettuce.
3. Shred a good chunk of daikon so it looks like spaghetti, using a daikon sengiri. This is the cut they use to go under sashimi. You can buy the sengiri in any hardware store.
4. Put the shredded daikon on top of the tofu.
5. On top of the daikon crumble canned tuna or salmon.
Squeeze lemon over all and sprinkle with shoyu to taste. Serves from 4 to 6.
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Jane Yonamine has exquisite taste which is very much in evidence at Yonamine Pearls. She feels, and rightly so, that pearls are a very personal thing and mostly it involves an emotional buy. The men who buy from Jane, by and large, select very feminine pearls. “Men like light, soft pearls that move easily. Whereas women tend to select bigger and chunkier pearls,” says Jane.
I’d like one of each.
Wally Yonamine Pearls is directly across the street from Hotel Ibis in Roppongi, If you can’t find it, phone 402-4001 for directions.