History of Japanese Americans in Texas

Mas and Lili Yamasaki: Inside the Houston Caper

"Inside the Houston Caper"

By David Sugimoto, June 1998

Mas and Lily Yamasaki

Mas “Taisho” Yamasaki was born on June 14, 1919, in Sacramento, California. The middle child of five of a farm family whose parents came from Fukuyama, Japan. After graduating from Elk Grove High School, he worked picking strawberries to save up for college. (Great practice for retrieving all those birdie putts out of the hole.)

In 1938, he won the Northern California JACL District Council public speaking contest. Moving on to the national level, he lost the contest but picked up a better consolation prize. Working at the contest for JACL President was Lily Egusa from Tacoma, Washington. After several months of a correspondent relationship, smooth talking Mas convinced Lily to move to Monterey in early 1941. For the record, Mas was defending the back nine of William Land Park Golf course when the Japanese attached Pearl Harbor. Lily and Mas married in April of 1942, ahead of the evacuation notices and possible separation.

Relocated to Tule Lake, Mas worked as recreation director conducting band concerts, running beauty pageants and honing the leadership and organizational skills that would benefit the rest of us decades later, all for $19 a month.

In April of 1943, Mas and Lily headed for Dayton, Ohio, to work as domestics for John and Patricia MacMillian, owner of Dayton Tire and Rubber Company. “Lily cooked and I gardened and chauffeured for $125 a month,” Mas said. Five months later when he found out the market rate was $200-250 and asked for a raise, but “we didn’t get it so we quit.”

Being without a job, Mas and Lily moved in with the Okinos’ who ran a gift shop in Dayton. Mas later took a job at Borden’s delivering milk to wholesale customers and Lily went to work as a secretary for the Church Federation.

Lance was born in 1946, the same year that Mas and Lily helped form the Dayton chapter of JACL. By the early 1950’s Mas had worked his way up to Local Distribution Manager, sort of the Taisho of wholesale milk distribution. He retired from Borden in 1982.

Three generations of Yamasakis holding a Masters poster
Three generations of golf in Capers:
Mas - 84, Chris - 21, Lance - 56

Mas’ JACL activities would take him to the governorship of the Midwest District where in April 1981, history would be made. In Dayton, at the JACL District meeting, Mas, Pete Fujioka, George Sakaguchi and Kaz Mayeda would play a round of golf on the Eagle Course of Blackburn Golf Course. This was the forerunner of the Houston Caper.

In 1984, Mas and Lily moved to Houston, bringing his famous golf swing with him. The official start of the Houston Caper was a four-day tournament played at Sharpstown Golf Course beginning on March 11, 1985.

When asked what single thing stands out about he Caper, Mas answered, “Who’d have ever believed it would have grown into what it has. It’s fantastic!”

It certainly is.