Little Tokyo business leader Frances Hashimoto, who championed the neighborhood's Japanese cultural traditions and invented the popular dessert mochi ice cream, died of lung cancer Sunday at her home in Pasadena. Hashimoto was 69.
According to her obituary in The Times, she was "the feisty, visionary president of Mikawaya, the 102-year-old, three-generation family business selling traditional Japanese sweet pastries and snacks. At the urging of her widowed mother, she left teaching and took over the family business at age 27, vastly expanding its reach from a single shop in Little Tokyo to four retail stores in Southern California.
And she put her most famous invention — an ice cream ball in seven flavors covered in soft, sweet rice cake — into such mainstream markets as Trader Joe's, Safeway, Albertsons and Ralphs.
Hashimoto's leadership of many community organizations made the biggest mark on Little Tokyo. As economic downturns and demographic changes transformed the neighborhood, she helped oversee its redevelopment and transportation projects. And she was generous with both financial contributions and her sweet rice cakes, chestnut buns and other Japanese desserts for local events.