As a child in Japan, Junjiro Tsuji was fascinated by the United States he saw in John Wayne movies.

"He fell in love with America," said longtime friend Marcia Greenfield.

In his 20s, Tsuji left his homeland, parents and nine siblings and moved to the United States, where he learned English, became a citizen, put himself through beauty school and opened his own salon, Jun's Beauty Shop, in Bayport.

"He worked very hard to establish himself in this country," said state Sen. Scott Dibble, a longtime friend.

Tsuji was tireless and determined, rising at 5 a.m. every day to open his shop, which he cleaned himself. He ran his business successfully for 37 years before retiring at age 62.

"He was proud of his independence and what he had achieved, coming over by himself," said Greenfield.

Tsuji, 78, died March 13 after a brief illness.

In 1982, at a friend's dinner party, Tsuji met state Sen. Allan Spear, one of the first openly gay Americans serving in elected office. The pair hit it off immediately and were life partners for 26 years until Spear's death in 2008.

"They were very much in love. It was a wonderful relationship," said Dibble.

The couple lived in Minneapolis, where Tsuji tended their "beautiful, colorful garden. That was one of his passions," said Dibble. Tsuji and Spear shared a passion for gourmet cooking, hosting frequent dinner parties and traveling to check out restaurants.

"Now it's common to blog and share photos," said Dibble. But pre-Instagram, Tsuji was photographing food, jotting notes and recording them in a diary.

Tsuji cultivated his relationships as carefully as his garden. "Jun was a phenomenal friend," said Greenfield. "He was so caring about other people." After Greenfield's aunt died, Tsuji offered to help her pick out flowers and plant an urn at the cemetery, a tradition he continued every spring.

"He was a gentleman, and I loved him dearly," she said. "He was one of those people who remind you of what's important in life, how precious your friends are."

After Spear died, Tsuji grieved deeply, then rebuilt his life. He moved to a condo downtown but continued daily morning jaunts to his favorite Caribou Coffee in Uptown, where he said the brew was better, said Dale Arett, Tsuji's partner in his final years.

Tsuji had a dapper side. "He liked to dress up, and he liked to bargain-shop," said Arett, joking that Tsuji "had more clothes than Macy's." He also loved taking Arett's grandchildren shopping. "He was very generous," said Arett. And financially independent.

Every month when his Macy's bill arrived, Tsuji got out his checkbook to pay it before the mail carrier had left the building, said Arett. If he missed the carrier, he'd drive his payment to the post office. "He didn't want to be beholden to anyone."

As old age approached, Tsuji made arrangements for his cremation and burial, in a Jewish cemetery with Spear.

"He didn't want emotional stress for those left behind," said Greenfield.

Putting his affairs in order while healthy was characteristic of Tsuji, said Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman of Temple Israel. "He was very fastidious. He took care of everything. … He had a soft side, very gentle and sweet, and yet when he wanted something, nothing got in his way."

Tsuji, who regularly returned to Japan to visit his family, made his final trip there in November. "He went to say goodbye," said Arett.

Tsuji did not want a funeral. "He didn't want any fuss," said Arett, who is planning a celebration of life event for those grieving his loss. Tsuji is survived by family in Japan and many friends. Memorial gifts are suggested to the Aliveness Project or OutFront Minnesota.