A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Guest Blogger - Biography of Masako Tsuchitani

A Biographical Sketch of My Grandma
(Dawn K. Brohawn, 8/10/13)

My grandmother Masako’s life is a story of persistence and courage in the face of hardship. Born a nissei (second generation Japanese-American) in Alameda, California in 1913, Masako Otsuka married a successful Japanese businessman (Yunosuke Tsuchitani), with whom she raised three children in California. A celebrated beauty, doted upon by her mother and older sister Satsuki (who was later nicknamed “Pe Pe”), Masako lived a comfortable life.

When World War II broke out, Masako’s husband (a foreign national) was taken without warning from their home in the middle of the night by government “men in black suits.” He was sent to an internship camp in North Dakota and later was transferred to a prisoner-of-war camp in New Mexico.

Two weeks following Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, Masako and the couple’s young children (6-year-old Mariko, 3-year-old Isamu and 5-month-old Ken) found themselves in the horse stables of Tanforan Racetrack, soon to be sent to the Topaz internment camp. Two years passed before Masako’s husband was reunited with his family at Topaz.  They were all subsequently relocated to Tule Lake, California.

By the time the war ended, the family had lost their home, their possessions, and Yunosuke’s businesses. Disillusioned with their treatment by the U.S. government, and because her husband was not allowed to return to California where he had conducted his businesses with his partners prior to the war, Masako, her husband and children decided to move to Japan. (Ironically, on the day of their departure, Yunosuke received a notice from the U.S. government allowing him to return to California.)

Following the long voyage to Japan, taking the few possessions they were permitted, the family arrived at the port of Yokosuka. For three days they travelled south in a packed train to Fukuoka, and then walked several miles with their luggage across rice fields to the country home of Masako’s oldest sister, Shizue. Falling asleep exhausted on tatami in the entrance area of the house, they awoke to find that the shoes and other possessions they were still wearing had been stolen off them as they slept.

In January 1946 conditions in post-war Japan were harsh. The family was forced to move from place to place, relying on the kindness of relatives and others willing to put them up for a few months at a time. Jobs were scarce, but Masako, who was bilingual, was able to find work while her husband took care of the children. Yunosuke later found work as a houseboy for an American officer, and eventually as a translator for a Japanese construction company. When he suffered a massive stroke, Masako, who herself suffered from life-threatening asthma, had to support her husband and two of their children. (By that time Mariko had traveled back by herself to the U.S. where she attended the University of Nebraska.)

With her fluency in English, she soon found work at an American Air Force base in Fukuoka. That was where Masako first came in contact over the phone with my father, Lt. Norman Kurlansky, who commanded two radar bases in southern-most Japan.

How my mother, Masako’s daughter Mariko, met my father several years later in Lincoln, Nebraska, got married and helped to bring incrementally the Tsuchitani family back to the United States, is another story.

At age 50, Masako returned with Yunosuke to the U.S., where they lived for several months at Norm and Marie’s small home in Alexandria, Virginia.  Leaving her husband for a few months with Norm, Marie and their three children, she returned to San Francisco to be near Ken, who had located in San Francisco.  She immediately found a job because of her excellent secretarial skills. Shortly after, she was joined by her husband, and they lived for a time with her son Ken and his new bride, Akiko.

Masako was later hired by a Japanese electronics firm, where she worked for ten years while she continued to care for her husband, who passed away in a nursing home in 1974. Up until her late 80’s, Masako traveled regularly by herself to the East Coast to visit with her son Isamu’s and daughter Mariko’s families.

Many years have passed. Now the matriarch of her family, Masako has three children, 8 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren. She has survived numerous serious illnesses, surgeries and life challenges that would have overcome most people. Today this “young centenarian,” with the help of visiting caregivers, is able to live independently in her own apartment, where she walks the steep streets of San Francisco with her walker, reads her Japanese and English language newspapers cover-to-cover, creates beautiful pressed flower art, stays active in her spiritual group, is a rabid and knowledgeable baseball fan, and serves as an inspiration to all her family and friends.

Masako’s life is a journey of dislocation after dislocation after dislocation. But it is also a story of persistence, courage, and how the kindness, generosity and friendship of many people can help us both bear the hardships we encounter and appreciate life’s beauty.


Thank you all for being such a part of Masako’s long life.