Asako Sakai Yamashita Passes at 98


SANTA CRUZ — Asako Sakai Yamashita, a member of the family that established Uoki Sakai, a prewar graduate of UC Berkeley, a longtime teacher in Los Angeles, and wife of a noted Methodist minister, died at the age of 98 in Santa Cruz on July 30.

Born in San Francisco on Nov. 10, 1916, she was the fifth child in a family of nine children. Her Japanese immigrant parents, Tei and Kitaichi Sakai, opened the Uoki Sakai Fish Market, operated by the family for 103 years in San Francisco’s Japantown or Nihonmachi.

Asako Sakai Yamashita

Asako Sakai Yamashita

Yamashita graduated from UC Berkeley in 1941 with a degree in psychology. The following year, Executive Order 9066 forced West Coast Japanese Americans into concentration camps, and she and her family were imprisoned in one of the ten War Relocation Authority camps, Topaz in Delta, Utah.

Returning to San Francisco at the end of the war, she met and married the Rev. H. John Yamashita in 1948 and supported his work at the Oakland West Tenth Methodist Church. In 1952, she moved with her husband and baby daughter to Los Angeles, continuing to support John’s work at Centenary Methodist Church and raising two daughters.

In the 1960s, she returned to school and received her teaching certificate from the University of Southern California. She taught elementary school in the Los Angeles Unified School District for 19 years.

After John’s retirement from the ministry in 1966, the couple traveled together through Japan, Europe, and South America. Asako also traveled with her sisters and close friends to over 50 countries, and she took her grandchildren on many trips, from the Galapagos to Rome.

In 2003, she moved from Gardena to Santa Cruz to live with her daughter, Karen Tei Yamashita, author of such novels as “Through the Arc of the Rainforest” and “Brazil Maru” and professor of literature and creative writing at UC Santa Cruz. Over the next 12 years, Asako tended her garden of orchids, continued to be an avid reader, and attended classes and lectures, enjoying the company of UCSC colleagues and students.

She was also a member of Japanese American Women Alumnae of UC Berkeley, which annually presents scholarships to current Cal students.

She was predeceased by her husband and is survived by two daughters, Karen Tei Yamashita and Jane Tomi Boltz; their spouses, Ronaldo Lopes de Oliveira and Howard “Pat” Boltz; grandchildren, Jane Tei and Jon Oliveira, Mary Jane and Lucy Boltz; great-grandchildren, Milton, Andrew and Andrea Oliveira, and Javon Oliveira Chavez; sister, Iku Hopes of Evanston, Ill.; brother, Dr. Hisaji Sakai of Walnut Creek; and many nieces, nephews and other relatives.

A committal service was held on Sept. 26 at Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes. A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 7, at Lake Park United Methodist Church, 281 Santa Clara Ave., Oakland, with Rev. Mark Nakagawa of Centenary United Methodist Church officiating.

Memorial contributions may be made payable to JACL with notation “Rev. H. John & Asako Yamashita Memorial Scholarship Fund” and addressed to National Japanese American Citizens League, 1765 Sutter St., San Francisco, CA 94115.

The scholarship “will be awarded to graduate students whose concerns include education, social justice and community service, all of which were reflected in our parents’ lives,” said Jane Boltz.

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