Chizuko Kakiuchi, Devoted Dharma School Teacher, Dies at 70

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Chizuko Kakiuchi (back row, center) at a performance by Mishibana Kai. In front of her is longtime dance instructor and friend Yoshiko Fujimoto.

By JUN STINSON

SAN FRANCISCO — Chizuko Kakiuchi dedicated her life to Buddhism, and caring for her community and family.

On Sunday, Oct. 30, she passed away in her San Francisco home at the age of 70.

Chizuko was known as “Chiz” by her friends, and is described as soft-spoken, dedicated, and compassionate.

“Chiz was quiet, but had this sense of humor where she would tease you every now and then,” said Carl Yanari, who first met Chiz over 20 years ago through the Bay District Dharma School Teachers League. “She was charming and very kind to everyone,” he said.

Chiz was born in San Francisco on May 21, 1941. She lived with her parents Hifumi and Yorio, her brother Kazuo, and sister Hiroko in San Francisco until World War II. Then they were sent to the Tule Lake internment camp, where her younger brother was born.

After the war, her family moved to different cities and towns in Northern California. They first moved to Lincoln to live with Chiz’s aunt and uncle, and then to Blue Canyon. In 1951, her family moved to Tudor, and later settled in Yuba City, where Chiz graduated from Yuba City High School in 1958.

Chiz moved back to San Francisco when she graduated and worked as a housekeeper and nanny. During that time, she also attended City College of San Francisco, where she graduated in 1972 with an associate of arts degree. She went on to work for the State of California and then in 1974 got a job with San Francisco City and County’s Department of Social Services. For over 30 years she worked for the department’s Foster Youth Program.

She was raised by Buddhist parents and was an active member of the Buddhist Church of San Francisco. She helped out with Bon Odori every summer, and served for over 20 years as the chair of the program.  She was also a Dharma School teacher and was the Dharma School superintendent for over 40 years. When she passed away she was serving as the president of the Dharma School Teachers League Federation.

“She kept Dharma School going even when it seemed like there were no children,” said Nanayo Silver, who was Chiz’s friend and fellow church member. “If there were kids, there was Dharma School.”

Chiz began the Summer Dharma School program at the Buddhist Church of San Francisco. She was a longtime board member at the church, and served as the board president. She was a member of the Bay District Dharma School Teachers League and president of the Federation of Dharma School Teachers League. She served for many years on the national board of Buddhist Churches of America. Chiz was also the head organizer of the Bay District Family Conference, which took place one week after she passed away.

“She committed to things more than wholeheartedly. She’s very reliable and the things she committed to, she really believed in,” said Silver.

Chiz worked hard and was good at getting others to join church activities, whether it was recruiting parents to teach Dharma School or encouraging children to join Bon Odori.

“She always thought that the goodness for the group was more important than just the individual,” said longtime friend Grace Fujimoto. “She would just try to get everybody involved.”

“Once she retired you would have thought she would have relaxed more, but she kept adding more to her plate,” Silver said.

After Chiz retired, she spent a lot of her time volunteering or visiting her family in Sacramento.

“She was the epitome of fun,” said Chiz’s nephew Gregg Nishimura while reminiscing about his aunt’s life. “I can tell you that she cared about us so much.”

Chiz also helped out at Kimochi Home, a senior care facility in San Francisco’s Japantown. In the early 1980s, she volunteered for the Kimochi Home Task Force and helped develop the facility’s operations plans before it was constructed. In later years, she volunteered as the facility’s receptionist, spent time with seniors in the Kimochi Lounge, and was part of the Kimochi Odori group.

Chiz’s activities extended well beyond work, church, Kimochi Home and family. She played the koto with Shimaoka-Kai, practiced tai chi and participated in odori with the Mishibana-Kai, Nihon Minyo Buyo Renmei Association.

Grace Fujimoto’s mother, Yoshiko Fujimoto, was Chiz’s friend for over 40 years and her odori teacher. The two friends danced in Hawaii together and spent their summers traveling to temple bazaars across California.

“Chiz was a very very good person, and I miss her so much,” said Yoshiko, who added that Chiz spent her life giving her time and energy to other people.

Chiz is survived by her brother and his wife, Kazuo and Mae Kakiuchi; her brother, Hideo Kakiuchi; her sister, Hiroko Nishimura; her uncle and aunt, Ray and Louise Sako; her niece and her husband, Lynn and Glenn Stansbury; her nephew and his wife, Gregg and Heather Nishimura; and her grand-niece and grand-nephews.

A memorial was held at the Buddhist Church of San Francisco on Nov. 12.

This article originally appeared in Nikkei West.

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