Tama Tokuda, Noted Member of Seattle JA Community, Dies at 93

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Tama Tokuda in a scene from “The Curious Savage” in July 2003. (ReAct Repertory Acting Theatre)

SEATTLE — Tama Tokuda passed away on Aug. 31 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 93, only seven weeks after losing her son, former Washington state legislator Kip Tokuda, who suffered a heart attack on July 13.

She raised five children, helped her husband run the iconic Tokuda Drugs, and later became a performer and writer, well-known in the Asian American community.

Tokuda was born in the summer of 1920 in a wooden house her parents rented on Yesler Avenue, not far from Nikkei Manor in the International District, where she spent her last years.

Growing up, she went to the Japanese Language School and then to Japanese dance classes every day after school. She performed often at the old Nippon Kan Theatre in the International District, sometimes in kimono sewn by her mother and hand-painted by other Issei. Throughout her life, she carried both the grace of dance and her love of literature, which forms the basis of classical Japanese dance.

She was in her senior year at the University of Washington, majoring in literature, when World War II broke out. She met her husband, George, in the Minidoka Internment Center, where her first son Floyd, was born.

After the war, she devoted herself to raising her children, one of them developmentally disabled, and helping out at the drugstore. But after the kids grew up and her husband passed away in 1985, she began to blossom as her own person. She began to write more and became active in the Asian American community.

She ushered at the Northwest Asian American Theatre (NWAAT), became a docent at the Wing Luke Asian Museum, and began to talk openly about the internment. She surprised her friends and family when she took the lead role in Phillip Kan Gotanda’s play “The Wash.” She was in several plays at NWAAT, but “The Wash” was her favorite.

Her writing and speaking had a timeless, sage quality that allowed her to bridge generations. She was remarkably contemporary even in her later years but could also talk about the old Japantown of the ’20s, and the camps. She was an unusual and gifted storyteller.

She is survived by her children Floyd Tokuda, Valerie Tokuda Chin, and daughter-in-law Barb Lui of Seattle; Wendy Tokuda of Oakland, and Marilyn Tokuda of Los Angeles; and six grandchildren. Wendy Tokuda produces the “Students Rising Above” series for KPIX-TV in San Francisco and was a news anchor for KNBC in Los Angeles. Marilyn Tokuda is arts education director for East West Players and co-chair of the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition.

A memorial will be held on Saturday, Sept. 21, at 3 p.m., at Japanese Presbyterian Church, 1801-24th Ave. South in Seattle. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be sent to Nikkei Concerns or United Friends Group Homes, which benefits the developmentally disabled.

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