- Published: May 20, 2009
Yasuko was born on Sept. 13, 1921, in Gaboten, Manchuria, during the period when the Japanese operated a concession in China to extract resources for their industrial needs. Her father, Kanzaburo Nakamura, taught Japanese to Chinese railroad laborers, and her mother, Wakano Obata, was a midwife, seamstress and landlord. In 1931, the family moved to the port city Dairen, where Yasuko, the second of three children, shirked her school work to study Japanese popular singing and dance and was selected to perform with the city’s radio station ensemble.
Her older sister went to work early so that Yasuko could attend finishing school, and in 1940 she married one matchmaker-approved Uiji Nakamura, who worked for the municipal transit system. They had two daughters, Sachiyo and Kazuko, before his death and Japan’s defeat in 1945. The ensuing three years under Russian rule were chaotic for the family, who was finally forced to repatriate with little more than the clothes on their backs to an uncertain life in war-ravaged Japan.
Yasuko and her children arrived in Kagoshima and were taken into the crowded home of her brother-in-law until government housing could be built for them. Yasuko got a job as a hostess in a hotel used by foreign diplomats and military officers. There she met her future husband, George Kakehashi, a Japanese-American nissei serving as a translator for the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps. Yasuko and George married in 1952. And against strict Japanese custom that the children remain with their father’s family, they brought the girls to Yellow Springs, where George’s family had been relocated from a U.S. internment camp for Japanese-Americans in Minidoka, Idaho.
Early on, the family lived in the Vale community, where Yasuko learned English from the neighborhood children who were clear to point out when she mispronounced words. George worked for Vernay Laboratories, and the couple had one more daughter, Christine, in 1958, before Yasuko worked for a short time in the Yellow Springs High School cafeteria and in 1964 began a tailoring and alterations business in her home on Meadow Lane.
Though she said she never really liked sewing and almost failed her final project in finishing school — a woman’s suit — she found that through her business, she could relate to the community in a useful way without putting too much demand on a language she felt she would never master. She was grateful that people came to her workshop with their mending needs, and she made a point of being home morning, noon and night to receive them. She made exceptions to that rule to make several trips with George to Japan to visit family and old schoolmates in the 1970s and 80s. And also on certain summer Friday nights, she would turn off her sewing lights and iron and sneak away to folk dance at Antioch College’s Red Square.
Yasuko was a caretaker by nature. She and George hosted dozens of Japanese professors, doctors and students who came to Antioch College, Wright State, Ohio State and the Fels Longitudinal Study, providing rides, meals, a bedroom and sometimes even laundry service for their guests. She served two mothers-in-law in Manchuria and Yellow Springs, raised her own children and grandchildren, and then cared for her husband at home after his stroke in 1989 until his death in 1999.
She was preceded in death by her parents; two husbands; and her siblings, Hiroshi Nakamura and Yaeko Katsuhiro.
She is survived by her children Sachiyo (and David) Searles, Lafayette Hill, Pa., Kazuko (and Timothy) Heaton, Yellow Springs, and Christine Kakehashi, Cincinnati; grandchildren, Brenna Herpmann (and Amy Sinden), Philadelphia, Soren Herpmann, Boulder, Colo., Lauren Heaton (and Kirk Weigand) and Erika (and Matthew) Grushon, all of Yellow Springs; great-grandchildren, Isaac and Vivian Grushon, and Anne, Robyn, Liam and Marya Weigand; and two nieces, Kayako Kakeshima, Tokyo, and Mutsuko Konyi, Hokkaido.
The family will hold a memorial gathering at 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 9, at the Glen Helen Building. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Yellow Springs Youth Orchestra Association (P.O. Box 4), the Yellow Springs Tree Committee or the Yellow Springs Community Foundation.