Tatsuo Yamamoto Eulogy
February 21, 2013
By Mits Nakanishi and the Yamamoto family
Dear Friends and Loved Ones,
I want to thank you all for coming to celebrate the life of Tatsuo Yamamoto.
Tats Yamamoto was born in Seattle on February 15, 1916, in an area then known as Japantown. He was the first child of Otoichi and Shigeyo Yamamoto. His parents married on March 15, 1915. They emigrated from Wakayama, Japan on September 1915 and arrived in Port Townsend, near Seattle on October, 1915. Tats was born the following year followed by his siblings Shim, Mary and Sumi.
When Tats was 13, his father became seriously ill. He traveled back to Japan for medical help, but died on Christmas day 1929. This drastically changed the lives of the family.
The country was in the middle of the Great Depression. His mother with no English language skills, found herself having to feed, house, and raise the family. She found a job first as an alteration seamstress at a dry cleaning shop, then as a chambermaid in a hotel in downtown Seattle. Eventually she became the lessee of a small hotel near the Pike Place Market. The hotel still stands today.
Starting from the summer of 1930, Tats and Shim worked in a salmon cannery near Kenai, Alaska to help supplement the family income. Because Tats was under age at 14, he had to falsify his age to work in the cannery. The salmon season lasted from early June till the end of August allowing Tats and Shim to work during summer vacation.
The summer of 1930 went well with Tats and Shim until they encountered another setback. On the way home to Seattle, Tats and Shim contracted diphtheria and both of them became deathly ill. They survived but they brought the illness home to their siblings. Although their mother never contracted diphtheria, the four siblings were quarantined at Firland Sanitarium located to the north of Seattle. Tats and Shim did not go to the Cannery the summer of 1931 and 1932, but returned in 1933 for 4 more summers.
Tats graduated from Cleveland High School in June of 1935. Not being able to find employment in Seattle, Tats and Shim along with their friend, traveled to California to work on a huge farm. The Minami Farm was owned by their cousin and located in Guadalupe, CA. They worked at the Minami Farm from October 1936 to February 1942. During that time they made two visits to Seattle. Their second trip was in February 1942, two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The U.S. government began placing travel restrictions on all Japanese. There were rumors that a curfew would be placed on all Japanese with a possible mass evacuation into relocation camps. Tats and Shim decided it was time to rejoin the family making a non-stop trip from Guadalupe to Seattle.
On Mother's Day, May 10, 1942 the Yamamoto family boarded a bus at Broadway and Alder and was taken to a temporary camp at the Puyallup Fairgrounds. They stayed at Puyallup Fairgrounds for four months and were subsequently sent to a more permanent facility at Minidoka, Idaho. The family stayed at Minidoka Camp from August 1942 till June 15, 1945. During their stay at Minidoka, Sumi, his youngest sister contracted meningitis and died within one week. She died on April 18, 1943 with her funeral on Palm Sunday.
After the War, Tats, Shim, Mary and their mother moved to Cleveland and bought a duplex at 12098 Chesterfield Avenue. At a New Years dance Tats met Kinuyo Shintaku and they married on July 7, 1951. They had four kids in rapid succession starting from 1953: Dennis, Stephen, Stan and Donna. Wow, Kinu must have been exhausted!
In the summer of 1962, the year of the Seattle World's Fair, Tats moved the family from Cleveland back to his hometown of Seattle. What a car trip – 2400 miles with a family of six in a white Chevy station wagon! The new Interstate system was mostly complete through Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho and finally Washington.
The family first bought a home on Beacon Hill on Portland Avenue. However, times were challenging so Tats and Kinu bought a Ma and Pa grocery store in Bryn Mawr, just north of Renton. The grocery store was a two-story building with the residence upstairs. It was named Dave's Grocery, so for many of the clientele, Tat's became to be known as Dave.
Dave's Grocery was a lot of work, having to order the inventory, stock the shelves, deal with all of the finicky customers, and Tats even learned to butcher sides of beef. The job was 12 hours per day, and 7 days per week. Running the store was quite a family affair. The only break was if Tat's hired help on Sunday afternoons. It did, however, provide the economic mainstay to raise the 4 kids and seemingly more dogs than one can count.
After all of the kids, Dennis, Stephen, Stan and Donna completed school, Tats and Kinu sold the store, retired and moved to Renton. They enjoyed gardening, working on the house, traveling to Japan twice and annual month long vacations to Hawaii. Their vacations were quite a highlight:
In Japan, they visited hometowns where family were born and where relatives stilI reside.
During January visits to Hawaii, they enjoyed warm weather, taking the Bus around Oahu, and especially eating at Shirokiya in the Ala Moana Center.
Tats had a lot of hobbies and interests. He taught himself the harmonica, accordion, mandolin, Hawaiian lap guitar, and electronic organ. He also enjoyed wood working, oil painting, golf and bowling. In fact, Tats, Stephen and Stan bowled in several competitive leagues. He also had a fancy for cars. From the day he had his license until he gave up his last car, he had purchased more than 20 cars.
Retirement was a wonderful life. Tats enjoyed more than 35 years of retirement. He especially loved spending his time with his wife, Kinu, through 61 years of marriage. He may have not expressed his happiness and pride but he loved and appreciated his wife Kinu and every visit from Dennis & Kathy, Stephen & Carol, Stan & Sonya, Donna & Bryce, Mits & Mary and Sharon. He cherished the visits with his 5 grandchildren Mariko, David, Marcus, Derek and Kyle; and most recently he was excited about Casey joining the family. He bragged about his entire family to friends but found it difficult to express his feelings direct to his family.
In October of 2006 Tats & Kinu moved from their home to the Eagle Ridge Lodge Retirement Center, in Renton. They made many friends during this chapter of their life, spending 6 years free from having to maintain a home.
In February 2012 Tats moved into the Easthill Elder Care adult family home in Renton. This is a fantastic home that Sonya found for him. Daniela and Livi, Lydia, Donna, Alena, and Jessica are incredible! Tats at times could be a little grumpy and demanding, but they turned him around with their love and care, into a kind and gentle soul.
We will all miss Tats. He was a good husband, friend, father, uncle and grandfather. Let us celebrate his life. May he rest in peace.