An Anecdote, the Fujiyasu Furisode Kimono Story
By Benh Nakajo
People talk about goodwill, but often it has a hollow ring. However, every now and then, something takes place that goes beyond goodwill; Something that stirs in even in the most jaded of us emotions that we thought disappeared with childhood. Here’s one such incident.
As many of you know, the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival has been held in San Francisco every year for the past 46 years. Each year since 1973, the Fujiyasu Kimono Company had come to the festival… and each year the representatives of the company brought with them exquisite Japanese kimonos worth tens of thousands of dollars. They donate this prize for the newly selected Northern California Festival Cherry Blossom Queen. One might think they do this as a self-promotion…as a way to promote their products …good PR. Not so. The company neither promotes nor sells their kimonos here. When they came in the past they came at their own expense solely to give. Why? Fujiyasu Kimono Company has done this as an expression of gratitude to the Japanese American community.
Sixty-eight years ago, Japan was a devastated land, defeated, ruined, laid waste by the tragedy called war. There, weakened and desperate people faced hopeless deprivation.. no food, no shelter, no future. The day-to-day struggle turned to an hour– to–hour struggle just to survive. Then suddenly, food and clothing arrived. . .from America. Needless to say, these gifts, coming at such a difficult time, were nothing short of a miracle. Thousands were saved from untold suffering.
Initially, the recipients believed these items were donated by the general public in the United States and by the U.S. Occupation Forces. But later, they learned that the donations had been sent by Japanese Americans…Japanese Americans returning from American prison camps with next to nothing themselves…having lost their homes, businesses and valuables and their freedom, incarcerated without trial or due process… Japanese Americans trying to put their own lives back together. These people cut their food, took clothing off their own backs, and deprived themselves further to send the precious articles to those they knew were in more desperate need than
Even now, nearly seven decades later, some people in Japan who received help cannot forget the feeling that “penetrated their hearts” when they received these “gifts of life” from America. “How can one repay such kindness? How can one fulfill this sort of obligation?” they asked. Somehow they learned that in San Francisco, Northern California, Japanese Americans celebrated cherry blossom time. A festival was held, a queen was selected, it was a time when the Japanese Americans celebrated and enjoyed themselves and shared their culture, heritage and traditions with the general population. At last there was an opportunity to express the long-felt gratitude, to attempt to repay this obligation.
In 1973, a Fujiyasu furisode kimono was received by the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Committee for its queen. And every year since then for 40 years, every new queen has been presented a beautiful traditional furisode kimono.
These beautiful kimonos keep coming, year after year after year donated by Fujiyasu Kimono Company, whose past president received those “gifts” from America so many, many years ago and vowed never to forget, vowed to give for what he received.
In July of 1985, the Fujiyasu Kimono Company and Mr. Seishichi Ato received a Japanese government award from Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe. The award recognized their efforts toward international goodwill and good relations between Japan and the United States through the kimono.
It was the first time in history that a commercial company was recognized by the Foreign Minister’s Office for this kind of award.
I was so touched when I had the honor of meeting Mr. Ato in person and heard the story from his own lips. I vowed that as long as I had anything to do with the Queen Program or the Cherry Blossom Festival, I would repeat this story. So far I have been able to keep the promise made to myself, and I hope to continue.