October 8, 1926 – May 19, 2018
Tosh Okamoto was born on October 8, 1926 to Juhei and Sugie Okamoto in Seattle Washington. He was driven by family, community, justice, fairness and equity, and his energy and focus on these commitments leaves an enduring legacy.
He was born into a family of meager means, and as the eldest son, he carried extra responsibilities. The family lived on borrowed land which they cleared and farmed, selling the produce at Pike Place Market. Tosh would wake early to help harvest, drive and drop off his father and the vegetables at Pike Place Market, go to school, then return to pick up his father (before he had a driver’s license). Tosh and his family were illegally imprisoned with 110,000 loyal Japanese and Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They were initially taken to Tule Lake, CA and later moved to Heart Mountain, WY. While there, Tosh’s father suffered a debilitating heart attack that weakened him for the rest of his life. Tosh – like hundreds of others imprisoned in barbed wire camps - joined the Army and served in Italy with the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team even while his family was still held in camp.
Following the war, Tosh met his “dream girl,” Toshiko Akagi. They married in November 6, 1949. Tosh had “fun” producing four children, Joyce, Susan, John and Sheila - the “surprise”. He poured out his life and love on his children, nine grandchildren, and seven and ¾ great grandchildren. Despite racial discrimination against Japanese Americans following WW II, Tosh was able to secure employment as a certified mechanic, the first ethnic minority hired in the Seattle Fire Department. After 32 years of service, and having advanced from a mechanic to a supervisor, Tosh retired.
A nursing home’s mistreatment of an Issei (first generation) father whose son was killed while serving in the military outraged Tosh and prompted him to help co-found Keiro, a skilled nursing home for elderly Japanese. His efforts spawned the building of a condominium for seniors (Midori House) and independent assisted living facility (Nikkei Manor) where he and his wife lived. Among Tosh’s many recognitions, the Emperor of Japan bestowed on Tosh the Order of the Rising Sun award in April 2006. In September 1981, Tosh testified before the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Citizens about the injustices imposed on Japanese and Japanese Americans during WW II. On August 10, 1988, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 was signed recognizing the “grave injustice” done to “both citizens and permanent resident aliens of Japanese ancestry.” That act of the U.S. Congress finally made Tosh finally feel like he belonged in the United States. Tosh believed that despite the United States’ injustices, it is the greatest country in the world because it corrects those mistakes.
In April 2017, Tosh heard the sobering assessment that there was an 80% chance he would not survive a year due to his medical conditions. He accepted his doctor’s encouragement to do something every day that would bring him joy and to decide how to live each day with purpose. Tosh courageously accepted his deteriorating condition and his doctor’s challenge and remained active and full of ideas. He encouraged a collaborative project with the Holocaust Center for Humanity, Nisei Veterans Committee, and the Japanese Consulate of Seattle to educate the public on the similarities of discrimination and persecution of Jews and Japanese during WW II, and parallels with emerging attitudes and discriminatory behaviors toward Muslims and immigrants today.
In February 2018 he decided to start receiving hospice care, transitioning from “cure” to “care”. He gathered his family along with his doctor and shared his readiness for the next leg of his journey. He said, “I am in a comfort zone … I am not afraid… I know without a doubt that God is with me.” He was grateful for the care of staff at Nikkei Manor, Kaiser Hospice, and his doctor, Matt Handley. Pastoral visits with Derek Nakano, Jeney Hearn, Kerry Kaino, JP Kang, and Greg Asimakopouolos and regular times of reflection and prayer with family members helped him during that sacred journey. Tosh was a skilled wood carver and among his creations were hand crosses for people to hold as they faced their final days on earth. He found meaning providing them for others and grasped one of his own hand crosses (and Toshi’s hands) on his final day.
In his last months, Tosh doubled his dose of daily joy with family and friends, enjoying ½ bottle of beer before dinner and ice cream for dessert and excursions to view cherry trees and tulip fields in full bloom and to Hood Canal to enjoy oysters fresh from the beach. He never complained about his physical struggles, responding consistently to “How are you feeling?” with “Ornery as ever!” and “I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m okay”. He seemed to catch a glimpse of heaven, looking up wide-eyed and exclaiming “wonderful” and “there’s so many people,” before he peacefully passed away May 19, 2018. Tosh is survived by his wife of 68 years, Toshi; children Joyce Miyabe, Susan Lane (Tom), John (Sharon), Sheila (Craig) Omoto; grandchildren Stephen (Paige) Miyabe, Charissa Pomrehn (Greg), Davey Miyabe (Risa), Shawna Okamoto (Austin Nagasako), Tricia Omoto, Cara Butler (Clayton), Lauren Lane, Jordan Omoto, Zack Lane; great grandchildren Noah, Nico and 3/4 Pomrehn, Regan, Carter and Ronnie Miyabe, and Kira and Lia Nagasako, and older sister, Maureen Brousseau.
A public celebration will be held on September 22, 2018, 2pm, at the Blaine Memorial Methodist Church, 3001 24th Avenue South, Seattle, Washington.
In lieu of flowers, gifts can be made to: Blaine Memorial United Methodist Church, Nisei Veterans Committee, and Keiro Northwest.
- Tosh Okamoto Celebration of Life Saturday, September 22, 2018
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