SUGIYAMA (KITAGAWA), KAYA RUTH, 89, passed away peacefully on October 4 at The Sequoias in San Francisco. She was under hospice care after complications from a double stroke from which she never awoke.

Kaya was born to Dr. Kay Jiro and Mrs. Kaoru (Okumura) Kitagawa on May 10, 1921. Her siblings were Kay Ichi, George, Kana and Masa. Her father was a 1919 graduate of Stanford and practicing physician with Presbyterian Medical Center of San Francisco. He served as the medical doctor at the Tanforan Assembly Center during relocation.

Kaya graduated from Lowell High School and attended the SF Conservatory of Music. After her mother’s death in 1937 her father sent her to Japan to live with her grandmother Kiku and uncle Satochi in Osaka where she attended SOAI music institute, studied piano and learned Japanese customs. She returned to the U.S. in 1939, and enrolled at San Francisco College.

During WWII she attended the University of Colorado at Boulder using the college exemption from internment. Her father and sisters were relocated to the Topaz camp in Utah. At U of C, Kaya majored in music and was involved in the Japanese language instruction program for military personnel as part of the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP).

Kaya married Dr. Masao Sugiyama (“Doc”) January 21, 1947, who preceded her in death on September 25, 2007. They settled in San Francisco upon their return from WWII relocation and the military.

More than 300 students experienced the wonderful pedagogy and lively personality of Ms. Kay, as her students referred to her, at the Younghaven Studio founded by Kaya and Audree Young in 1949 in Noe Valley’s Clipper and Church streets in San Francisco. The studio taught a holistic music and arts program. Kaya was the public voice of the Studio, directing Christmas performances of their group, the Younghaven Troubadours. The Troubadours performed throughout the City during Christmas and in the Japantown Cherry Blossom festival. In 1984 she suffered a heart attack and the studio closed. Kaya maintained contact with several of her former students, and took particular pleasure in seeing their success in education and social issues.

From 1985 to 1991 she participated in the Fromm Institute’s writing seminars where she wrote and published poetry and accounts of her family during evacuation. From 1989 to 2007 she served as a volunteer docent at the Asian Art Museum.

In the spring of 2008 she began a new project recounting her history to Dr. Julia Curry Rodriguez of San Jose State University’s Mexican American Studies department. Her aim was to build an archive to commemorate her parents and her life as a Nisei woman at SJSU’s Race and Ethnic Studies Centers of the King Library, as well as to create her memoirs. Asked why not Stanford or Berkeley, she stated that her “father had met his fate in Santa Clara Valley as he harvested prunes in one of his interim jobs” leading to his successful education at Stanford. She referred to San Jose as “manna from heaven” with its welcoming warmth.

Kaya leaves a legacy of strong and proud people who shall miss her humor, diligence, storytelling, and dedication to many social causes. She was a great friend and mentor. She was a superb story weaver, and a special soul.

Kaya is survived by her kinship family: godson, Edlenn Fok and wife Lilen, their children Justin and Maya Fok, sister Masa Fukui and nieces Kay Isola and Kimi Hochstein. Her family in Japan spread from Totori, Kyoto, Kobe, and Nori.

The memorial is Sunday, Oct. 24 at Cypress Lawn Newell Chapel (1370 El Camino Real, Colma, CA) at 1 pm followed by a service at 2 pm at the graveside where her ashes will be placed with her “Doc.” Light reception 4-6 pm at the Sequoias Apartments in SF. In lieu of flowers donations to organizations Kaya supported are requested: Kimochi Japanese Senior Center,,, the Asian Art Museum, and the Sugiyama Oral History Project and Archive at SJSU’s Cultural Heritage Center.

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