TOKYO — Seishichi Ato, former president and senior advisor of Fujiyasu Kimono Co. Ltd. in Tokyo, passed away on Feb. 26 of gallbladder cancer according to Benh Nakajo, chair of the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Program. He was 92.
Ato, who wished to express gratitude to the Japanese American community for sending postwar relief, donated more than $1 million in kimono and kimono accessories to Northern California’s program over the course of 42 years.
Nakajo said, in an e-mail to community members, Ato was born in 1923 in Tokyo, the fourth son of Kyutaro Ato, the second president of Fujiyasu. He began working at the family business in 1948, became vice president in 1958 and president in 1985. He retired in 1994 to become the company’s senior advisor until his death.
Fujiyasu provided a statement by Ato, written 15 years prior, on the kimono presentation. After Japan lost the war, the Licensed Agencies for Relief in Asia provided food, clothing and medicine to the Japanese people. Ato wrote that the LARA-busshi (goods) saved many people from malnutrition, especially children.
He knew the aid had come from Americans, which softened the Japanese people’s attitudes toward their former enemies, but he later learned the whole truth behind the aid.
Among those who sent relief were Japanese Americans, who themselves had lost much during the war due to the wartime incarceration. Shortly after the war, Shichinosuke Asano founded the Nichi Bei Times in San Francisco in May of 1946 to help send relief aid to Japan. Ato learned of Asano and the Times’ contributions, which came at a time when Japanese Americans were also facing hardship after being released from mass incarceration.
Ato said his predecessor at the company started the kimono donations starting with Hawai‘i’s in 1971 and then San Francisco in 1972, a tradition that continues today and one that Kazunari Mochizuki, the current president of Fujiyasu, said he hopes to continue as a means of saying thanks to the Nikkei community in and around San Francisco.
“We at Fujiyasu feel we are indebted to the Nikkei community for Japan’s quick recovery after losing the war and, by extension, our company’s recovery as well,”Ato wrote in Japanese.
Nakajo said 42 sets of kimono have been sent to the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Program and the 43rd is on its way for this year’s program.
“What a legacy Mr. Seishichi Ato has left behind,” Nakajo wrote on Ato’s passing. “The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival and its 42 festival queens that had received their treasured furisode kimonos from Mr. Ato and the Fujiyasu Kimono Company who never forgot ‘expressing gratitude in return for kindness’, and the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival will remember them with gratitude and kindness.”