Marii K. Hasegawa

I haven’t written for quite a while.  Over the past couple of months I have been dealing with two life changing events:  The final illness and death of my mother and my own retirement from working life.  (I am one of the lucky ones who can afford to retire.)  But I wanted to make my first post back about my mother.  So here is her obituary.

Marii Kyogoku Hasegawa

September 17, 1918 to July 1, 2012

Marii was born in the tiny seaside village of Tada-no-umi near Hiroshima to Itsuzo and Kiyo Kyogoku.  Her father, a Buddhist priest in the Kyogoku family temple, came to Los Angeles, California in 1919 to minister to the Japanese community.  Marii and her sisters grew up and were educated in California.  She graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1938 with a degree in home economics.

After the start of World War II, when 110,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were relocated, Marii and her parents were interned at the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah.  There she worked as a social worker and wrote for the literary quarterly, Trek.  Because she had skills needed outside of the camp, she was released and moved to Cleveland where she worked as a dietician at a hospital.  Two of her college roommates were in Philadelphia where she moved to take a job with the Food, Tobacco and Agricultural Workers Union. 

In Philadelphia she met Ichiro Hasegawa, originally from Seattle, Washington, who had come east from the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming.  They were married in 1946 and lived in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey and Richmond, Virginia until his death in 1999.  She moved to the Loomis Village Retirement Center in South Hadley, Massachusetts in 2001. 

Marii was a life-long champion of peace and justice, working with a number of organizations but particularly with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom where she was a national board member and served as President from 1971 to 1975.  In 1973 she travelled to Hanoi with an international delegation of women using her Japanese passport, as it was illegal at that time for Americans to travel to North Vietnam.

In 1996 she traveled to Tokyo to accept the Niwano Peace Prize which is awarded annually by the Buddhist Niwano Foundation to persons who have contributed to inter-religious cooperation furthering the cause of world peace.  A documentary film of her life, Marii Hasegawa: Gentle Woman of a Dangerous Kind, was released in April 2012.

Marii had many other interests. She was a Girl Scout leader and a PTA president. She travelled extensively with her husband and family. Marii loved following tennis and college basketball. Most recently she enjoyed watching Rafael Nadal win the 2012 French Open.  She was an excellent cook, a skill she taught her daughters. She was an avid reader and in her last years particularly loved good mystery stories. At Loomis Village, she was active in current affairs discussions, book groups, and the chorus.  She wrote poetry and attended concerts regularly.

 What we didn’t have roon to say was that my sister and I learned much from our mother.  She was the one who taught to cook, to work hard, to love books, and to love peace and justice.  She encouraged us to be what we wanted to be.  I know she was worried at the end about whether Elizabeth Warren could beat Scott Brown and she disliked Mitt Romney with a almost the same passion with which she loved President Obama.  She was looking forward to voting this year.  My mother was an extraordinary woman and I will miss her.

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