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Toshi Kadowaki, 1918-2012: Beautician rarely discussed WWII-era internment camp

Toshi Kadowaki, a beautician and business owner in Cleveland who relocated after her husband bought a Toledo business, but who unlike him rarely spoke of their time in a World War II-era internment camp for Japanese-Americans, died June 1 in her Sylvania home of renal failure. She was 94.

She underwent dialysis the last four years, her daughter Kathy Tashima said, and worked part time for about 30 years -- until age 87 -- at Toledo Optical Laboratory Inc., where her late husband, Joe, was chairman. Their son-in-law Irland Tashima is now president, and grandson Brian Green is a sales manager.

With a keen sense of color, developed through years of working with hair dye, she tinted eyeglass lenses.

"She was right in with the workers, which is where she wanted to be," her daughter said.

The couple had been married less than 1 1/2 years when the United States entered World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The government viewed those of Japanese descent to be security threats even though they were U.S.-born and ordered them to internment camps. The Kadowakis, with newborn daughter Janet, were sent to a camp in Poston, Ariz.

Mr. Kadowaki often told his life story in speeches to Toledo area groups. He felt more lost than bitter -- a man without a country, he once told The Blade. His wife said little, even to family. This spring, when she was asked to speak about her experience at her church, Sylvania United Church of Christ, she accepted.

"It was really powerful," daughter Kathy said. "At 94 she was finally ready to share her story."

She was born Feb. 8, 1918, in Gardena, Calif., to Matsu and Masao Fujimoto and was named Toshiko. Her parents were Japanese immigrants and farmers. She played sports in high school and felt no prejudice from other athletes but was never awarded better than second from teachers, her daughter said.

She also played violin in an all-female orchestra. She went to beauty school to help earn money for the family. She later supervised beauty shops in the Poston camps. The family moved to Cleveland and for 30 years she owned a downtown shop, Toshi's Beauty Salon.

"I really admired her gift of hospitality, to make folks feel welcome and cared for," daughter Kathy said.

She and her husband were active for decades in the Cleveland chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League.

The couple married July 27, 1940. He died May 20, 2001.

Surviving are her daughters, Janet Brothers and Kathy Tashima; sisters, Haruko Kobata, Teruko Kuwada, and Aiko Wada; brother, Sumi Fujimoto; six grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.

A life celebration has been scheduled Thursday at 11 a.m. in Sylvania United Church of Christ, Sylvania. Family will greet guests after 9:30 a.m. Arrangements are by the Walker Funeral Home.

The family suggests tributes to the church or the Kidney Foundation.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.

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