Tama Koriyama Murotani-Inaba passed away peacefully on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, at 6:30 a.m. She is survived by her daughters, Cari Murotani and Joi Dennett; three grandsons, (Cari’s sons) Mark Kirihara (Amy), Scott Kirihara, and Miguel Colón (Lariza); four great-grandchildren, Mark Kirihara Jr., Rylan Kirihara, Mika Kirihara, and Avalyna Colón; stepsons Bruce Inaba (Debbie) and Les Inaba (Denise); cousins in Japan, Nobuhiko Toguchi, Sachiko Sotani, and Ikuko Toguchi; and many nieces and nephews in Washington, California, and Ohio. She was also adopted by several people of different nationalities who called her “Mom.” At 93, Tama outlived all of her own siblings, as well as all five siblings in her late husband Harry’s family.
Tama and her fraternal twin sister, Suzu, were born in Seattle on May 29, 1920. Born a few minutes after her twin, Tama was known as the baby of five children. Her father, Tadashi Koriyama, came to the United States when he was 17. After he went to school and started working, he sent for his picture bride, Tomi Toguchi. Both were from Kagoshima, Japan. Because the family owned two grocery stores, Tama said that even with seven people in her family during the Depression, they always had plenty to eat.
Her parents spoke English in the home and were patriotic Americans.
They named their two sons Franklin and Edison. Tama had fond memories of her family growing up, which was rich with culture, art, music, and dance. All of Tama’s siblings took either music lessons or ballet. From age 7 to 14, Tama took private ballet lessons from renowned Russian Ballet Instructor Ivan Novikoff. Her mother would have elaborate costumes made, hire a pianist, and take her by taxi to perform at community festivities.
Tama’s father died when she was only 14, but he had groomed her to take over the purchasing of food and products for the family business, because she had a good business sense. The family stores were on 6th and Cherry, and 6th and Columbia. Tama had to wake up early in the morning to walk down to Western Avenue, where the wholesalers bought food and products for the store. She remembers carrying two heavy pork loins under each arm while walking back up the hill to their grocery store.
When WWII broke out and her family was forced to leave Seattle, Tama and her twin left the University of Washington and enrolled at Gilford College in North Carolina, New York, and Minneapolis. Mom outlived her twin by 51 years.
Tama often said that she lived a very full and happy life. She said she traveled around the world many times and had done everything that she wanted to do, was married to two wonderful husbands, and had a family who loved her, so don’t feel sad for her. She has said in the past that she does not want a funeral. Ever since my father Harry’s death, she hasn’t wanted to receive any flowers. We will not have any flowers, per her wishes. Tama outlived her first husband, Harry, by 37 years, and her second husband, Sheane, by seven years.
Tama’s talent for marketing, her social aptitudes, and being “people smart” served her well throughout her life. She was and will always be memorable and thought of lovingly. People have described her as a beautiful, elegant, classy, remarkable, humorous, social, “the hostess with the mostess,” generous, one-of-a-kind woman — a treasure of the Asian community. She was an active chairperson on numerous civic committees. She was also the President of the Nisei Veterans Auxiliary.
Tama liked it when her friends would call her “outrageous.” She said that she was vain, so she never wanted to leave home without make up, having her hair fixed, and being well dressed. It’s something she was known for across all generations. She will be deeply missed by so many. (end)