Japanese Wife Returns to Familiar Surroundings
Serene yet approachable, serious and fun loving, Yoriko Fujisaki — wife of recently appointed Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki — is back in Washington for the third time and enjoying every moment.
“I went to kindergarten here,” she said when we first met in July at Japan’s annual barbeque bash on the spacious residence grounds. Yoriko was busy welcoming hundreds of neighbors along with various congressional and media guests, and even though she was wearing simple slacks, a T-shirt and baseball cap, there was still an aura of elegance about her.
“I was in Washington as a little girl exactly a half century ago, in 1958,” she said, smiling coyly. Yoriko comes from a renowned family of Tokyo bankers. Her grandfather was Hideshige Kashiwagi, an important foreign banker in New York back in the 1920s, and her late father, Yusuke Kashiwagi, was also a well-known banker as well as an international financial expert.
“We were here for three years from the time I was 3 to 6. We lived in a three-story typical Cleveland Park house with a big front porch…. My father was ‘on loan’ from the Ministry of Finance and served as the first secretary at the embassy,” she explained.
“I can still remember the 1960 presidential campaign between Nixon and Kennedy. And now I’m back and America is experiencing the same excitement,” she added.
“My mother and I often talk about the time I got lost in the Giant grocery store on River Road. I was only 4 years old then and my parents and I somehow got separated. I went outside and stood by the car in the parking lot, but they were frantic looking for me inside,” she recalled. “Finally, a full hour later, they came out and saw me by the car. I was so happy to see them but they were furious because they had been so worried.”
Yoriko returned to the Washington area from 1995 to 1999, when her husband served as political minister at the Japanese Embassy, during which time their two daughters attended Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, the “sister school” of the Sacred Heart academy in Tokyo, which both Yoriko and her mother attended. Now Yoriko’s daughters have both returned to Japan: Emi, 22, lives in Tokyo and works for Shogakukan, a famous Japanese publisher of dictionaries and children’s magazines, while 29-year-old Mari works as a newspaper journalist in the city of Sendai.
Although the Japanese population is less than 1 percent Christian, Yoriko chose Catholic schools for herself and her children because “I always knew we would live in different countries and with Catholic schools, at least values would stay the same.”
The family did wind up living in several different countries, and today, Yoriko finds herself back in Washington for a third time, as the wife of an ambassador. “Now, I’m the one coming back and seeing my old friends, my favorite places. I am calling old friends, meeting them and catching up. When we first arrived this past summer, my friend Susan Komori took me around, welcoming me back home.”
In fact, it was Susan who helped the Fujisaki family adopt “Skipper” back in 1995. Always by her side, Skipper is the Fujisakis’ cherished 12-year-old Labrador who watches, but not longer can chase, the foxes across the expansive Japanese compound.
“Skipper is a retired police dog,” Yoriko began. “Our daughter Emi was reading a girls’ magazine and read how you can adopt a ‘seeing-eye guide dog,’ giving a puppy a temporary home until they are one year old and go off for training. Since I was already looking for a volunteer project the whole family could do together, we adopted Skipper.
“But when Skipper was nine months old, he failed the test,” Yoriko continued. “You see, he is a very special dog and his focus is very narrow. To qualify to be a guide dog, they want a dog who is extremely observant of everything in order to help their blind owner from every danger. So Skipper was sent to the Police Dog K9 Training Center in Virginia.
“We went to his graduation,” she proudly noted, wondering even now how they were able to let Skipper leave their family circle to become police dog.
The Fujisaki family even followed Skipper’s jet-setting career, which took him to Italy. “He was a gift from the American government to the Italian government as a bomb-sniffing dog, working at the Milan airport,” Yoriko explained. “When we were posted in Geneva, we went to see Skipper because he was supposed to retire and I wanted to adopt him back. But he was so good at his job, they wanted him to stay an extra year. Two years ago, on his birthday, we called again and asked again about his ‘retirement.’ I knew he would be heartbroken to see his replacement come.”
But Skipper seems to have been able to leave his police work behind and settle back in with the Fujisakis, becoming a family pet once again.
So when Ichiro Fujisaki was appointed ambassador to the United States earlier this summer, Yoriko and her husband wouldn’t have thought of doing anything else but bringing him to Washington with them.
“Now, I have a new job: to bring Skipper back to discipline,” she said, admitting to an odd role reversal after her daughter Mari recently visited and spoiled the Lab with attention. “For my husband, it is easier to have ‘discipline’ if you want to live with him. He thinks that children are not to be too noisy. When he’s home, he’s like a ‘general.’ So I am really strict with Skipper, who really likes people in uniforms, especially men. When we have visitors who are Navy admirals or Air Force or Army generals, Skipper gets all excited,” Yoriko said.
“Japan is really fortunate to have the Fujisakis here because they already know and love Washington and this country,” said longtime friend Susan Komori. “And, they always try to ‘taste’ our way of life.”
As for Skipper, “he absolutely didn’t forget any of us,” Susan reported. “Wherever we get together in the world, whether it was Geneva, in Tokyo each summer, or here now, Skipper runs to greet me and wiggles all over. He never forgot the very first toy I gave him,” said Susan, who taught the family — which had never had a dog before — how to play with and train Skipper.
“I remember how hot and humid Washington was then,” Yoriko recalled of her time here in the mid-1990s when she first got Skipper. “It seemed worse then but perhaps we didn’t have as much air conditioning.”
Today, as a mother of two grown daughters, Yoriko loves to drive around town looking for old landmarks, like the spot where she took the girls sledding in Rock Creek Park, or even her own school from 50 years ago, Murch Elementary on 36th Street.
“My husband went to public middle school in Seattle when I was here in Washington at Benjamin Murch,” Yoriko explained. “We were on the same continent but didn’t know it. Our mothers knew each other, first as school girls at Sacred Heart in Tokyo, but we had never met even though our families lived in the same neighborhood.”
When I asked Yoriko how she and her husband met, she had the story ready.
“His aunt asked my mother if she knew of a young woman who would be interested in getting married, and she said, ‘Yes, Yoriko,’” who was 21 at the time and studying history at Sophia University.
“My husband was eight years older and was already in the Foreign Service so I knew, if I married him, what my life would be like. Now we have been married for 31 years.”
Besides Washington and Geneva, the Fujisakis have lived in Jakarta, Paris and London. “Someday, you always have to leave. That’s what I don’t like. But it doesn’t mean that you lose those friends. My life is like a tapestry. Each person is woven into my tapestry. They are an important thread that you never cut away. Your friends are always part of you for the rest of your life, wherever you go, wherever you live in the world.”
But with an empty nest at home now except for Skipper, Yoriko is considering taking up physical therapy, which she studied in Japan but hasn’t practiced professionally since she accompanied her husband to Geneva immediately after she earned her license.
“I’m good at it,” she reported proudly. “I can put my hands on someone’s back and know which part of their body hurts. It is personal, concentrated work. I also practice Seitai and tone up my own body. It helps you become more aware of your body. We teach that your ribs are like a birdcage, hanging on your spine. We all need to have good, natural posture for better blood flow. We always work from the spine. When you are stressed and bent over or with poor posture, it is easier to get sick.”
No wonder Yoriko has such natural grace, which is also very emblematic of Japanese society. Although the United States and Japan “share a lot of common principles — democracy, free elections, free marketplace in a capitalistic environment — the difference is that we have a 1,000-year-old history that is really the base of how we think, which is very different from Western thinking. It is the same among the other Asian countries,” Yoriko reflected.
“Japanese people don’t explain — they understand the meaning between the lines of expression and exposure to others,” she added. “As Japanese, we are brought up to be very humble, just an instrument to serve something bigger, as if we are all branches of the same tree…. We are all connected but replaceable.”
Nevertheless, this quintessential Japanese woman has enjoyed her time in the United States — all three times so far. “I like the American way. You include everything and are always trying to include everyone. And you are very open, straightforward.”
About the Author
Gail Scott is a contributing writer to The Washington Diplomat and lifestyle columnist of the Diplomatic Pouch.