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25 June 2019

Obituary Announcement

Yutaka Kobori, private funeral services for Yutaka Kobori were conducted Saturday, March 23, at the Buddhist Church of Oakland. Kobori, age 93 years, long time resident of San Leandro, was born to Kenso and Konami Kobori on May 15, 1925 in Fresno, California. He grew up in Biola and Kerman. He peacefully died Feb. 28 in San Leandro, California. He and his parents were sent to Jerome Relocation Center in Arkansas in 1942 where he completed high school. He then moved to Michigan in 1943 to work and was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1944. He served in the Military Intelligence Service in the Philippines and Japan post-World War II. He returned to the U.S. to attend UC Berkeley where he received his bachelor’s degree in accounting. He worked for the Atomic Energy Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission prior to retirement. Yutaka and his wife moved to San Leandro where they raised five children. Kobori was an active member of the Eden Japanese Community Center and Eden Japanese American Citizens League. He moved to J-Sei Home in 2011 where he enjoyed gardening and socializing with friends. He proudly received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2012 for his MIS duties and the Silver Pin award from the Japanese American Citizens League in 2017. Kobori was preceded in death by his wife Kimiko Kobori and survived by 5 children and 8 grandchildren. A memorial Celebration of Life will be held Saturday, May 11, at 3 p.m. at the Eden Japanese Community Center in San Lorenzo, CA. Please RSVP to In lieu of flowers or koden, donations may be directed to the Eden JACL Scholarship Fund.

Bessie Masuda, 89, died peacefully at her home in Berkeley on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, with her husband Toru Saito by her side. She had struggled for six years with a form of Alzheimer’s disease.

Born in Stockton on May 27, 1929, Bessie was second of the five children of George Taro Masuda and Chiemi Sugioka Masuda. She spent her youth in an atmosphere of great warmth, which she herself went on to convey to others throughout her long life. She spent her youth in Lodi where she graduated from Alpine Elementary.

Those pleasant years came to an abrupt end with the declaration of war between the United States and Japan. The family was imprisoned in camps, her father in Fort Lincoln, North Dakota, and the rest of the family in Rohwer, Arkansas. He was kept apart from the rest of the family for two years before finally being allowed to join them at another camp in Crystal City, Texas.

In view of these shattering experiences, George wanted to return to Japan after the war, but the children had been born and raised as Americans and opposed the move. They therefore returned to Lodi, only to find that their home had been torched by neighbors. The family had no choice but to move to San Francisco, where George and Chiemi worked together in a hotel and Bessie and her sisters were sent to other homes as “school girls,” who earned room and board in exchange for household work. Raised in a close and loving family, Bessie never forgot the anxiety and loneliness of those years.

She nevertheless graduated with honors from Commerce High School in 1951, then sacrificed a college education to go to work at the Bank of America in order to contribute to the restoration of her family’s finances. Some years later she married and had two daughters. After that first marriage ended she found employment with International Diamond and Jewelry Corporation (IDJ) in San Francisco to support herself and her children, and she worked there for more than 30 years, rising to become office manager before her retirement in 2013. She met Toru Saito, a mental health clinician, in 1993; they married and spent the next quarter century living in Berkeley.

Despite the emotional and financial hardships of her youth and young adulthood, Bessie was universally loved for her warm and generous personality. And she was just as widely admired for her numerous accomplishments. She was a gifted singer who won her first singing contest while still in the Rohwer camp and finally realized her cherished dream of singing the great jazz standards with a full-sized swing band in about 1995. Later on she and Toru (also a noted jazz singer) became well known for the jazz soirées they held at their home, which were marked by professional quality music until the wee hours, with Bessie alternately singing and serving excellent cuisine.

Bessie not only had a good ear but a gifted eye; she was a skilled painter in oils, and some of her portraits and landscapes were sold to collectors. And despite her warm and kind personality, she could be a ferocious competitor on the tennis court, winning championships in the East Bay Women’s Division in the 1970s and 1980s.

Bessie is survived by her husband Toru, daughters Jill Lee of Piedmont, CA, and Kim Yao of Alameda, CA, granddaughter Megan Lee, currently a student at SF State, sister Suzie Sasagawa of Palo Alto, CA, and brother Richard Masuda of Los Gatos, CA.

A celebration of her life will be held on Saturday, April 20, at the Berkeley United Methodist Church, 1710 Carlton St., Berkeley, CA; there will be service at 11 a.m., followed by a reception.