In her own self-effacing way, Kay Kawaguchi has devoted most of her working life in Chicago to the preservation of Japanese cultural traditions. She is an active presence behind the scenes at performances and rehearsals of the Fujima Ryu of Chicago school of Japanese classical dance, and lends her assistance and support to the Tsukasa Taiko drummers as well. In her capacity as coordinator of cultural classes at the Japanese American Service Committee (JASC), she organizes, promotes, and performs all administrative work for ongoing classes in Japanese language, flower arranging (ikebana), ink painting (sumi-e), and cooking. Formerly a writer, photographer, and Japanese-language editor at the Chicago Shimpo, Kay continues to contribute articles and poetry to the newspaper and other local Japanese-language publications.
In addition, both through the JASC and in her free time, Kay has directly and indirectly helped many older Japanese nationals navigate social service programs in Chicago and other locations. Her friendly and compassionate manner, along with her fluency in both Japanese and English, make her a sensitive translator-interpreter, winning the confidence of all parties involved.
Born in wartime Japan, Kay came to know at an early age the deprivations and upheavals that war inflicts on innocent civilians, even after hostilities end. As a schoolgirl, she knew she wanted to become a writer, and after completing high school, she secured a position as a reporter for a newsletter for fans of the famed Takarazuka theater troupe. After a number of years on the job, Kay decided to make an extended visit to the US to see relatives, study, and gain some life experience before having to settle down.
Although she initially did not speak English, Kay immediately felt comfortable in the US. In time she met and married Frank Kawaguchi, and they made a life together in Chicago. After concentrating on family for several years, Kay resumed her writing career at the Chicago Shimpo, and added editorial duties soon thereafter. In all, she spent 13 years at the newspaper.
In 1999, Kay became a staff member at the JASC, where she works today, handling a broad range of duties, including cultural classes, translations for the Social Security Administration, and community events.
When asked to name the person she most admires, Kay named the late Iva Toguri, who, as a young American stranded alone in Japan during World War II, unwillingly became one of the radio broadcasters collectively known as “Tokyo Rose.” Upon her return to the US, Iva was tried and convicted of treason on false evidence. Throughout, she steadfastly maintained her patriotism and innocence, and eventually won a Presidential pardon in 1977. Kay cites Iva Toguri’s strength of character, persistence, and refusal to indulge in self-pity as qualities that lifted her above the sensationalism surrounding her court cases.
With generosity and grace, Kay Kawaguchi demonstrates her own strength of character on a daily basis, devoting her time and energy to programs and organizations that bring meaning and richness to community life.