Story of HARUKO SHIMIZU (author of Mizuhiki: Kogei Nyumon)

Mrs. Haruko Shimizu was born in Puyallup, Washington on January 21, 1916. She was the sixth child of nine children born to Mr. and Mrs. Tsunesaburo Kato. Her parents immigrated to the United States in January 1900 and started a berry farm in Puyallup, Washington. The Kato family returned to Japan in 1921 with four children and settled with other three children, who were previously sent back to live with their grandparents, in Hirako, which is a district on the outskirts of Saijo, Hiroshima, Japan. She attended a girls’ school in the 1930’s in the city of Saijo, where she was introduced to and learned about a Japanese art craft known as “Mizuhiki”. Mizuhiki is an ancient art of weaving colored paper cords to create such things as decorative ties for gift and money envelopes, motifs like “Shoochikubai” (Pine, bamboo, and plum) and “Tsurukame” (tortoise and crane), and big objects like Takarabune, fish, eagle, flowers and etc.

She married Sengo Shimizu on March 4, 1935 in Japan and she came back to the United States with her husband to make their home in Salinas, California. After the outbreak of World War II, she and her three children were separated from her husband and sent to Santa Anita Assembly Center in Los Angeles, California and then to the Gila Relocation Camp in Arizona. Her husband was taken to Crystal City Internment Camp in Texas, where she and their children joined him in 1943. After the war, the Shimizu family with four children, returned to Sengo’s family hometown, Shiobara, Hiroshima, Japan where they operated a rice farm. In 1959, the Shimizu family with three children returned to Portland, Oregon and joined up with two sons, who came back to America several years earlier. Finally the Shimizu family with four sons and one daughter settled in Seattle, Washington.

She studied the craft of mizuhiki in Japan over an extended period before and after World War II. She began teaching Mizuhiki in 1984 to a small group of interested people at various places such as her home, Buddhist Church, conventions, or group gatherings. An interest for the craft of Mizuhiki began to grow as more people learned from her and began to participate in the craft. She’s spent the past 20 years traveling up and down the West Coast teaching the craft at festivals and conventions and at such places as Hawaii, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Spokane. She’s also been participating in demonstrating and displaying her craft at the annual Seattle Cherry Blossom and Japanese Cultural Festival at Seattle Center, at the annual Aki Matsuri (Fall Festival) at Bellevue Community College, and at the annual Bon Odori festival held at the Seattle Buddhist Temple. The Bon festival is held by members of the Japanese-American community to honor their ancestors.

As she taught the craft to a wide range of students, who are young and old, skilled to unskilled or quick learner to slow learner, she began to realize that she needed an English instruction book. There are many Mizuhiki Books written in Japanese but they are hard to read and understand for beginners. She searched for a Mizuhiki book written in English but her efforts were unsuccessful. Hence she decided to write a Mizuhiki instruction book with the help of her English-speaking students. She wrote and published an English Mizuhiki instruction book titled “Mizuhiki: Kogei Nyumon, A step-by-step guide to Japanese Paper Cord Weaving” in 1998.

In 1996, she was accorded the honorary professional name of “Shun Setsu” (Spring Snow) by her long-time Mizuhiki teacher in Japan, Noboru Sekijima, who heads the association in Nagano, Japan for mizuhiki craft.

She made a Mizuhiki peace tree with 1,000 cranes, which was crafted with help of students at Seattle Buddhist Church, and donated it to the cancer ward of Swedish Medical Center where her husband died in 1986. It is still on display in the waiting room on the 21
st floor of the hospital. In 2000, she and her students also constructed a peace tree of 1,000 cranes and took it to the Hiroshima Memorial for the 55th anniversary of the Atomic Bomb victims. This tree is currently displayed in the waiting room of the governor of Hiroshima prefecture. She has also created 1,000 cranes display and donated to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Victims memorial in Nagasaki, Japan on August 6, 2005 and New York City 9-11 Victims Memorial, in New York City on September 11, 2009. This gesture is her way of expressing, promoting and propagating peace in the world. She just completed another 1,000 cranes display, which will be donated to Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) on May 31, 2010. This will be displayed, when they observe the Buddhist Churches of America Shinran Shonin 750th Memorial Services, will be kept in BCA Headquarters in San Francisco, California.

At the age of 94, her dedication to teach Mizuhiki craft to interested students continues to this date at a Nikkei Horizons’ class on Thursdays and a women’s group at Buddhist Church on Wednesdays.

Written by George Shimizu
(The second son of Haruko Shimizu)

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