Talented, warm, resourceful, adventurous, fearless and practically unstoppable – second oldest among four brothers and one older sister, Kiyoshi Inoue was larger than life. Born in 1935 in Tokyo, he was evacuated to Akita Prefecture in the countryside during his early elementary school years because of the war. He’d often talk about how difficult life was, from running for shelter during air raids to eating frogs and snakes when they couldn’t find other food.
Kiyoshi attended the prestigious Seijo University in Tokyo, earning a degree in business in 1961. He worked for a trading company for a few years, but hoped his father, who was the President of Keio (a railway, building, real estate, etc company) and built the first skyscraper in Shinjuku, would allow him to work under him, but Kiyoshi’s father insisted he find his own way. This forced him to explore what he really wanted and decided he wanted to create a design school in Tokyo. Mind you, he had no design experience. Classic Kiyoshi. When he told his father this, he showed tremendous support but suggested he learn the ways first. So Kiyoshi decided to come to Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles to research how an art school operated. But first he had to be accepted as a student. He had never taken an art class before, so with help from the first Japanese graduate of Art Center who had become a design professor in Tokyo, he submitted a portfolio and was accepted. His major was advertising, and through his classes, he soon discovered how much he enjoyed design work.
It was at Art Center that he met Masako Kasugai, who was part of the small group of Japanese students there. He was the “boss” of this group and would pile them all in his red Impala to see the sights of L.A., singing along with popular Japanese songs blasting from the 8-track player. He and Masako both graduated from Art Center in 1968, and Kiyoshi went to work for Donald Tartak Design. He and Masako married in 1973. In 1982, he opened his own studio and became a graphic design consultant for corporate identity, working with companies including Saul Bass & Associates, Chaix & Johnson Architects, and Douglas Boyd Marketing. His designs were used by clients such as AT&T, Pacific Telephone, Yellow Pages, Kaiser Permanente, and Daimaru Department Store in Japan. He received design awards from the New York Art Directors Club, NASFM, the National Retail Merchants Association, and the Institute of Store Planners.
Masako and Kiyoshi welcomed their daughter, Shiho Jennifer, in 1979. Kiyoshi, a traditional Japanese man, never changed Shiho’s diapers but he did have an untraditional flair such as bringing back the latest and greatest toys from his business trips to Japan, teaching Masako how to cook, and though slow to show his emotions, inside he was very kind and gentle. In 2000, he walked Shiho down the aisle. And in 2008, when Colin and Shiho had their daughter, Ame, he was thrilled to be with her and proudly carried her around the house and neighborhood. Ame learned Japanese and they were able to communicate well. In 2017, when Shiho remarried, he gained a son-in-law, David. Soon after, his second granddaughter Nami arrived and less than two years later came his third granddaughter, Sora. He loved it whenever the girls would wander into his room to be with their “Jiji.”
Kiyoshi had lots of interests. He loved airplanes, and to conquer his fear of heights, got a pilot’s license and started flying Cessna airplanes. (He had two crash landings, but they didn’t scare him off from flying.) After this, he moved on to motorcycles. One day, Masako and Shiho were startled by a loud rumble and to their surprise, saw a transformed man in a headband, leather fringe vest, Harley t-shirt, acid washed jeans and boots coming up the stairs. Parked outside was a shiny new Harley Davidson, complete with light up eagle eyes on the fender. He rode many places, but his biggest adventure was a solo trip to Canada and back. He also loved his antique Model A cars. But his true “happy place” was out in nature. He spent a lot of time camping and fishing, although Masako was not a fan of those trips.
Masako did care for his love of golf and the two played locally and all over the state as often as they could. They enjoyed the beautiful landscapes at their favorite courses and loved spending time with friends who shared their passion for the sport. Kiyoshi was physically not very big, so he studied karate as a young adult. He earned a black belt, was captain of his college team, and continued doing karate exercises well into his senior years. He was also an avid gun collector and would brag that he had a gun believed to have been owned by Geronimo. He frequently quoted Clint Eastwood sayings such as, “Go ahead. Make my day.”
Kiyoshi was a master gardener. As he explained, “When I take care of the plants, they don’t talk back to me.” He spent many days in the backyard meticulously watering and pruning. Every year he proudly grew a large crop of his tomatoes and they became a prized ingredient in summer meals.
Kiyoshi suffered two minor strokes about fifteen years ago, and at that point he lost most of his English language. Then four years ago he had an aortic dissection. Doctors didn’t think he would survive and believed any surgeries would be too risky. At that point, Shiho and David, their newborn preemie Nami, and eleven year old Ame moved into the Silver Lake house to help Masako take care of him. Then Covid arrived and this extended family stayed together in the house. In 2021, Sora was added to the Silver Lake household. Kiyoshi now found himself part of a very full house. David transitioned to working remotely from home and would make lunch and look after Kiyoshi on days that the girls were out of the house.
Kiyoshi amazed everyone by surviving this and many other dramatic health incidents. No longer able to ride a motorcycle or drive a car, he started walking all over the neighborhood. He walked farther and farther each time, sometimes all the way to Griffith Park Observatory – he didn’t want anyone to limit where he went. Friends living in the neighborhood would often text the family about their Kiyoshi sightings in and around Silver Lake. Although he couldn’t talk much, he was very aware when David was suddenly admitted to the ICU with an aortic dissection this past November. When Masako told him she had decided to become a Christian because of all the support and kindness Shiho and David’s church had provided during David’s hospitalization, Kiyoshi told her without hesitation that he wanted to become a Christian, too. And when Masako told him that David had passed away on November 28th, he cried. This was the first time she ever witnessed him cry in front of her. David had been a very important and caring part of his life.
Not two weeks after David’s death, Kiyoshi and Masako and David’s mother Sunny all attended Grandparents’ Day at Nami and Sora’s preschool. Kiyoshi was happy to be there and enjoyed a day watching their performances and a family lunch outing where he finished his entire meal. But later that afternoon, he suffered a final severe stroke at home while resting. He was admitted to the hospital that night and quietly passed away on December 11th, just one day shy of his 88th birthday. (In Japan, it was already December 12th, his actual birthday.) This was just a handful of days before Masako and Kiyoshi’s 50th wedding anniversary. The day before he died, his family gathered and celebrated this milestone and his birthday in the hospital. Even though he was unconscious, they believe he felt their love and presence in the room and was able to leave this world a happy man.
Kiyoshi is survived by his wife, Masako; his daughter Shiho; his three granddaughters, Ame, Nami, and Sora; and his two children from a previous marriage, Masao and Naoko.
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