Music 32

Ruriko (Ikenami) Tsuji

November 30, 1931 ~ May 21, 2020 (age 88)


Ruriko Tsuji

1931 - 2020

Ruriko Tsuji was born the youngest of three children and was raised in Kyoto, Japan. Her parents met while they were both training to be teachers in Japan’s new western-revised educational system. Her mother had found life to be too restrictive in her small mountain village and answered a government ad for free teacher training. Her father was employed as an assistant school principal while her mother worked as an elementary school teacher.

After graduating from high school, Ruriko earned a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in agricultural biochemistry from Kyoto Prefectural University in 1954. Ruriko then began working as a laboratory helper at Kyoto University where she met her future husband, Kiyoshi. Kiyoshi fell in love with her at first sight, seeing a halo radiating from her face. She got to know Kiyoshi better after a water hose came loose on an experiment that he was running overnight. Ruriko went into work the next morning and discovered water flooding all 3 floors of the science building (Kiyoshi’s lab was on the 3rd floor).

Afterwards, she taught biology and math at a private high school in Kyoto. By this time, she and Kiyoshi had fallen in love. After the death of his father, Kiyoshi found the social structure in Japan to be overly restrictive and applied to a program to get an advanced degree in the United States. When he received word that he had been accepted, he left Japan to get his Masters at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Soon after, Ruriko applied to the same program, without telling her parents. She learned later that she had been accepted and would be getting a Research Assistantship to pay her expenses. She told her shocked parents and set off in 1957 for the University of Massachusetts, Amherst even though she didn’t know much English.

She and Kiyoshi married in 1958 while they were both still getting their degrees at UMass. Ruriko was pregnant with their first child when she graduated with her Master of Science degree in Nutrition Research from the Home Economics Department in 1959.

They moved from Amherst to Berkeley, California, then to Boston, Massachusetts while Kiyoshi moved from job to job, looking for better opportunities. In 1964, they settled permanently in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where they raised their three children. Later, they became U.S. citizens and shook the hand of then President Bill Clinton.

Ruriko was an accomplished pianist and seamstress, as well as a distinguished cook. She was noted for her practical, yet creative dishes. She was a City of Portage recipe contest winner and two-time finalist in the Kalamazoo Gazette’s Holiday Cookbook Contest. She kept her family knit together – both at the dining table, where they ate almost every meal together, and by making sure that her kids would always value education and have a desire to never stop learning.

She enjoyed travelling and was always willing to take on adventures with her husband. In 1963 they drove from California to Boston in a Volkswagen Beetle with two small children (one still in cloth diapers), camping in five national parks along the way. As their three children grew up, they took their family on many summer vacations to visit national parks in the Rockies, Utah, and California, along with trips to Japan and Europe. After Kiyoshi’s retirement, they travelled together to visit such sites as Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Victoria Falls, Australia and New Zealand, the Himalayas, the Galapagos Islands, and Tahiti.

Ruriko maintained a sharp intellect until the final days of her life, when she succumbed to a long battle with cancer.

She is survived by her three children (Shoko, Hiroshi, and Jun), six grandchildren (Sarah, Michelle, Katie, Jackson, Haley, and Tyler), and three great grandchildren (David, Reta Ann, and Lillian Ruriko).

Contributions in her memory can be made to the Resident Assistance Fund at Sunset Village (Sylvania, Ohio), where Ruriko enjoyed the last 15 months.

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