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Lily Kushi

December 11, 2009

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Aveline and Lily-cropped Lily was born on July 20th, 1953 in New York. She died January 8, 1995. She was the oldest of my siblings. I have a lot of emotions when I think about my sister. There is sadness. There is anger, frustration and confusion. And, there is joy and peace.

The sad part about Lily is that she died at the young age of 41 of complications due to cervical cancer. The anger, frustration and confusion are about wondering why and how it could happen to her and if there was anything that I or anyone else could have done to help and prevent her death from happening. It was a shock to the whole macrobiotic community that Michio and Aveline’s own daughter died from cancer. Just prior to her stage 4 diagnosis Lily herself prophetically mentioned, “Wouldn’t it be ironic if Michio and Aveline’s own daughter had cancer?” She had cancer and died from it.  It was ironic and tragic and for many years after her death I was angry, frustrated and confused.

Lily On Front Steps 1I had seen the unhappy conditions in which she was living when I visited her in LA about seven years prior to her death.  She lived out of one single bedroom in a suburban home in the “valley” in LA.  Her things were so jam-packed in her room that there was no place to walk at all.  All one could do was sit on the bed.  I was too wrapped up in my own problems at the time to be able to help her.  She was worried about me and yet she was the one who really needed help, not me.

After her death I blamed myself, I blamed my parents and I blamed all of her friends for not giving her the love and attention that she needed to live a truly happy and vibrant life.  Her cancer death raised questions about the healing nature of macrobiotics and the  reactions that followed made me so angry for so many years.  Michio dismissed her death as the result of poor eating and damage done from excessive medical treatment.  Other macrobiotic leaders and former students of Michio’s saw it as an opportunity to bash Michio’s macrobiotic approach (an approach that many of them once blindly followed) and to promote their own work. I was disgusted by that reaction.

Lily and Aveline

To me, the cause of her death was obvious: no one, myself included, gave her the ongoing unconditional love and support that she needed to transform her life completely.  The unconditional love necessary to transform one’s life requires going far beyond the normal patterns of everyday living.  It requires adopting the spirit known as “non-credo” – of giving up all preconceived notions and beliefs systems and being willing to change anything and everything in one’s life.

The many thousands who healed their cancers with macrobiotics grew up in a regular American household.  They had to transform their lives completely in order to adopt a macrobiotic lifestyle.  For Lily, myself, my siblings and any one else who was raised in a macrobiotic household, transforming our lives mean discarding the prevailing “credo”, which is none other than macrobiotics! I do not necessarily mean giving up eating brown rice, miso soup and fresh vegetables, what I mean here is giving up the “credo”, the conceptual dogma, that is macrobiotics; the very dogma which, paradoxically, can prevent one from directly experiencing the healing powers of food itself!  And to be able to let go of such a dogma requires a space of unconditional love and acceptance where there is no judgment and criticism at all.

Unfortunately for Lily, this never happened.  Instead, while she had cancer, her world went in the opposite direction and became completely absorbed by the prevailing macrobiotic dogma.  She needed to be pulled out that situation completely and be gently held like a newborn baby for long time until she could begin to feel and experience her own life again. She needed a complete life transformation that could only come from a safe cocoon of nurturing unconditional love.

Michio and LilyWhile Michio may have been technically correct in assessing the actual biophysical mechanism that may have caused her death he was not at all equipped with the emotional wherewith all and insight to save his own daughter.  None of us were.  Even if Michio or anyone of us had such ability, in the end very few, or perhaps none, have the ability to completely transform the life of another person.  That transformation must be born from an unwavering desire that comes from deep within the very person him or herself.  In the end, I believe that Lily died because she was more interested in satisfying the whims of others than she was in nurturing her own desire to transform her life and to live.  And it’s that belief or notion, whether true or not, that allows me to let go of my anger, my frustration and confusion. No shame, no blame. Life is but a dream; a river in which we gently row our boat.

A Recital cropped

The joy and peace is in remembering what a beautiful person and soul that she was and the gift of music that she gave me. Lily was the epitome of music. She studied music at Berklee School of Music and also the Dick Grove School of Music (now defunct). Lily taught me to read music. I remember sitting next to her on a piano bench as she would show me how to play piano and read notes. She taught me everything I needed to know in order to be able study music on my own. Because of her I was able to teach myself how to play piano from the Beatles to Scott Joplin to Beethoven. I was also able to teach myself to play guitar and do my own basic arrangements and notations.  She was the only one in my life who encouraged my music by always praising me and telling me how talented and amazing I was.

She had many friends in the music industry.  She took me once to a recording session with the Pointer Sisters.  I got to sit in the recording booth with renowned music producer, Richard Perry.  She also took me to her own recording sessions and allowed me to offer my own musical input.  She had studied everything one could about music from recording engineering to film scoring.  I have no doubt that if she were alive today, she would be a renowned film composer, jazz artist and an inspiration for many.

Phiya, Tenji and Lily cropped

I am happy to have her complete demo recordings, thanks to her good friend, Tom Trujillo, that she produced while at the Dick Grove School of Music and in my spare time will continue to make them available for all to listen to.  Below are links to ones I have made available so far.

Below are YouTube clips of Lily’s music that I have posted so far:

1.  “Easy Living” (1937) by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin. Arrangement and keyboards by Lily:

2.  “I’ve Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good” by Duke Ellington.  Arrangement by Lily.

3.  “Shine On Harvest Moon” (1908) by Nora Bayes-Norworth and Jack Northworth.  Arrangement by Lily

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This article was previously published as part of this entry from November 11, 2009.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. Lisa permalink
    May 8, 2011 4:20 pm

    25 years ago I studied macrobiotics at the Kushi Institute in Switerland and also in the U.S. I have met and talked with Michio and Aveline many times. I was very sick back then and I paid $450 for a consultation with Michio. He misdiagnosed me and put me on a diet which I strictly followed for years. As a result I got sicker and sicker. It wasn’t until years later that the real cause of my illness was found and once it was found, it was treated with THE RIGHT diet and also traditional medicine. By the way, I found Aveline to be very sweet and kind and Michio to be very insensitive.

    I strongly believe that the reason Lily, Aveline, and Michio died of cancer is because God felt it was their time. It is also possible that God wanted to show the world that HE is in charge of when people die, NOT THE MACROBIOTIC DIET!

  2. Kaori permalink
    August 7, 2011 1:04 pm

    Michio is still living, although he admitted he got colon cancer because he overloaded his schedule and never took time out for himself to rest. I’m just heartbroken that his daughter passed away at such a young age. I’m also surprised to hear comments that Michio is insensitive. I know people aren’t perfect, but isn’t macrobiotics supposed to help with living a more peaceful and less judgmental life?

  3. January 27, 2012 4:07 pm

    This is a fine tribute to Lily. I hope you post more of her music which is very serene and touching. I studied Macrobiotics mostly on the west coast with the Aiharas, but also, of course, treasured and learned much from the Kuchis–cooking classes, lectures and the literature. I remember having a conversation with Lily sitting on the stairs of a study house in Brookline where I briefly stayed. I had lived in Berkeley during the late 60s and early 70s so I’d been able to attend a lot of the concerts of the amazing musicians of that time period–Miles Davis, Janis Joplin, Dylan and the Band. She was so eager to learn of the music scene on the west coast. I felt it must be so hard to be a child of the leaders of the Natural Foods Revolution in those years, as people like Michio were like rock stars to a large sector of the young population who were eager for change. People like Michio and Herman Aihara were always surrounded by students who considered them almost surrogate parents. Because of the neediness of these students, obviously it seemed to me that it could really cut into the time and bonds between their own children and themselves. I remember Corneliasan once saying that perhaps future macrobiotic leaders shouldn’t have children of their own, as it was so hard on the kids. (In those days many of the students were sycophantic, it seemed to me, analyzing ad infinitum every word, gesture, bite or action of these teachers.) I am very grateful to these teachers for their sacrifices, however, as what I learned from them allowed me to raise four healthy children without any doctors, vaccines or a lot of money. As Herman always reminded us, macrobiotics is Not a diet. One takes the principles of macrobiotics and applies them, as needed, in order to achieve your dream. Everyone’s goals are individual so everyone’s diet is basically unique within the spectrum of the yin/yang continuum. Taking responsibility for oneself and having gratitude for everyone and everything that has allowed you to have this big life–to me those are the keys to macrobiotics. From your tribute and the few moments I shared with her, Lily’s light still burns. Thank you.

  4. María permalink
    August 2, 2012 8:57 am


    There are many powerful insights in this post, insights that only come to us under big suffering and deep silence,…her journey ended in this physical life but she is alive in your Heart, in the Heart of those that met her, loving her or not, and all of those that through your loving words and insights get to know her essence. Apart from that what I see in this post is how important it was that she believed in you (your music, your opinion about music), I don´t think that it was just because you were her brother, she was well prepared and had enough knowledge to have the proper criteria to say if a person was a good musician or not. Sometimes even when we have touched our dreams in this life, we let them go because the joy that once caused us can be transformed in suffering if we relate them to painful memories/experiences.

    I don´t know if you still write music or play piano or guitar or any other instrument, but I am sure that if you do it, it will be a gift to all of us if you share it. I understand, this is a very personal petition, I have no right to ask for, but reading again about your sister, I understand that one of the goals of her life was to initiate you as a musician, she believed in you and I do believe in you, there is a work that only can be done by you and has to do with sound/music, she saw it and I believe in her and in you.

    If you decide anytime to share your work, please let me know, I am sure it will be a blessing to listen to your work as well as it has been to listen to Lily´s.

    Thank you very much for sharing and for listening.

  5. Suzette Cuseo permalink
    September 2, 2012 9:24 pm

    Dear Phiya,
    I became a close friend of Lily’s while she and I were students at Dick Grove Music School in Studio City. Our friendship continued until her passing in 1995. There is more I need to share with you. How can I contact you privately?

    • Suzette Cuseo permalink
      June 11, 2014 9:40 pm

      How can I contact you?
      Thank you.Suzette Cuseo

  6. Anna permalink
    October 22, 2012 1:07 am

    Shereeliz, helpful comment to this insightful and touching remembrance. I remember the macrobiotic revolution in New York City, in the 70’s and early 80’s, went to a couple of restaurants, was shocked at the attitudes of both the purveyors and the customers. Eating at these places was a hushed, grim and grim faced business, I felt I was eating at the Food Police and was about to get arrested any moment! There was no joy, there were rules, lots of rolling eyes for the uninitiated, and over the top steep prices for what, brown rice? It was like ” the Emperor had no clothes”. It turned a lot of people off. Your comment helps me understand what was going wrong with the movement, it’s been a long time coming. So thank you.

    I still believe that this author was dead-on right in his analysis because you can’t make any sense of life, direction, context, perspective, macrobiotic or otherwise, unless you have unconditional love… and more, the very specific kind of unconditional love that one expects from parents. The absence of that, when the parents are held in awe, create a huge void, and in the body that void expresses as cells that don’t have your DNA, which is basically what cancer is. The trick and the treat is to find unconditional love in the universe itself.

  7. Ismail isiah permalink
    October 27, 2013 9:13 pm

    Anything that is based on belief, and not on science, is bs.

  8. November 8, 2013 4:13 pm

    Dear Phiya,
    Thank you, thank you, thank you!
    It takes great courage for you to bare your soul as you did in this posting I support you for it shows you have arrived at a level of wisdom you father, as wonderful as he was, was unable to achieve. Life, as the Buddha said, is suffering. It is also an opportunity to experience joy beyond belief. Your words show me that you have experienced both.
    I met your father in 1979 in Barcelona, Spain. I followed him to study in Boston, but never made it. Instead I stayed in London for over a year, studying at the Macrobiotic Center on Old Street. Eventually I returned to Cleveland, Ohio, and followed macrobiotics blindly, compulsively and unhealthily over the next ten years.
    I was finally released from it when I made the connection between macrobiotics, Shinto religion, and my own dysfunctional need to have approval from sources outside myself. I left because I felt the compulsivity of my practice and the support others gave me left me no room for love or comfort. I lost many friends in that process for no one I knew supported or understood my leaving.
    I have never forgotten macrobiotics or the friends I made, and I certainly have never forgotten the sense of hope and wholeness it gave me. For me, however, macrobiotics was fear based and I was unable to discuss this with any of my teachers. When I tried, I was simply told I was not eating right. Reading what you wrote about your sister has been very emotional and life affirming for me. I totally understand and agree with what you wrote and my heart goes out to you because every word you wrote rings true. It also gives me hope for the future of macrobiotics.
    I am now writing a book that has to do with the philosophies that assisted me to create an astrological mandala and one of the chapters is devoted to macrobiotics because for me, macrobiotics was a way to live, day by day, the Ying-Yang Mandala. As I revisit that philosophy, I realize what an impact macrobiotics had on my life, how much of the person I am and the person my daughter is, I owe to that philosophy and to your father, Bob Carr, Bill Tara and Ohsawa.
    I found your blog as I was looking for reference material. Your words are very healing and I thank you from the bottom of my heart!
    Martha Dominguez

  9. john permalink
    April 9, 2014 11:40 pm

    Cancer is a genetic pest. Macrobiotics as i understand trys to balance food and lifesyle. Life is about balance. To love and be loved is difficult to balance and no-one escapes heartache. Follow the diet, but make sure thats not a solitary focus and take in and enjoy the happy world around you.

  10. lisa permalink
    January 5, 2015 9:20 pm

    I was at Dick Grove with Lily as well (hi, Suzette!) and am so saddened to hear of her passing. I saw your father’s name in today’s paper and wondered what ever became of Lily. She was so lovely, with a huge heart and passion for jazz. Sending lots of love to you and her.

  11. Bonnie Beatty permalink
    August 17, 2015 1:39 pm

    Dear Phiya, Please accept my condolences on the death of your beloved sister, Lily. I knew her more than 40 years ago in your Brookline home and have just now learned of her passing. I remember as young and lovely and very funny – sparkling with life, intelligence and grace. We have lost a beautiful light of love. Thank you for the pictures of her (and of your wonderful parents.) It was an honor to know her. You must miss her every day.

  12. ThiMy permalink
    October 2, 2015 11:20 am / credentials can be used.

    You are being asked to login because is used by an account you are not logged into now.

    By logging in you’ll post the following comment to Lily Kushi:
    Dear Phiya,
    I can feel your pain and loss since my lovely niece died of stomach cancer at the age of 21. We love and miss her so much, a beautiful and sweet girl!
    Please remember that wrong diet is not the only reason makes us sick; water and air pollution; chemical poisoning and stress, etc. can destroy our health too. So don’t feel angry and feel that your family didn’t give her unconditional love and cariness.
    Besides, We human can cure some diseases to be healthy and to live longer, but death is the door we will finally enter. So it’s more important for the incurable person is to die peacefully and spiritually.

  13. ThiMy permalink
    October 2, 2015 3:33 pm

    Dear Phiya,
    I can feel your pain and loss since my lovely niece died of stomach cancer at the age of 21. We love and miss her so much, a beautiful and sweet girl!
    Please remember that wrong diet is not the only reason makes us sick; water and air pollution; chemical poisoning and stress, etc. can destroy our health too. So don’t feel angry and feel that your family didn’t give her unconditional love and cariness.
    Besides, We human can cure some diseases to be healthy and to live longer, but death is the door we will finally enter. So it’s more important for the incurable person is to die peacefully and spiritually.

    • katgirl2007 permalink
      August 6, 2021 9:25 am

      ThiMy cervical cancer is one of the easiest cancers to cure or most important to prevent. And to be frank and blunt it is transferred by sex which the Macrobiotic male community has a long history of abuse in this department.

  14. katgirl2007 permalink
    August 6, 2021 9:21 am

    I know this post is old and am so sorry for your loss. I just want to clarify how easy cervical cancer is to prevent! Women getting Pap smears is not very invasive but will tell you wether or not you are predisposed to getting cervical cancer. It is called dysplasia and is easily treated thru burning the pre cancerous cells. Because cervical cancer is caused by the HPV virus! Which can come from having multiple sexual partners. I had it after giving birth and was going to try to heal it naturally as I had been Macrobiotic and ran a center for a very long time. My midwife who did the Pap smear convinced me to get help. This is something not to mess around with. I do not know any women that cured herself of this by diet. I do know of a lot that died and left young children without a mother! While I would like to be able to cure myself I am also rational enough to know some of modern medicine is useful and over the years has saved my life many times which I am grateful. Michio should have known this but may have been to stubborn to let that in. And no amount of love will cure that! We are in a modern society and need to let in both the past and what’s new and combine them for a better outcome! I just have read about many Macrobiotic teachers who have died of cancer and see the stubbornness in them. Life is a gift and really needs to be enjoyed. I found too many Macrobiotic teachers in my past taught with a lot of guilt and less flexibility. They were very critical and judgmental. The ones that are enjoying a happy life dropped the dogma!

    • Phiya Kushi permalink*
      August 6, 2021 10:26 am

      Thank you, katgirl2007, for your comment. I am aware that cervical cancers are caused by HPV and are treatable. There were plenty of misconceptions in past macrobiotic ideas including and especially about the impact of viruses. I believe at the time, my sister and my mother were not aware of this concerns and by the time they noticed something was wrong their cancers had spread to stage IV.

      I also do know someone who recovered from cervical cancer following my father’s dietary advice without additional treatment and is alive and well today. Similarly, I know of many who recovered from the various cancers that macrobiotic teacher helped but did not overcome.themselves.

      There is a stubbornness and arrogance that can befall upon us regardless of who we are that causes us to be blindness which leads to our own downfall. The arrogance in the macrobiotic community is the cause of its own downfall. This does not invalidate some of the basic premises of Macrobiotics such as the impact of the foods we eat and also ironically includes the notion that arrogance is the cause of all illnesses and tragedies.

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