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The Passing Of Michio Kushi

December 29, 2015

Michio Kushi (May 17, 1926 - December 28, 2014)

It has been one year now since the passing of my father on December 28, 2014.  I wrote these words below shortly afterwards when my memory was fresh but chose not to publish them until now. During this past year I have mainly lived in quiet retreat allowing myself time to reflect on his life and impact. Michio inspired many to live and work toward a more healthier, happier and peaceful world and I have no doubt that his life will continue to influence many for years to come. As we all move forward toward realizing my father’s dream of world peace and to honor his life on the anniversary of his passing I share these words in his remembrance.

August 2014

“I quit smoking!” said Michio, the moment he saw my face when I opened the door and walked in. I was surprised and laughed.  I was about to congratulate my father but then he went on to add, “I also quit coffee too!  I am beating you!”

“Well, that’s absolutely wonderful!  It’s a competition that I am more than happy to be losing at!”, I said and gave him a bow to concede my defeat.  Everyone in the room burst out laughing.

“What a greeting from Michio!” I thought to myself.  It was August, 2014, and we were in Becket, Massachusetts for the annual Kushi Institute Summer Conference. I hadn’t seen my father since the fall of 2010.

Kushi Family members with Michio at the Kushi Institute Summer Conference, August 2104 in Becket, Massachusetts

Kushi Family members with Michio at the Kushi Institute Summer Conference, August 2014 in Becket, Massachusetts

Michio, his wife, Midori, and Kushi Institute managers, Alex Jack and Ed Esko were sitting around the small conference table in Alex’s office. I had just arrived from Alaska where I had been living since 2010.  I opened my bag and pulled out a cedar gift box of wild Alaskan smoked salmon and gave it to Michio. He thanked me but then passed it along to the others.  He remarked that he also stopped eating animal food as well.  That was another welcome surprise.

Unless my father was ill or experimenting with his food he never changed his habits, especially smoking and coffee. For as long as I can remember there were four things he never changed and these were:

  1. His dark three piece suit.
  2. His smoking
  3. His love of coffee, coffee shops and restaurants.
  4. Never taking any vacations

In my college years and while on a summer break a friend and I were visiting my parent’s home in Brookline. Not really expecting him to join us, I invited Michio out to the beach on a hot summer’s day.  My mother thought it was a good idea and so he reluctantly relented and went up to his room to change.  We waited in the foyer for him in our t-shirts, shorts and sandals then down the stairs he came, unchanged, in his three piece suit.  “Where’s is your bathing suit?”, I asked.  He told me not  to worry.  My friend and I looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders and so, without questioning him any further, we all got in the car and headed to the beach.

I will never forget the image of my father traipsing across the hot sand at Crane’s beach in Ipswich, in his dress socks and shoes and black three piece suit. His outfit was as out of place as much as he was.  For Michio, taking any recreational time was completely out of the question.  Going to beaches, mountains or anywhere to unwind and relax was a waste of time, in his mind. So, to see him in his suit on the beach was a rare treat.

We found a spot to lay down our towels and my friend and I jumped in the ocean.   Meanwhile, Michio slowly surveyed the scene, smoked a cigarette and, at our beckoning, took off his suit and, lo and behold, he had on a pair of swimming trunks – in black, naturally.  He made his way into the water and splashed himself as if taking a bath and then, feeling completely refreshed, said, “OK! Now, let’s eat some fish!”  We all had a good laugh and later, a great fish dinner at a nearby restaurant.  It was clear that he enjoyed himself despite his own principles.

Though the color of his three piece suits may have varied slightly, my father never wore anything else.  He was dressed and prepared to meet anyone with dignity and respect regardless of who they were, be they a homeless person or a head of state.  He was on an mission for world peace and believed that everyone he encountered deserved equal and proper respect no matter who they were.  So ubiquitous was his outfit that one them now resides in the Smithsonian Institute as permanent artifact of the Kushi Family Collection.

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Michio, late 1960s, sitting on the floor in a typical pose

Despite pleas for him to stop from family members, Michio smoked. It was clear  to me that he used cigarettes and coffee, which he only drank black with no sweeteners, to help him concentrate and think. which he did constantly and therefore smoked constantly. When he was not lecturing or giving consultations Michio was always sitting down writing or reading or thinking about the problems of the world.

Once or twice daily, he enjoyed the anonymity of going to coffee shops and restaurants to relax, let his mind wander and to observe people. At times, he often ate what others did because he thought it was helpful to understand them. He mentioned in lectures that if you really wanted to understand and be like Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Mohammed (or anyone else for that matter) then you need to eat exactly like they did.  He often joked with priests, monks and other devout Religious persons by pointing out to them that Jesus or Buddha never drank Coca-Cola or ate Ice Cream. There were times when he would fast or eat simple whole foods, but often he enjoyed going to local diners and eating normal fare without any concern.  However, as his life became increasingly busier, meeting demands that took to him to Europe, Japan and other places, his smoking, coffee, restaurants and not taking any personal time became routine, like his three piece suit, which sustained him on his mission for world health and peace.  It seemed that nothing could dissuade him from changing these habits.

After my mother’s passing in 2001 there was no one around to keep my father’s unhealthy habits in check and they finally caught up to him in the form of colon cancer in 2004. Thanks to the loving care of his second wife, Midori, he recovered and began to change his life-long habits and routines, including relaxing from his busy schedule.  Where my mother had failed to convince Michio to wear something else besides white shirts and three piece suits, Midori had succeeded in dressing him in jeans, plaid shirts and cardigans, which is what he was wearing on that August day in Becket while gleefully declaring that he stopped smoking and coffee.

Midori’s positive influence on Michio’s life was obvious. Beyond his new clothes and giving up unhealthy habits she provided him with the much needed rest, privacy and quiet that he deserved. As far as I can recall, my father never took any vacations. He felt they were a waste of his time.  He worked tirelessly for his dream, his mission and vision; constantly giving lectures, consultations and writing letters and books. He never declined any request and answered calls from clients, students and friends from all over the world at all hours of the day.  It was an extremely busy and unhealthy lifestyle. However, thanks to Midori and her vigilance to guard his privacy, my father was finally able to relax and live quietly and with that, he began to change his life long habits. So, with his cheerful and energetic greeting to me in August and despite his rather thin and weak appearance, I was optimistic about his future and left the Summer Conference with thoughts of organizing a 90th birthday celebration for Michio but fate would have other plans.

December 2014

On December 22, 2014 I received a phone call from my brother, Haruo. He informed me that our father, Michio Kushi, was in serious condition in a hospital in Boston.  I had prepared myself to receive such a call but this came sooner than I expected. I saw Michio just five months before in August at the Annual Kushi Institute Summer  Conference and though frail it seemed to me that he had enough energy and spirit in him to last at least few more years.

I was in Alaska when the call came.  My brothers, Haruo and Hisao, flew to Boston as soon as they could.  I caught a Red-Eye out of Anchorage on the 26th and arrived in Boston around noon on Saturday, the 27th.  My oldest brother, Norio, arrived at Logan Airport 30 minutes before me and met me at my terminal. We got a taxi together and rode straight to the hospital.  Soon we were in the lobby of the hospital meeting with Haruo who filled us in with the situation.

The day we arrived Michio had already been in the hospital for ten days.  He had been ill for quite some time in December and progressively became worse and his wife, Midori, unable to do more, brought him into the hospital.  She had contacted no one except Michio’s brother and their close Japanese friend and business associate, who flew immediately from Japan to assist her. She also contacted my brother who then contacted all of us.  No one else outside of this circle of family and friends knew that Michio was in the hospital.

Haruo led Norio and me upstairs to Michio’s room and there he lay, thin and weak and clearly near the end of his life. All of his surviving children, we four sons, were present in the room together with his wife, Midori and the friend from Japan.  Michio was conscious and alert. He had not eaten for several days but was not hungry either.  He was on an IV glucose drip which gave him the energy needed to stay alert and be clear headed.  He had no pain, or at least denied that he did, and had refused any pain medications.

Norio stepped up to his bed side.  Michio had difficulty hearing so Norio spoke louder than normal when greeting him. In a paternal tone that was characteristic of Michio’s relationship with Norio, he insisted that my brother listen to his wife Midori, and heed her words as if they were his own.  He repeated this several times to us all and Norio reassured him with expressions of gratitude.

After Norio, I showed my face to Michio and gave him a big smile.  He looked at me a remarked how nice my teeth looked.  I had some dental work done recently and it showed. That was the first thing he said to me.  I studied his face and looked into his eyes and what I saw shocked me.  His eyes had turned blue!  His eyes were no longer brown but had become blue, as if the brown part had fallen away revealing a pale blue hue underneath.  I remarked, “Oh! Your eyes are blue!”  I looked around to see if anyone else had noticed this and Midori nodded her head. She had noticed this too. Michio did not respond to my remark and instead he reiterated his plea to pay attention to and heed Midori’s words.  Midori, told him not to worry about her.  Michio then asked for his feet to be massaged and so we all took turns doing this.

Michio enjoyed our company and felt relief as we took turns massaging his feet. I pulled out my laptop computer where I keep a collection of old photographs from Michio’s youth from as far back as 1929.  I loaded the photos into a slideshow and then showed them to Michio. He lay there on his bed as I held my laptop in front of him slowly advancing each photo.  With his mouth slightly open his eyes gazed carefully at each photograph intently and he let out an occasional remark and sigh. I couldn’t help but be amused by the image of him literally watching “his life flash before his own eyes”.  I looked at his face carefully and could see him going back in time as each photo flashed in front of him. It was a small moment of joy for me to know that I could provide him with memories of his youth at the end of his life.  After all this then Michio soon fell asleep.

In time, the Doctor showed up and explained the seriousness of Michio’s condition and that the IV drip was actually not helping him.  The only reason they kept the IV going was to help him to stay alert so that he could be present and alert to receive us all.  It was a thoughtful gesture on the Doctor’s part. We decided then that it would be best to remove the IV.  There was no telling how long Michio would last at this point.  It could be a day or two or another week and it all depended on whether he would regain his appetite or not.

Haruo read through Michio’s extensive medical records and discovered that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June of 2014.  He hadn’t mention this to any one including his wife, Midori. She was shocked and in disbelief when she found out.  Michio had always said to her that he was fine even during the Kushi Institute Summer Conference in August.  She and Michio had even traveled to Japan in November.  Had she known that he had cancer then she would have never had taken him to Japan.  Instead, he kept it to himself and allowed her and they to live his last days as if nothing was wrong. He knew what he was doing and chose not to have Midori worry over him. His silence on the matter was just another way of showing his love for Midori. She broke down and cried on realizing what he had done.

It dawned on me that for all that Michio had done and accomplished in his life that, in the end, he was a simple romantic man who had found, in Midori, the love of his life.  There were no last parting words of wisdom, no incredible revelations into the nature of the universe, no instructions on how to create One Peaceful World or to carry on his legacy. He gave countless lectures, wrote books and helped thousands of individuals over half a century. He said all he wanted to in that time and had nothing more to say. Whatever thoughts and work toward creating One Peaceful World was simply left up to us and to those who chose to carry on his legacy.   His last and final remarks were to simply encourage family harmony and to acknowledge, embrace and remember the value of true love that he found with Midroi.

The last decade of Michio’s long and illustrious life was nothing less than a glorious love story between him and Midori, the woman who stayed by his side to the very end.  I looked Michio straight in his blue eyes and told him, “Well, after all this time, it turns out that you are the greatest romantic person in the world!”.  I further added, “Yours and Midori’s relationship is like a “Boston Love Story” ( a reference to ‘Tokyo Love Story”, a popular Japanese Romantic TV Drama). Midori laughed and so did the friend from Japan who understood the reference right away.  They completely agreed with my insight.

Midori and Michio (in relaxed clothing) April, 2008

Midori and Michio (in relaxed clothing) April, 2008

At some point during the day we brothers grabbed a quick bite to eat in the hospital cafe. The four of us sat at a table together. There was an amusing moment when my younger brother, Hisao, picked up a packet of salt and opened it only to find out that it was mislabeled and contained pepper instead. We all looked at each other and remarked at how that could  have happened and what the consequences of that error might lead to.  Hisao, the lawyer, immediately began thinking of the liabilities and potential lawsuits, while Norio, the trucker, immediately thought that it must have been a shipping error, while Haruo, the nutritional researcher, thought about the health consequences of people mistakenly putting the wrong condiment on their food, and me, I just remarked and laughed at them all pointing out where each of them had gone with their thoughts.  It was a brief amusing moment and, despite our differences, there was family harmony between us. It was as if Michio had brought us together to remind us of the love we have for each other.

Given his energy and clarity earlier in the day it seemed that Michio would still be around at least a few days more.  It was getting late and thinking that Michio would still be around the next few days we brothers decided to go out and enjoy meal at a restaurant that Michio frequented. It felt great to spend time with each other as we actually hadn’t been all together since Michio’s 80th birthday. During our meal, Midori called Haruo saying that Michio was cold and was complaining about the air conditioning.  Haruo decided to go back to the Hospital to help Midori and the rest of us split up to where we each had arranged to stay.

I arranged to stay with my own grandchildren which was a good 40 minute subway ride north of Boston.  It was just before midnight by the time I arrived there. I put my bags away and had begun to settle in when I received that final call from Haruo.  Michio passed away, quietly, peacefully and without complaint shortly after midnight on the very early morning of December 28th. Without hesitation I told my brother that I would come to the hospital right away. The Boston subways were still running though less often and mostly empty.  The hospital and nurse’s station were quiet also with many of the lights out.  It was peaceful.  Midori was in mourning. Haruo decided to take off to get some much needed rest while I stayed the night in the hospital with Michio’s remains, Midori and the friend from Japan.  It was the quiet and peaceful calm before the storm of activities that would soon follow.

Kushi Family members gather for a private ceremony for Michio on January 5, 2015 in Boston

Kushi Family members gather for a private ceremony for Michio on January 5, 2015 in Boston

Thank you, Michio

In reflecting back on that evening and the following months, I can say that there was never any sadness or grief on my part for the passing of my father. Every time I think of him and our relationship I am overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and peace.  Michio had lived his life the way he wanted even in his death.  He accomplished many great things and will be remembered by those who knew him well for his charm, his wit, his manners, his scholarly intelligence and his uncanny insights into many aspects of our world and universe.  He dedicated his life to his dream and tirelessly faced and overcame many challenges and difficulties. In his last years, he found inner peace in the comfort of the woman he loved and whom loved him. He lived a full and grand life. He lived a macrobiotic life.  There were no regrets. His life was complete.  All is peaceful and I have nothing but gratitude to him for the life he gave me.

January 2015 – The Memorial Service

In his welcome speech to the several hundred attendants of Michio’s Memorial Service on January 31, 2015, my brother, Haruo, said, “We consider all of you to be a part of our extended family.”  This welcome statement from my brother describes what is, perhaps, the greatest gift that my father gave to me (aside from giving me life)  and to us all: a network of friends around the world who share the same ideas, values, food and dreams. This is something that I will forever be grateful to my parents, especially my father.  Below is a video fo the full 2-hour Memorial Service held on January 31, 2015 at the Arlington Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts.

From the mid 1960s my parents opened our family home to anyone interested in learning from them.  Some stayed for a brief period of a month or less while others stayed for several years.  All in all, there was always  a constant stream of 10 to 20 other persons living in our home throughout the years. Sometime in the 1980s my sister, Lily, put together a list of individuals that she could recall who lived in our home.  The list took several months to create and in the end the total count of individuals who graced our home was over 10,000.  The list did not include the larger number of students who attended any of the countless lectures, cooking classes and consultations my parents did nor did it include students of the Kushi Institute which has been in continuous operation since 1978.   The 10,000 figure was only those whom lived in our home at one point or another and today, these individuals are spread around the globe.  Regardless of where they are now and what they are doing all of them are family to us.

Adding to this amazing gift of friends around the world are my parents teachings, wisdom, and endless dream of one peaceful world which, through their students, continues to help many thousands more every year.  To say that I feel blessed to be their son, is truly an understatement. By simply being born to them, I have been given a priceless fortune that I cannot ever hope to repay in this life time and in many more life times to come.

Michio lived a full life and by the time he passed away he had accomplished more than I could ever hope to achieve in several lifetimes.  His legacy was to leave behind a network of friends around the world all of whom are making a conscious effort to create peace, health and harmony in their own lives and with others.  With his passing there is nothing for me to be sad about.  There is nothing for me to grieve about. His spirit continues to live on and I am reminded of him every time I hear another story of someone finding a new awareness about how their food effects their health and how we are all connected and can make a difference by simply choosing to eat and live in closer harmony with our natural environment.  With the advent of email and Social Media I am able to hear and read these stories every day.  So every day, I am reminded of my father and the work of my parents and I have nothing but gratitude.  Thank you, Michio.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 29, 2015 9:50 am

    Thank you Phiya for sharing this. I am one of the fortunate ones who had the opportunity to study extensively with Michio over a number of years and owe my present well being to that understanding and practice.

  2. Tom permalink
    December 29, 2015 10:50 am

    Good Day to you Phiya – This is such an inspiring literacy of the passing of Michio – It takes me back from 1973 to 1978, my friendship with Lily, working at Erewhon and living at 16 Warren Street in the “Kushi House” (Possibly continuing as a macrobiotic house with Ann Burns) My father passed when I was 19 from pancreas issues – It is wonderful that you had him for all these years and incomparable to see how he affected the world – Kepp in touch – Tom

  3. December 29, 2015 6:01 pm

    Thank you so much, Phiya, for this beautiful writing, and for sharing the Memorial video. I was away on retreat in VT for Imbolc so unable to accompany Bruce to that gathering. I, too, am filled with overflowing gratitude for the years (1969-1977) we spent studying and living as part of the community in Boston–from Ellery St. in Cambridge, to living with your parents on Gardner Rd, to other houses in Brookline and Wakefield, etc. Those were truly formative years; a solid life-foundation, building on the gifts my own parents have given me. We live in a place now where organic farms surround us–you can’t drive for a mile or two without seeing one. Michio was the pioneer whose work made such things manifest.

  4. Barbara Hawley permalink
    December 30, 2015 3:57 pm

    Phiya,I appreciated your article very much. It was in such a nice spirit of appreciation for your parents and recognition of the goodness in your fathers relations with Midori and I so appreciated your place of not having regrets or mourning about your father’s death because you saw that he did live his dream and how that was a gift to you and all peoples. With the depths of feeling around Bill’s health decline, I also appreciate your part in loving Bill’s children especially Claire and your strong solid presence which I know is so needed at this time. I am ever there in my heart and mind and thinking of you all with great affection, remembrance and alive love and tenderness. My heart belongs to Bill forever.warmly,Barbara

  5. Evan Root permalink
    January 10, 2016 10:48 am

    Thank you, Phiya, for choosing to publish your words and full video of the memorial. These and your inclination to carrying on the work as your life is nourishment felt deeply here (“there and everywhere, knowing that love is to share”) with gratitude.

    Much Love
    Evan

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