Ikie Kurose, a longtime fixture of the community at the former Nak's Oriental Market in Menlo Park, died Saturday, Nov. 24, at age 78.
She was born on May 8, 1940, in Kawasaki-shi Kanagawa-Ken, Japan. In Japan, she wrote cooking articles for the NHK newspaper and was a chef at a Japanese restaurant. Her husband, Seikichi, or as he was known in the U.S., Sam, had been a news reporter at that newspaper, said her son, Ken.
The family moved to the U.S. in 1970, and later, in 1984, took over ownership of Nak's Oriental Market. The shop had originally been opened in 1968 by relatives of the Kurose family, but the relatives later moved to Japan for medical reasons.
The store, located at 1151 Chestnut St. in downtown Menlo Park, was known for its customer service and unique selections of not only Japanese groceries but Dutch and Indonesian foods as well.
The store closed on May 1, 2015, and the family lived in Nevada for about a year before they moved to Florida, where they have been since, Ken said.
A legacy of "motherly kindness"
Her children say that Ikie loved to cook and feed people. Her limited English didn't keep her from showing kindness and making friends wherever she went, said her daughter, Tamami Hansen, in an email.
"It always amused us as she gesticulated wildly with her hands, her face animated and expressive as she communicated in her Japanese/English with one of her customers at Nak’s or a stranger that she just met on the streets. Noting that these 'conversations' were always one sided, we would ask, 'Do you understand what she is saying?' People were always kind, and would reply with a smile, 'Of course we understand,' and my mother would feel vindicated," Hansen said.
To further overcome the language barrier, she said, Ikie used food and cooking to show love to those she cared about. She often cooked in the small kitchen in the back of Nak's and fed her customers various snacks.
Suzanne Rocca-Butler, a longtime customer of the store, recalled that Ikie once made her a sandwich made up of smoked salmon, mango, cilantro, mayonnaise and black pepper. "It was very tasty, she noted, adding that she continues to make the sandwich to this day.
Ikie also helped Rocca-Butler once when she was tasked with teaching Japanese folk dances at a festival by providing translations.
She recalls, too, that Ikie would display beautiful floral arrangements from her garden at the store counter.
Juri Kameda, another longtime customer, credits Kurose with three decades of friendship, and remembers her as someone who embodied "motherly kindness." Kurose was a provider of life advice, marriage counseling and cooking instruction, she said. When Kurose needed to explain complex Japanese recipes, she would enlist her husband to translate.
"Ikie and Seikichi were inseparable, as if they were two Japanese beautiful cranes," Kameda wrote in an email.
According to Ikie's son Ken, she and her husband loved to visit Mount Rose in Nevada, and visited there whenever they had time off away from the store.
She loved flowers, he said. "She would take seeds with her to Mount Rose and scatter her flower seeds where the wildflowers grow," Ken said in an email.
He said the family plans to eventually scatter her ashes at Mount Rose, as she had requested.
Kurose is preceded in death by sisters Tamie Nakamura and Carroll Minako, and brother Yasuaki Igarashi. She is survived by her husband Seikichi "Sam" Kurose; her son, Ken Kurose; her daughters, Naomi Harrington and Tamami Hansen; sisters Chihoko Iwasaki and Nobue Kokubu; and sons-in-law John Harrington and Eric Hansen.