Seikichi "Sam" Kurose, who with his wife Ikie owned and operated Nak's Market in Menlo Park for decades, died on Jan. 26 at the age of 77.
He had struggled for over seven years with progressive supranuclear palsy, or PSP, a severely disabling disease, but thanks to the help of his children and son-in-law was able to continue living at home until his death, according to his family.
Sam and Ikie, who died in 2018, were a fixture in downtown Menlo Park, where their Chestnut Street market offered local shoppers Asian foods that, decades ago, weren't widely available. The couple worked side by side six days a week, creating a community of good will – as well as of good culinary taste – among their many loyal customers.
The couple, both natives of Japan who moved to the United States in 1970, had taken over the market in 1980. That's when the original owners, Ikie's sister and brother-in-law Edith and Fred Nakamura, who opened the store in 1968, were unable to continue running the business.
When Sam Kurose became ill, and the business suffered, "he was so grateful for the support shown by his many loyal customers," his daughter, Tamami Hansen, writes in a tribute to her father. "Nak's Market was his second home, and he knew many of his customers by name. Knowing my dad, I know he would have wanted me to take this opportunity to express his heart-felt gratitude to all of his friends and customers for supporting Nak's Market for over thirty years."
One of those customers, Suzanne Rocca-Butler, had made Nak's a regular stop since before the Kuroses took over. The change in ownership didn't change that.
"The Kuroses made it into a welcoming spot in Menlo Park and I would often stop by just to say hello to them, even if I were not needing any products that day," Rocca-Butler wrote in an email.
"I remember both of them as extraordinarily kind, and Mr. Kurose was always willing and interested in answering my many questions about Japanese food products, how to prepare certain dishes, and even helped me in my folk dance teaching by translating the Japanese words used to describe certain dance movements," she wrote.
"Once, when he and his wife returned from a trip to Japan, he told me he was very glad to return to Menlo Park and the Bay Area – that this was his home. He said it had surprised him, but it was true."
Rocca-Butler stayed in touch with the Kurose family even after the Sam and Ikie were no longer able to run the store and moved from the Bay Area – first to Nevada, then to Florida. Son Ken Kurose "would commute to Sparks (Nevada) Saturdays after Nak's closed in order to see them and would then make the long drive back Monday morning to open the store," Rocca Butler wrote. "He showed such kindness, caring and devotion. While Mr. Kurose could still write, he sent me several letters and cards from him and his wife."
Ken and his sister, Naomi Harrington, and her husband, John, "gave Mr. Kurose the greatest gift one can give," she wrote. "They gave him their love and provided round-the-clock care for him and made it possible for him to spend his final days, months and years in his family's home."
Seikichi Kurose was born in Tokyo, the eldest of four children. "He was no stranger to hard work, and from an early age, he worked several jobs while juggling school; first to help support his siblings then later to put himself through college and support his young, growing family," his daughter Tamami wrote. After landing a job as a news reporter, she said, "he became fascinated with the international arena outside of his native country." So despite having launched a promising career as a journalist, Sam moved with his family to the United States, "and never looked back," his daughter said.
"To many in Menlo Park, 'Sam' was the friendly owner of Nak’s Market, but to his family, he was our hero; the one who saved us when we needed help; the one person who we could always rely on for anything and everything," she wrote. "He never complained about the hardships he faced as a child or as an immigrant in a foreign country, struggling to support his young family or later in his elder years after being diagnosed with PSP, a horrible, crippling progressive disease that left him bedridden, non-verbal, and basically blind. Like everything in life, he faced these difficulties courageously and stoically because he never wanted to be a burden on anyone, especially his family."
His son, Ken, said that no memorial service is planned. The family, he said, will scatter their parents' ashes on Mount Rose in Nevada when "the wild flowers bloom" on the mountain. "My folks always went to Reno when they had time off," he wrote in an email.
"My mom loved going to (nearby) Mount Rose. She loved flowers. She used to take flower seeds from her garden and when they went to Mount Rose, my mom used to scatter her seeds up on the summit and said, 'This is where I want my ashes to be scattered when I die.' "
Sam Kurose is survived by his three children, Tamami Hansen, Naomi Harrington, and Ken Kurose; his granddaughter, Alainna Hansen; and his two sons-in-law, Eric Hansen and John Harrington.