Jessica Keiko Kawasuna Saiki

Shared on 24th March 2014

Jessica was born Keiko Kawasuna in Hilo, Hawaii on August 29, 1928 to a fisherman father, Takichi Kawasuna and a picture bride mother from Japan, Karu Hara. She was given the American name “Jessie” by one of her teachers when she reached school age but preferred “Jessica” and wrote several published books as “Jessica Kawasuna Saiki”.

Jessica is a Nisei, second generation Japanese-American who grew up in the 1930s and 1940s in Hawaii. She moved from Hilo to Honolulu on the island of Oahu, Hawaii and at the age of 13 years old, was accepted at Mid Pacific Institute where she graduated in June 1945. She also studied art at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, and later attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa. After World War II, she left Hawaii to continue her education in Chicago, Illinois where she earned her BFA from the Art Institute of Chicago and a Masters in English Literature from Roosevelt University. 

In Chicago, she met and married her husband, Hiroshi Saiki and started a family. From Chicago, the family moved to Logan, Utah for about a year before settling in Golden, Colorado in the 1960s and 1970s. Later, they lived in Santa Cruz, California for three years before heading back to Wheat Ridge and Colorado Springs in Colorado during the 1980s, then Watertown, Wisconsin in the late 1980s, and to Denver, Colorado in the 1990s. She moved to the Los Angeles, California area in 2011.

Profession: Jessica was a published author and poet, painter and artist in galleries, museum shows and juried shows, plus a one woman art show, a puppeteer creating and performing original puppet plays at schools and libraries, a soprano soloist and vocalist who sang in church choirs. She also played the harp and piano and composed choral music for church. Books written by Jessica Kawasuna Saiki include Once A Lotus Garden, From the Lanai and Other Hawaii Stories, and Aloha: Goodbye and Hello (a novel). She was a winner of the Minnesota Voices Project and her book, Once, A Lotus Garden, was cited as 1987 Publisher's Weekly choice for The Year’s Best Books and was reviewed in The New York Times as well as publications across the US and Canada.

Activities: Jessica was an active church member and sang in choirs at the Presbyterian Church in Golden, Colorado, the Wheat Ridge Congregational Church and United Church of Christ in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, First Congregational Church, and United Church of Christ in Watertown, Wisconsin. In later years, she was a member of Warren United Methodist Church and choir in Denver, Colorado from the 1990s to around 2008. She took piano lessons from Mark Shively.

Accomplishments: Recipient of the Minoru Yasui Community Volunteer Award in July 2001. Denver Mayor, Wellington E. Webb officially proclaimed July 28, 2001 as Jessica Saiki Day in recognition for her outstanding individual contributions to the City and community through service to the Denver division of Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, Family Griffith Opportunity School's ESL program, Warren Village, and the Denver Junior Police choir. Since 1996, Jessica recorded books twice a week, and volunteered over 1,000 hours in the year 2000 for Recording for the Blind.

Jessica was one of five siblings: sisters Alice, Margaret, Peggy, and Sachiko. She is survived by her sister, Alice Nakahara who resides in Honolulu on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.

Survivors: Jessica leaves behind four children. Lorel is a writer and graphic designer living in the Los Angeles, California area. Mark is an attorney and Sing Along Group creator in Broomfield, Colorado. Jennifer is a technology project manager living in Orinda, California. Neal is an aeronautical engineer and inventor designing electric motorcycles, mountain bikes and electric-assist cargo bikes in Santa Cruz, California. 

She has five grandchildren: Claire, Kyle, Kate, and Kara Saiki who attend Baymonte Christian school in Scotts Valley, California. Nathan Evans is a freshman at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Private services. No flowers. No monetary offerings. Mail remembrances c/o Lorel Keiko Saiki at 4555 Sylmar Avenue #229, Sherman Oaks, California 91423. Or please post online remembrances and condolences at