I identify with many terms; Denver native, sansei-han, shin-sansei, yonsei, and mixed-race, but I ultimately consider myself to be Japanese American (JA). The family of my sansei father, Gary Tsutsui, was from Terminal Island and Monterey Bay. They were incarcerated at Tule Lake where my grandfather joined the Military Intelligence Service. My mother, Candice Tsutsui, is hafu: her parents met while my American grandfather was stationed in Japan and my Tokyo grandmother came to the U.S. as a war bride. My husband, Kendall Kunitake, is from Kona and through him I’ve been privileged to learn about Hawaii JA history. I am fortunate to be standing at the crossroads of so many JA experiences which has given me great interest in how the JA narrative changes over time and how it demonstrates human resilience.
This subject led me to pursue an education in Ethnic Studies at UC Denver. When I was accepted into the inaugural class of the Mirai Generations Leadership Program (MGLP) in 2017, it seemed like the perfect confluence of my academic interests, desire for community involvement and a wonderful way to meet like-minded individuals. MGLP urges members to consider how they can give back to the JA community based on our strengths. Some of us are networkers, organizers, activists, etc. I believe that I am more of a storyteller and a demonstrator. I think that public ethnic representation is vital to community sustainability and I use my other two passions of karate and art to urge awareness of the JA narrative.
I began my Shotokan karate training with my father at the age of three at our dojo, Colorado Budokan, where I currently teach. Over the years I have been fortunate to train with masters of other karate styles in California, Hawaii and Japan. I compete in kata (forms) and have medaled most notably at the Junior Olympics, USA Open and USANKF Nationals. I made the USA Karate National Team pool for the first time in 2018 and am a current team member, ranked fourth in the country for Women’s Kata. In the past year, I have been fortunate to represent the United States at two Karate1 Series A tournaments in Montreal, Canada and Santiago, Chile. Karate embodies so many elements that are integral to the JA experience – gaman, giri, on – it is my ethnic and spiritual identity in motion.
My artwork has been another constant since I was very little. I would always lament that the fairytales I loved were never culturally relevant and magic seemed to only be attainable to children who looked nothing like me. Japanese folktales came close, but stories set in Japan seemed too foreign to my sensibilities. My artwork blends JA cultural references with themes of magic, witchcraft and folklore. My work has been featured in various publications and local shops. I regularly partner with the Japanese Arts Network, founded by fellow MGLP alumni Courtney Ozaki, and act as a Cultural Consultant for the organization. Most recently I have expanded my artistic offerings through my brand, Live Deliciously. I am thankful for the voice MGLP has given to young leaders in our community and for the friendships I have found through this program. If you would like to connect with me, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.