Above and below: Seishichi Ato with past Cherry Blossom Queens during visits to San Francisco in the 1990s.
Above and below: Seishichi Ato with past Cherry Blossom Queens during visits to San Francisco in the 1990s.

Seishichi Ato, senior advisor and fourth president of the Fujiyasu Kimono Company, passed away on Feb. 26 at the age of 92.

He had suffered for many years from cholecyst cancer.

Ato was best known in the Bay Area for his generous donations of kimono to the Northern California Cherry Blossom Queen Program for decades.

Born in 1923 in Tokyo, he was the fourth son of Kyutarou Ato, who was the second president of Fujiyasu. Seishichi Ato started working a Fujiyasu in 1948, became vice president of the company in 1958, and served as president from 1985 to 1994. He then served as senior advisor until his death.

Ato Shoten was founded by Seishichi Ato I in Shiga Prefecture in 1873, and due to the family’s hard work they were able to establish branches in Ibaraki and Chiba in 1903 and then a third factory in Tokyo’s Hamchio district in 1923. That year, everything was destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake.

The Ato family rebuilt and prospered. In 1942, the company was renamed Fujiyasu Shoten Corporation. During World War II, the company again faced disaster as the buildings and merchandise were all lost due to fires caused by the bombing of the city by U.S. forces.

In 1949, Fujiyasu Shoten Corporation was rebuilt by Kyutarou Ato. The third president was Seishichi Ato’s uncle, Kyushichi Ato. In 1961, Fujiyasu Shoten Corporation became Fujiyasu Kimono Company.

The company celebrated its 120th anniversary in 1992 at the world-renowned Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.

Ato was solely responsible for starting donations of full sets of furisode (long-sleeved) kimono to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., the Okinawa Cherry Blossom Festival, the Honolulu Cherry Blossom Festival, and the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival.

Through Ato, the company has donated furisode kimono to the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival since 1972 for a total of 43 years, in appreciation for the relief supplies Japan received from the U.S., which helped the company to rebuild after the war.

Most relief supplies from America consisted of food and clothing. Those supplies saved many lives. The people of Japan were only informed that the senders were American citizens. The Japanese people’s feelings toward their benefactors, who had recently been enemies, softened.

However, years later the truth was finally revealed. Censorship by the U.S. government hid the fact that the senders of the relief supplies were not only American citizens but in fact were Japanese Americans.

The war was devastating as well for Japanese Americans, who struggled to pick up their own lives after their release from internment camps, but who wanted to be of some help to the people of Japan.

Ato always said it was important to express gratitude in return for kindness. As a way to put his words into action, he has presented full furisode kimono sets to cherry blossom festivals in the U.S.

“What a legacy Mr. Seishichi Ato has left behind — the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival and its 42 festival queens that had received their treasured furisode kimono from Mr. Ato and the Fujiyasu Kimono Company, who never forgot ‘expressing gratitude in return for kindness,’ and the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival will remember them with gratitude and kindness,” the festival committee said in a statement.

Ato will be remembered next month when this year’s Cherry Blossom Queen is crowned in San Francisco.

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