Jennifer “Kiyomi” Tanouye, 31, of Oakland last texted her dad about 6 p.m. on Friday night. She was on her way to paint nails as part of a regular underground nail bar she helped out with at music venues. This venue was on East 31st Avenue in Fruitvale, at a warehouse now infamously known as the “Ghost Ship.”
She and her dad, Court Tanouye, had been exchanging messages about when and where to hand over some dog toys she had left at his house in Alamo, Calif., belonging to her pooch, Jejune. Father and daughter didn’t get specific, but they were supposed to meet Saturday morning for breakfast, Court Tanouye said.
"Pure and Beauty"
Instead, his daughter, who liked to be called “Kiyomi,” which means “pure” and “beauty” in Japanese, died Friday night in a tragic fire. She was one of 36 people, a collection of artists and musicians, whose lives were taken in the country’s deadliest blaze since 2003.
“That’s where she wanted to be,” Court Tanouye said in an interview on Friday, a day before a private memorial at a Bay Area temple for her. “She was a big part of that community and instrumental in the music scene. She would have been there regardless. These musicians can’t afford expensive venues. At this point, being angry isn’t going to change anything. It won’t help us heal.”
Her mother, Tomoko Tanouye added: “This has nothing to do with Buddhism. This is who we are.”
Anger Won't Help Us Heal
There is plenty of anger to go around: At the city of Oakland for not inspecting the warehouse in the last 30 years and at the main lease holder of the space, Dereck Ion Almena, who has said he is sorry, but who had been told by friends his collective was full of junk and faulty wiring over the years. A makeshift staircase inside the warehouse, illegally converted to a living space, was one factor, firefighters said, in preventing party goers from escaping quickly enough.
But that’s not what the Tanouye family wants to think about. They are all, including brothers Kevin, 26, and Chris, 29, helping each other, in grieving and putting on a funeral.
Chris Tanouye is working on his eulogy. He’s likely to touch on the time his older sister took him to a Velvet Teen concert in San Francisco for the first time when he was 17 – and without parents. “We ate Vietnamese food, I got to hang out with college kids. She was so inviting. I felt so cool,” he recalled. She also took him to Lalapalooza in Chicago. “I had so much fun. I will cherish that trip.”
Kevin Tanouye called his sister “genuine.” She was always there to help, he said, including a time recently when he was designing a T-shirt and she tried to put him in touch with someone in the know about making his idea happen.
Cool Sister, Genuine Soul
Tanouye lived her early years in Japan and England before moving to the Bay Area and attending Monte Vista High School in Danville, where her family remembers her taking on controversial causes, like supporting the Gay Straight Alliance Club. She then attended Mills College in Oakland, where she graduated with a degree in biology, as well as minors in film and music, her family said. She was a music manager for the music-recognition app, Shazam, in Redwood City, and she was an early organizer of the Mission Creek Festival in Oakland. She often fought for causes that she believed in, like taking to the streets, for example, to protest the Iraq War.
Doing This Together
The Tanouyes got a call from their daughter’s friend at 3:55 a.m. Saturday about the fire. They hopped out of bed and drove to the scene, checking out hospitals and getting no answers until 12:30 a.m. Sunday that she had died. They had picked up her dog in the meantime, which is where Jejune is now, together with the small Tanouye clan. They are filled with sadness, but they are helping each other work through the grief.
“We are all hurt,” Court Tanouye said, “but we’re doing this together.”
To read a Q&A about Tanouye on the Work It Berk blog in 2012, click here.