In Memory of Kenji Yamada

March 11, 1924 - April 10, 2014

Kenji Yamada


Kenji Yamada, age 90, passed away peacefully on April 10, 2014 surrounded by family. Born in Sunnyside, Utah, Kenji was raised in Japan. In 1941, he returned to the United States to rejoin his father in Seattle. A year later, he was interned at the Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho. The focus of Kenji’s life was family, judo, community, work and gardening. In 1946, Kenji began teaching judo at the Seattle Judo Dojo, the oldest Judo Club in the United States. He graduated from Franklin High School and the University of Washington. Kenji met his future wife, Haruko, at a dance and they soon married.

Kenji was a two-time U.S. National Judo champion. At the 1954 Judo Nationals, Kenji won 1st place as an individual, which helped his Seattle Dojo team win the 1st place team championship. Kenji repeated 1st place at the 1955 Judo Nationals. In 1955, Kenji represented the United States in the first U.S.-Japan Goodwill Judo Tour. He was only one of three civilians selected – the other seven were in the military. He competed in five Japanese cities in 25 days. In his final competition at the 1963 Judo Nationals, Kenji was awarded for the best technique.

Kenji served as the Deputy Commissioner and Judo Tournament Director for the 1990 International Goodwill Games in Seattle. He was the founder of the judo program at the Boys and Girls Club of Bellevue. Kenji obtained the high level of 8th degree black belt. With over 60 years of teaching judo in Seattle and Bellevue, Kenji was an honored “sensei” (teacher) to many students. He was highly respected and admired for his athletic ability, generosity and vigor for life.

Kenji retired from the Boeing Company after 31 years. He was president of the Fukushima Club and held positions with the Japanese Community Service and Japanese Language School. Kenji received a Certificate of Commendation from the Consulate General of Japan for recognition of his contributions and distinguished achievements.

To honor his late wife, Haruko, Kenji established the ‘Haruko Yamada Research Endowment’ at Northwest Kidney Centers, one of the first endowments created by the organization. The endowment supports research benefiting kidney patients, and his children have continued to contribute to the fund since it was established.

Kenji is survived by his nine children: Beatrice (Ken), Eileen (Robert ), Patsy (Dennis), Joyce (Peter), Alan, Teresa, Harold (Cathy), Michael (Candy), and Kathy; 15 grandchildren; and 1 great grandchild. He was preceded in death by his beloved wife Haruko, and brother Hideo of Japan.

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