• Death Anniversary

    Two years ago today, my Mama left her human vessel. We get triggered by such things like dates, places, smells, and other traces of evidence and memory that are significant to the LOVE and sorrow that are two sides of the same brilliant coin that I call my heart. I didn't know what to do with myself so I am spending it by my self. I found my way into a Buddhist temple for a calligraphy class taught by a Buddhist monk and a fellow student, Chi, who told me how doing this practice clears her mind and heart. I told her I came for the same reasons. So what clarity came from this? To dance with my brush, to be light in my strokes and push down only when it is necessary to be bold. That how I sit in my body and how I hold the brush is more telling of how I will create my strokes then the stroke itself...

    Kayko Vraja Tamaki's photo.
  • Time Traveling Through Queens

    Sarah, a young talented lesbian film photographer from New York, contacted me to shoot a few rolls together. My trip to New York was nearing it's arctic cold end and upon reading her message, feeling a kind energy from her, and seeing the beautiful raw journalistic images she captures around the city-- I immediately knew that this would be a wonderful opportunity to have her join me and document my experience exploring Mama's old apartment in Queens. She was game. 

    It was fashion week in New York and the city was bustling with models, fashionistas, cold winds, and snow. It was the coldest time I have ever spent in this city-- much less anywhere in the world. Being an island girl, I had never known what zero degrees felt like. It was bone chilling and I was having a ball. I visited with my thick New York accented friend Sasha, that I made friends with on my first trip to the city years ago. I spent the majority of my time with Tanya, a beautiful Hapa New York local, who was newly dating and in love with my dear friend Mariano. She invited me to come hang out and spend the night with her while I was out there and my overnight slumber party ended up turning into my entire trip being spent with her.

    We were becoming close friends quick and both felt that our friendship was entirely meant to be. We shared a lot of our stories and self with one another and she showed me the city through her lens. It was healing for both of us to be present for eachother at this time. I was getting away to explore my hearts desires and she was getting ready to move out of New York and come to California. We had magical nights celebrating the city and would return to her beautiful SoHo loft where we took hot baths every night to escape the cold. We listened to music, cooked Japanese breakfasts, and shared our dreams. I met her family that owned and lived in the building and felt at home. We had a lot of similarities spiritually and culturally; Japanese moms, American fathers and we were two women who were empaths as well as hopeless romantics who could talk to eachother in Japan-glish. 

     In planning this trip, one of my intentions was to visit the apartment that Mama and Asami once lived in. It was after her divorce from her first husband, that she moved there. My other sister Karina, was separated from her from her and remained with him while she had Asami. She was a single mother, estranged from her other daughter, and moved to the Big Apple. Together, Asami and Mama, lived in Queens in a quaint apartment with a siamese cat. Upon booking my trip I asked my Asami if she had any way of finding the address to their old apartment. She didn't but she mentioned that she knew it was close to her school. At this point I figured that it would still be great to walk around the general area. It was incredibly significant for me to visit a time and space from her past. It was especially significant, the synchronicities that  would lead me to get there.

    I have had several trips to New York and whenever I travelled anywhere Mama had been, I would always ask her for reccomendations. She absolutely loved New York and was always excited for me when I travelled, it was definitely something we both loved. She always produced wonderful lists for me of places to visit, things to eat, and sometimes even, people to see. Upon recalling this I searched my email inbox for our old emails that I could re-read and with wonderful synchronicity-- alas, her address to her Queens apartment. I was sitting at my computer, overwhelmed with tears of joy streaming down my face. That incredible feeling you get when you experience the intangible feeling of knowing you are being guided and spoken to by spirit-- it is surreal. 

    Fast forwarding to my last day, Sarah offered to come meet me at Tanya's loft. Together we took the Metro and she pulled one of my suitcases through the snow. She knew exactly where we were going and when we arrived in Queens, it continued to beautifully and lightly snow. We took some shots outside of the building and Sarah asked me if I wanted to go inside. The building was secured but I decided to try the door anyway. To our luck, the door didnt shut entirely so I pushed it open and there we were inside the lobby. I walked around observing the mail room, imaginging her during this time of her life. We took the elevator up and decided to go onto the roof. We got to the roof and there was a sign warning that opening the door would sound an alarm. As I debated the truth of this sign I turned around to see a window. We crawled through the window to the snow covered rooftop. We both remained silent as we wandered around and looked out across the neighborhood. Leaving the building we went to go in search of somewhere to sit and share a meal together. Sarah, a stranger to my life, listened to my story, I cried in front of her and she too, shared her story with me. She rode with me in the taxi to the airport and walked me to the security checkpoint. I gave her a hug and was so grateful for our newfound friendship. 

    It's beautiful how even after someone's death you can still carry an ever growing relationship with them. If you allow yourself to notice it, they're always somehow divinely orchestrating connected moments and leaving evidences of their presence and love for you.

    Sarah: SGlassPhoto


    Sarah: SGlassPhoto

  • When the past finds you and gives you a present

    I was walking in the hallway when I ran into my colleague, Kim, the woman who quickly became my friend during our orientation here at the organization. All hallways lead to an intersection that often creates quite the traffic jam. You always have to dodge a human or two and do a side-step-awkward-pantomime-act. As fate would have it, Kim and I bumped into each other and both our faces lit up. She was bundled up in a jacket, hair tied back, and her bright pretty eyes shining in contrast of the green scarf wrapped around her neck.

     We did our usual quick-to-the-point-in-passing-getting-straight-to-the-nitty-gritty-2-minute-catch-up: how was your trip, family, and break up—we have mastered this quite well. As she was sharing her current news, my hands found their way into my pockets. I was wearing for the first time, Mama’s classic black high-waisted slacks that I brought back with me from my recent trip home to Hawaii. As my fingers found the bottom of my pockets while listening to Kim speak, I felt a tiny hard little object. Puzzled, I pulled this tiny object out of my pocket, glancing at it and realizing it was a tooth. Kim stopped her story after seeing my reaction and glanced at the baby tooth I was holding. “What is that?!” I knew without a question, that it was Nimai’s, my now 28 year old, younger brother’s baby tooth.  I felt a flood of Mama’s presence, our childhood, her love, memories, and nostalgia wash over me. I imagined that she put that baby tooth in her pocket some decades ago playing tooth fairy, grasping it in her fingers through that day and smiling to herself at how much she loved her children. I could feel how these little things were so precious to her and I found it to be of no coincidence that I would find myself years later wearing these pants and experiencing her joy all over again—as my own.  

  • Condolences

    July 8th, 2014

    I would like to thank you all for your condolences, empathy, love, and support. I am overwhelmed and inspired by the thoughtful kindness that I have witnessed in the following days by all of you. It is what gives me hope for the future and that which has kept me afloat in the moments where I feel as though I am drowning in despair. 
    As much as I feel like coping with my pain privately, and feel pretty adverse to social media at this time-- I felt compelled after today to share a little bit of my experience. 
    Today we got to say our farewells. Days leading up to it I could not decide if I could bear witnessing my mother's body without her soul still present. There would be no undoing of either decision I made and I started to gather opinions of my family and closest friends. The results that I got were 50/50 and every reason made sense. There was no right or wrong in this. I decided that I would decide when the moment presented itself to me. 
    When we arrived at the mortuary we were led to the small chapel room. My heart raced and when the door opened and I saw the light shining on my mother's hair, I nearly collapsed. Karina grabbed me and held me in the hallway while the rest of the family went in. I couldn't do it. I heard cries from the room and I felt like I needed to be with our family. We entered and stayed in the back of the room. I sobbed as I watched Nimai cry and Asami and Okasan courageously preparing and decorating her with flowers while tears streamed down their faces. Karina looked at me and said that she would step outside of her box for me. That if I was going to see her, she would too. My world was collapsing on me. I needed to uncover my eyes, and grip reality. How could I not be there for my mother's body? How could I not stand by the rest of my family and not help them? It was her body. It was the vessel of my beloved mother and I did not want to fear it or reject it. 
    I saw her. I looked at her. I cried. I touched her. I kissed her. I talked to her. I got my confirmation. I got the confirmation I needed to accept that her soul was no longer in this material body. I felt that I would never be able to heal properly if I could not embrace death. I don't want to continue my life being sheltered and disconnected from something that is real and inevitable for all of us. I put my hand over her heart and I felt that she left me... all of us... with an ineffable life force. I looked around me, at her children to whom she gave birth to, her sister who helped to raise her when their mother passed... and I could see her in all of us. I thought about how she told me in the recent months that you never experience the kind of falling in love like you do when you fall in love with your children. And in that moment, I loved them all that much more too. My heart ached with so much love. So much gratitude. 
    My mother has touched the lives of so many. She was well respected, humble, and kind. Her life was dedicated to working hard so that her children could have a place to always call home. Her life dramatically changed from being very active to almost complete solitude when her health declined. She never wanted to be a burden, and never wanted sympathy. Despite her suffering I am so grateful that in her last decade we got to experience a deeper connection and relationship with our mother. She went from being a strong, independent, hard working  mother to my becoming soft, expressive, and open. She became my best friend and I shared everything with her. We got rid of the parent-child filter and shared our deepest thoughts and feelings. I got to speak with her almost everyday and learn from her wisdom. I got to experience a closeness most people never get to have with their parents. She did so much to help us while she was here. She did everything she could do to fuel our motivation, hopes, and dreams. Whatever our interests or pursuits-- she would educated herself on it and do everything in her power to guide and motivate us to achieving it. She lived through us. She expressed how important it is to live a life that truly made us happy, and in order to enjoy our happiness we had to be healthy to do so. Our health is our greatest wealth. Love unconditionally. 
     I feel that she is still doing the same for us even now. I can feel her conspiring with the Universe to guide us, because from where she is now-- she is that much more powerful. 
    Be Well,
    Kayko Tamaki
  • I Left My Heart in San Francisco

    It felt so nostalgic driving through San Francisco the other day, despite all the construction, changes, and gentrification of the city. These changes have been raising much controversy; however, for the first time in a while, the city felt like it once did some time ago. The sun was out, the skies were blue, and we had the windows of our old red Mustang rolled down with the crisp air circulating around us. Not only was it a beautiful day in San Francisco, but Tj, my lover, my partner, was driving us to our double date with my childhood best friend, Aya and her husband, Julian. It felt like such a profound coming together of both my past and present life (and self.)  We were driving from Oakland to Japan Town; and, because of heavy traffic, we were routed through Pine Street. As we drove up the historical, steep hills of San Francisco, we were both commenting on and appreciating the beautiful Victorian homes. We fantasized about maybe giving city living a try.

    Looking out the window, I started thinking about how much Mama loved this city. She has always been romanticized by this city and so was I. I thought about how we once lived here, shortly after I was born in Hawaii. I thought about how incredible it was that she, a woman, born and raised in Japan, managed to break through the societal norms of her time, to find herself traveling the world, Go-go dancing for the Air Force troops in Vietnam, having children with an African American man, living in all the major cities, opening a little punk-rock fashion boutique on Polk and Post, and employing gay boys in her store. She was truly brave, open minded, and unchained by social reform. I thought about how courageous it was to be a woman of that time; with English as her second language, to actually open a business in the heart of San Francisco. I wondered what the apartment in Japan Town we lived in must have looked like and if it still existed.

    I thought about how this incredible city will always represent a part of her that will live within me forever. This city was once a home to her, to us, and over the years, we created wonderful memories exploring it together. I felt my tears streaming down my face, trying hard not to let Tj notice. I started to feel a deep and profound sadness over the struggle she endured in the last 10 years of her life. She could not enjoy growing old the way she deserved to and endured such a debilitating illness that caused her so much suffering. She lived in such discomfort for as long as she could for the sake of her children. I cried and cried and couldn’t seem to stop the flow of my salty tears for all of her pain and suffering. Although the hardships brought us close together, she didn’t deserve them. Her rapid decline in her health with an untreatable autoimmune virus, Sjogren's syndrome, was a life altering condition that forced her to withdraw into herself. She could no longer be the busy business woman she once was. She could no longer go running, play golf, practice yoga, drive her real estate clients around, eat out, travel, or socialize. Even something as simple as being outside, feeling the cool island trade winds, being under the warm tropical sun, or going to the store became almost impossible with her condition. Everything in her life came to a screeching halt; and because of her cultural influences of never wanting to be a burden to anyone, her condition was kept a secret. To the outside world, it was as if she fell off the face of the earth. I thought about how isolated her life had become in her solitude and how insecure she felt about herself and her appearance—although to me, she was still so beautiful.

    As I cried these tears of painful sadness, we came to a stop at an intersection and a cable car passed by. In a matter of a few serendipitous moments, my tears became a deep and comforting reassurance. It was as if this cable car intercepted my heartbreaking sadness and reminded me of the immense joy we shared. I was flooded with memories of Mama and the cable cars of San Francisco. She once gifted me a wind-up wooden cable car that played the melody of “I Left my Heart in San Francisco” that I kept in my room. I would look at it and fantasize about how one day I too, would travel to that romantic city.

    I thought about the trips we took in her last 4 years here on earth and how we would ride the cable cars throughout the city. It was the only handful of times during her 10 years of being confined to the interior of our home in Hawaii that she would just somehow miraculously pull herself together. Her sister from Japan would join us and Mama would step outside of her suffering for the sake of us. It made us think that maybe she was going to be all right and that maybe she was getting better. Unbeknownst to us, she was still struggling.

    I thought about one particular memorable ride on the cable car, she was seated behind me and she wrapped her loving arms around me. It was one of the rare moments of physical affection. She gave me the most loving embrace and squeeze that said “I love you” more than words could ever express; I was her bambino, her baby.  I always felt so loved by her, without the reenactments of TV-moms that I grew up watching on television that lavished their children with hugs, kisses on their scraped knees, and endless “I love yous”. That wasn’t how we were; but it never mattered. I understood her, I understood the Japanese culture, and I always knew she loved me. There would be moments where she would just stop and take a moment to look at me with such love and adoration. She would touch my face or come and hug me out of the blue and those moments were so incredibly powerful. I saw how other kids would roll their eyes at their overly adoring mothers and I couldn’t relate. I appreciated her love. The moments we shared stood out; they meant a lot to me, and they were so precious. I knew on that ride that that moment would never leave me; I knew that it would forever echo the incredible love that only a mother could give, and in that moment, when I needed it the most, I felt it all over again.

    The double date with Aya and her husband ended up being momentous. It was the perfect meeting and experience of the propensity of both life and death. We watched a movie at the iconic Kabuki theatre and ate delicious Japanese food. During our meal, Aya had an important announcement to make that she had been waiting to tell me in person; she was pregnant! My childhood best friend, who was both a beautiful woman and yet, the 10 year old little girl, who showed me true friendship. Aya was going to be a mother. I was utterly overjoyed. Tears of happiness flowed from my eyes. I felt absolute, pure unconditional love; the love of a child for a mother and a mother’s love for her child. I felt that love in its entirety and in every fiber of my being.

    My joy and my sorrow hold hands with one another; they are two sides of the same coin, just as birth and death are. They both stand beside us and are our life long companions. Birth welcomes each one of us to exist here in this world and death is that which will see us all out.  We also experience them alternately for we die and are reborn many times within a lifetime. Both joy and sorrow visit me continually. One always greets me while the other awaits its turn, and sometimes they keep me company at the same time. I have been blessed with such profound love and joy and with that comes inevitable, deep sorrow. The depth of my sorrow is an equitable reflection of that boundless love; a union that could not exist without the other. I have learned that joy and sorrow will continue to co-exist in my life, that both will tenderly embrace me—just as Mama’s hug on that cable car ride will continue to embrace me for the rest of my life.  


    My Mama introduced me to yoga when I was about 15 years old. Sometimes I would go to the Mo'ili'ili  studio with her and practice. The studio was an open and airy room with lots of windows and hard wood flooring with a shelf of yoga mats, blocks, and straps. It may have also been a room where ballet and martial arts classes took place at other times. The island tradewinds would blow through the jealousy windows keeping the space nice and cool. We would attend classes taught by this tiny little spunky 70-something year old woman with crazy curly hair who was incredibly flexible and always making her students laugh. She was a typical local lady, mixed with all kinds of ethnicities that you couldnt tell what she was, and she had a deep dark golden tan from the Hawaiian sun. Sometimes my little brother would come to the classes too.

    My mother was always so active and in such great shape before her health declined. She played a lot of golf, she would practice her swing at the park down the street, she went running in our neighborhood, she would lift weights at the gym, and she practiced yoga. Her and my little brother enjoyed golf together while I found an interest in her yoga practice.  I remember the first class I attended with Mama, the teacher welcomed me into the class. She explained it was an advanced class and to take my time and do my best. I would look around me at the advanced students and mimick the postures to the best of my ability. The instructor would call out names for the asanas in sanskrit and I would try to figure out what positions matched those foreign words. Everyone in the class was quite experienced, including Mama. When the time came to do bridge poses everyone found a wall space and spent some time practicing this. This particular pose came easy to me as I use to do gymnastics. My mom was impressed with my bridge pose. She said that even for experienced yogis, this was very challenging. I remember feeling those words of encouragement inspire me. It made me feel confident in myself and my abilities-- that I could actually be good at this. I didn't know at the time how much of an impact this introduction to my yoga practice would be for me.

    I found myself continuing to practice yoga more and more frequently as the years went by. By this time, much had changed. Mama was not active anymore, her health declined and as a result, all her physical and social activities came to a screeching halt. I think one of the things she missed the most was being physically active. I remember one day while driving through our neighborhood, she looked out the window and sighed a bit when we passed a person jogging. She expressed that she missed being able to do the things she use to be able to do.

    Yoga became increasingly popular and I continued to practice when I eventually left the island.  I left the island when Mama's health eventually stabilized. I left Hawaii to live and experience being on my own on "the mainland." I strongly believed that she was going to live a long life and refused to believe anything different. I left with the idea that if I stayed I was only reinforcing a belief that she wasn't going to continue to be okay. I wanted to get my life experience out of the way so that when one day in the far, far future when she needed me by her side-- I would be life experienced and well equipped to be there for her. I left Hawaii, the only home I ever knew, and moved to L.A. for several years before finally making it to The Bay Area-- a place her and I both loved. 

    My yoga practice continued to follow me. My practice became even more precious to me being away from home. It eased my feelings of being homesick, it centered me, and gave me a sense of peace while living in these big cities. It got me through a lot. The postures, the openings, the challenges, the struggles, the discomforts, the relief, and the breath--  all of it became so metaphorical to my life. As your teacher is telling you to find your breath and balance through the most uncomfortable positions, it suddenly hits you that your yoga practice is absolutely parallel to life itself. And so you clear your thoughts and you breathe through the discomfort. You know you'll get through it and then you smile a little. And by the time the class is finished and you are laying there in savasana and relishing in the endorphins your body is releasing. You find yourself feeling greater and more peaceful than before you got there.

     For every session there's always an intention set. I come in with my baggage, with my incessant thoughts chattering away, with my fears, anxieties, worries about the future that has yet to happen, and I work through it. I find my balance, I find my breath, I find my stillness, and I connect with my gratitude. Often times I will quietly weep during my flow, those heart opening asanas make it impossible to hold anything in.

      Every time that I step onto that 5' x 2' mat I connect to myself and I connect to my mother. I am reminded of her incredible love, her courage, and her strength. I am grateful to have my health because she taught me that my health is my greatest wealth and to never take it for granted. I feel her loving presence and I thank her for introducing me to this invaluable practice of self-love and connectedness.