Both of her grandparents were extremely affectionate; they were also poor rice farmers in Japan during the bombing. When they came to the United States, they knew no English. Kiyomi’s mother Beckie was the oldest.
A first-generation American, Kiyomi grew up in Winlock in a house her mother built after her father Tom died, when she was only six. “Any hardship your ancestors went through, is where some of your strength comes from,” says Kiyomi. “My mom is strong emotionally and keeps very level-headed.”
In 2015, Kiyomi began to experience what she calls “episodes.” After a scary night that culminated in an ambulance ride to the hospital, it was determined that she had a brain tumor. The tumor was close to her optic nerve and choroid artery. Because she was already having vision problems, Kiyomi opted for a craniotomy. She now has a metal plate in her head. As a result of her illness, her eyelashes and half of one of her eyebrows turned white.
She continued having strange episodes and, after seeing many specialists, a doctor determined she was having seizures. This was on the day before she was supposed to leave for Scotland to see her aunt. She had planned the trip for six months. When she had to cancel, “it was a blow to the gut,” she shares. Her rare form of seizures affects her speech and memory.
Kiyomi is a self-taught photographer, a skill she has been developing for the past two years. Her husband Matt bought her a camera to keep her mind off the chronic pain she suffers. She has found that photography helps her remember. She named her business Happy, Beautiful, Wealthy Photography.
“After everything that happened with the brain tumor, I see people differently and my name became more significant,” shares Kiyomi. “Everybody has the ability to be those things, but many people have lost that. We are all self-conscious about something. We are our own worst enemy. I felt like it was a good title to have to capture people how I see them.”
Kiyomi focuses on individualized photography and not a set style. Every session begins with a personalized consult to get to know the client. “We talk about what makes them unique from everyone else,” she says. Graduating seniors are a favorite subject. “They are at a stage in life where they are becoming adults but still have all their memories of childhood,” she says.
Kiyomi gets input from the subjects for editing and doesn’t use Photoshop.
After her health issues and her experiences as a photographer, Kiyomi was inspired to write a book called Heart Work. “I am so proud of that book,” Kiyomi smiles. “I wrote it to remember lessons I have learned in my life. Faced with the prospect of losing my memories, I knew even losing a small portion, I wouldn’t even know I was missing memories.”
Kindness and love are entwined in the lessons weaved throughout Heart Work. “The first part talks about why I wanted to write the book,” she says. “It then goes into life, time, kindness, love and all of that kind of stuff. If people don’t already know, it might help them see things differently.” She uses humor to share the lessons she has learned in her life.
Kiyomi says Heart Work is not a memoir. The book reads like a conversation with interjections from some of her photography subjects. Again Happy, Beautiful, Wealthy is the theme. Local people were nominated as a person of the month, given a free photo shoot and interviewed by Kiyomi. “People would be excited just to be nominated,” shares Kiyomi. “I got to know a lot of incredibly kind, generous and loving people that way.”
Kiyomi asks each Happy Beautiful Wealthy person of the month the same series of questions. She begins with, “What is your happiest memory as an adult and child?” Kiyomi then asks, “What’s the most beautiful thing you have ever witnessed? What is the most beautiful thing you could give to someone else?” The last question is, “What makes you feel wealthy in life or love? What could you add to your life that would make you feel wealthier than you already are?” The variety of answers left an impression on Kiyomi. “It was incredible,” she says. “There are so many people who do good things that nobody knows about.”
With fierce determination, Kiyomi chooses to see the joy and beauty in life. With her book and camera she captures the good things in life, despite her struggles. “Any act of love and kindness ripples through,” says Kiyomi. “I raise my kids to think they can change the world. When there is love, there are people standing together. Love will always win.”