Super Seniors: Aki and Toki Nakano


60th Wedding Anniversary

By Ricky Chu


Love is the best word to describe Aki and Toki Nakano.

I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet with the happily married couple who recently celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary!  We talked about many things, but the one thing that stood out was how the Mountain View Buddhist Temple has been such an important part of their lives.

Early Life

Toki was born in Fresno, California, and was one of seven children.  She grew up on a vegetable farm along with the rest of her siblings.  Her memories of childhood were lots of hard work and spending time with her family.  Their family grew onions, carrots amongst other bunch vegetables.  She recalls, “We looked forward to 3 pm when we were done working, especially in the summer months!”  Her mom originated from Oahu, Hawaii, and her father’s side was from Hiroshima, Japan.  As a child, she was relocated during the internment years with her first stop at the Fresno Assembly Center.  She was then moved to Jerome, Arkansas, and then finally to the Tule Lake Internment Camp.

As a middle school student during her internment years, she recalls, “In Arkansas, the camp was close to the edge of the forests, so there were many snakes.  We would see them everywhere.  The boys were mean at times and would catch snakes and put them around my shoulders.  There were also snake shows that were pretty interesting.  We made the best of our time and spent a lot of time with our families.”

After the war, the family returned to their farm to start their lives again.  Fortunately, a Chinese farm worker had maintained the property and kept things in place for their return.

Aki on the farm

Aki was born in Stockton, California, and was one of five kids in the family.  His family also farmed vegetables.  At a young age, Aki recalls working a lot on not only their family farm, but helping many of the neighbor’s farms.  When their family was relocated during the war, Aki was just starting high school.  His family was first relocated to Santa Anita where the horse stables were converted to living quarters at the time.  Aki recalls, “It wasn’t very private.  We were literally living in converted horse stables.  Even though it was a tough time [Aki spent his high school years all in internment camps], we were kids and had fun running around and playing at the race track.  After a brief stay at Santa Anita, the family was relocated to Heart Mountain, Wyoming, which was very different for the family.  The weather was different, it snowed and generally was a lot colder compared to California.”

After returning home, he continued his hard-working ways of helping his family and community on the farm.  As a young man, he also began learning carpentry through his friend Mr. Tamo Kitaura’s dad who owned a construction company.

Aki mentioned, “I liked wood shop in high school and it was enjoyable working outdoors so I decided to give it a try.”  As an apprentice carpenter, he quickly became a lead carpenter and worked in the local Carpenter’s Union for the rest of his career.  He recalls, “I worked on the Packard’s home (Co-founder of Hewlett-Packard), Jack Tramiel (founder of Atari) and Joan Baez (singer).  One project took us three years to complete!”

Aki and Toki wedding photo

Starting a New Life Together

Aki and Toki met through Tamo, who was a mutual friend at an event in San Francisco.  They both recalled that, after a couple months of knowing each other, they went off to Las Vegas and got married.  They explained their wedding ceremony was simple and quick.  They met a couple of nice “Hakujin” ladies who were their witnesses, found a chapel and were pronounced husband and wife.

After getting married, they settled down in Sunnyvale where they remember Sunnyvale to be a lot different than today.  “Lots of orchards!” exclaimed both Aki and Toki.  Together they have five children, 11 grandchildren and one great grandson.  Their children are:

  1. Oldest son Rick Nakano
  2. Second son Larry and his wife Donna.  They have two sons and one grandson:  son Ryan with wife Sharon and grandson Evan; son Jason with wife Brigitte.
  3. Daughter Karen and her husband Scott Iwamoto.  They have one son and two daughters:  Kyle, Kelli and Kaitlyn.
  4. Daughter Lisa and her husband Paul Andrews (deceased) .  They have three daughters:  Heather and twins Nicole and Ashley.  Ashley is married to Dylan Okuno.
  5. Youngest daughter Joni and her husband Carl Furumasu.  They have two sons and a daughter:  Nikolas, Kevin and Jessica.

The family eventually moved to a larger home in Sunnyvale after finding the widest lot in the neighborhood according to Aki.

Craig Hamasaki recalls, “I have known the Nakanos since I was in high school, and knew their daughters, Karen, Lisa and Joni.  I always enjoyed spending time with them at their house, they were always so welcoming.  They really supported their girls in their school activities; volleyball was the big sport back then.  They also supported them during their YBA days at the Temple.  We continue to be friends to this day.”

June 2016: Oldest grandson Ryan’s and Sharon’s wedding.
Christmas 2017: All 11 grandchildren and spouses
October 2021: Aki and Toki with great grandson Evan

Getting Involved at MVBT

Over time, as Aki and Toki began raising their family, through Aki’s brother-in-law, Dan Iwata, Aki became more and more involved in the Mountain View Buddhist Temple.  He remembers, “I did whatever needed to be done.  With the kids starting Sunday School there, I helped out in any way possible.”

Daughter, Joni, now a mother of three, remembers her earliest Sunday School memories, “We used to have a small, clear pouch that contained our book of gathas, Onenju & Dana money.  After getting ready, my mom always gave us our pouches to take to church.  Back then, the sermons were hard for me to understand because I was so young, but I always loved singing the gathas.  I’d even take my book out at home to sing.”

Toki stated, “Obon was a nice event to see all the old friends and eat good food.  My favorite food was Ohagi because it was so fresh.  During the Obon, I helped where I could, usually making sushi, ohagi & manju or whatever else they needed help with.  If there is an Obon this year, I would definitely consider attending because we have missed it greatly!  Mountain View has the best food!”

Aki also was a busy volunteer every year at the Obon.  He recalls, “I was asked to help by my brother-in-law to help in Color Spot and soon became a regular thing.  After a few years, I decided to improve on the game and offer a ‘special’ grand prize.  Instead of the regular stuffed animal grand prizes, I put a $10 bill up as the grand prize and we attracted a lot of players!  I don’t think the Temple was too big of a fan.  My favorite food was Chicken Teriyaki.  Time passes fast and the Obon was a way to see old friends and catch up with everyone.”

Aki with MVBT Wednesday Group

Many Temple Friends

Many folks remember Aki for his many years of service in the former Wednesday group that ran for decades.

Good friend Ben Horita recalls, “Aki and I were a part of the Wednesday group for over 20 years where we started doing small projects like fixing broken lights and repairing things.  But over the years, they turned in to a lot bigger projects.  We took them on as best we could, but eventually the projects got too big and we got too old!  Aki being a carpenter took the lead on many projects.  I always remember along with a small group of friends, we traveled often by bus to the East Coast and visited many destinations.  We took bus trips to Reno, Las Vegas and those were always fun.  Eventually we started traveling together overseas to Europe {Italy, Germany, England] and Japan.”

Dr. Russ Nakano exclaims, “I am eternally grateful to Aki and Toki for their confidence and faith in me to care for their family and friends throughout the 45 years I was in [my dental] practice!”

Current President Bob Matsumoto says, “The words that come to mind in describing them are: humble, dedicated to their family, quiet. I’ve developed friendships with their children and my children have developed friendships with their grandchildren.  They have a close-knit family.”

Fellow neighbor Randy Sato adds, “We met the Nakanos when we first moved to Sunnyvale over 15 years ago.  Actually, I think they were probably the first neighbors we met after we moved in.  My wife Debbie was pregnant at the time with our son Connor and her parents were up from L.A. to help us with the house.  The Nakanos introduced themselves to my in-laws who were in our front yard dealing with all the overgrown ivy.

Over the years I’ve seen Mr. Nakano working in front of their house sweeping, gardening, taking out the garbage, etc.  (Mrs. Nakano would help too).  I’ve also bumped into them at Safeway and at the Temple at large events (YBA Spaghetti Dinner, Keiro Kai, the occasional Sunday Service, etc.) as well.  Mr. Nakano was also part of the famous long running Wednesday Maintenance team.  Every Wednesday I would see him get into his pick-up truck and head to Temple to meet the guys.  That group would take care of everything at the Temple (broken tables, burned out lights – even those giant lights high up on the gym ceiling, leaky faucets, etc.).  I think the one thing that stands out to me about the Nakanos is that they’re still very much in love.  Joni mentioned one time that Mr. Nakano had to go somewhere and, when he returned, Mrs. Nakano was so happy to see him that she gave him a huge hug and said how much she missed him.  I’ve also heard the same thing from one of their granddaughters (Ashley) who drops by their house to help out.  She mentioned to me one time Mr. Nakano would still give Mrs. Nakano jewelry as gifts.  We should all be so lucky.”

Rev. Mukojima states, “I would like to say that I really appreciate their longtime dedication.  Our Temple is possible only because of the generous support of the Temple members.  So I am deeply grateful for their Dana Spirit because they have helped and supported our Temple and Sangha without expecting anything in return.  I hope that they will continue to stay safe and healthy.”

Christmas 2019: Aki and Toki

Thank You from the MVBT

It is special to meet a couple with so much love for their family, friends and community.  I hope we all get the chance to spend time with our Super Seniors this year [in-person] and be able to show our love for all they have contributed to our Sangha.


Namo Amida Butsu

With Kindness and Gratitude beyond words.


Aki and Toki, recent Christmas in Los Altos