tomoko kodama

By Sakie Kodama, Tomoko's daughter

Wife, mother, grandmother, sister, art instructor,
classical music lover.

Born May 25, 1934, in Tokyo. Died Sept. 15, 2010, in Ottawa of complications from sarcoma, aged 76.

While Tomoko Kodama was in high school, she discovered a love of the arts through her first art teacher, who became a mentor.

The youngest of three children of Gentaro and Ume Maekawa, Tomoko was 16 when her mother died of a stroke. Her sister Yasuko, who was living in the United States, encouraged Tomoko to continue doing what she loved. So she specialized in nihon-ga (Japanese-style painting) and calligraphy, receiving her bachelor of fine arts in Tokyo in 1957.

While participating in local church youth activities, Tomoko met Hideomi Kodama. They married in 1959. After he finished his PhD, they moved to Canada in 1962 for what was supposed to be a two-year posting. But when he was offered a permanent federal position, they stayed in Ottawa and raised a daughter and two sons: Sakie, Tohru and Jun.

After her youngest child was born, Tomoko began teaching sumi-e (Japanese brush painting) and calligraphy part-time at the Ottawa School of Art, along with a seniors' class at the Ottawa Japanese Cultural Centre. Early in her career, she taught her students the way she herself had been taught, by watching and copying the master's work. Every week, she would bring a plant or a flower from her garden or a fruit with a leaf still attached for students to paint. However, these students challenged Tomoko in her classes by asking questions, which was not done in Japan. With her limited English, she would try to find the best way to explain the technique. Out of this experience grew her signature 3B (body, breath and brush) method.

By then she had founded Group Yohaku, a sumi-e artists' group that exhibited in Canada, Japan and China. The original members started as students but later became lifelong friends. She always wanted them to address her by her first name and not as sensei. Year after year, they would come to class and paint while her favourite classical music played in the background to encourage body movement.

Tomoko celebrated 40 years of teaching and received a lifetime achievement award from the Ottawa School of Art in 2009. She learned to play the cello in her 60s and enjoyed learning international folk and tap dancing at a local seniors' centre. A tender-hearted and humble person, she kept in touch with many friends all over the world.

Tomoko loved the diversity of cultural backgrounds in her classes and was always learning from her students while teaching them her breathing method. She admired those who found ways to incorporate her teaching into their own media such as pottery or oil painting. She was proud of sharing her made-in-Canada technique and her last dream was that it would one day return full circle to Japan.