Police have recovered a sealed bronze urn containing the ashes of Koichi Watanabe that was stolen from his widow’s Date Street home 10 days ago.
June Niizuma, one of the Watanabes’ five daughters, said police were pursuing a lead in another case yesterday morning when they stopped a car in Hawaii Kai. The driver left the car and fled.
"When they checked the car," Niizuma said, "they found the urn in a bag and took it to my brother-in-law’s shop."
"I am so relieved," Niizuma said, adding that the family had nearly given up hope of recovering the urn that had been stolen from the family’s "butsudan" (small Japanese Buddhist wooden shrine) that was in the living room of her mother’s three-bedroom home at Date and Mahiai streets near ‘Iolani School.
After receiving the good news yesterday, "we told our mother that she should place his ashes in the family plot in Nuuanu.
"But she says she can’t because she wants to be near him," said Niizuma, noting that her father and mother, Yukiko, had been married for 64 years after meeting in an Arkansas relocation camp.
Eighty-eight-year-old Yukiko Watanabe still hopes to be buried next to her husband in the Nuuanu plot.
Her husband, Koichi Watanabe, died on March 1, 2009.
The Watanabes were sent from Arkansas to Heart Mountain relocation camp in Wyoming and worked in California after World War II before moving into the Date Street house in 1949.
Police told the family that other stolen items were recovered from the car yesterday morning, but the family has not had the time to review the inventory to see whether any of it belongs to them.
Besides Watanabe’s ashes, thieves stole a large combination safe, cash, Yukiko Watanabe’s husband’s suits, her Japanese kimonos, tea sets, vases and jewelry when they ransacked the home during the Sept. 25 weekend. They went through every room and opened all the drawers.
There was overwhelming response, Niizuma said, after the Star-Advertiser published a story of the stolen urn on Sept. 29.
"We got reports of stolen safes being recovered in Kalihi and Kualoa," she said.
"Another woman who said she sells kimonos is willing to help recover my mother’s."
Burglars also left behind in Watanabe’s garage a box of photographs, a tool box, a hand truck, jumper cables and other personal items taken from other homes.
Niizuma said her father, Koichi, was a well-known "yasai-san," or vegetable peddler, who sold local vegetables from a truck and whose route covered Manoa, Ewa Beach and Waipahu. He retired in 1969 because of a medical condition.