Kiyomi Tanouye. Illustration by Farrin Abbott/KQED
Kiyomi Tanouye. (Illustration by Farrin Abbott/KQED)

Kiyomi Tanouye, Music Expert and Nail Artist with a Love for Helping Others

Kiyomi Tanouye, Music Expert and Nail Artist with a Love for Helping Others

Pure beauty: That’s what Kiyomi Tanouye’s name means in Japanese.

The 31-year-old Oakland resident, whose full name was Jennifer Kiyomi Tanouye, was doing nail art at the Ghost Ship party when the deadly fire started on Friday night.

“When I think of my sister, I think of someone who is very pure, very genuine, always trying to help people,” says her brother Kevin.

Kiyomi Tanouye
Kiyomi Tanouye. (Photo: Via Facebook)

Tanouye loved music. She was a music manager at the online music identification company Shazam where she was the unofficial underground electronic and indie music expert. Prior to Shazam, she had worked at both ISSUES, a magazine store, and Rasputin Music. Outside of work, she helped organize the Mission Creek Oakland Music and Arts Festival.

“She infected everyone with joy and excitement for going to work,” says her boss at Shazam, Charles Slomovitz. “Our office is a mess. We’re all shell-shocked.”

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Friends and family say Tanouye was an avid runner and animal lover who competed in half-marathons and adored her Pomeranian, Jejune. They described her as an incredibly warm and inviting person who loved to have fun.

“When she was little, she was always happy and energetic,” says her mom, Tomoko.

Tanouye’s family and her Japanese heritage were incredibly important to her identity.

Nails by Kiyomi Tanouye.
Nails by Kiyomi Tanouye. (via Instagram)

“She would always drop anything and come home,” says her dad, Court.

He remembers one day during their trip to Japan last summer when she convinced him to get sushi at 6 a.m. and then go to Tokyo Disneyland. “If you just would hang on to her, she would take you to places you would not normally go,” he says.

Tanouye was also a strong feminist and passionate defender of the LGBT community.

“She taught me a lot about those parts of society,” says her father, who describes himself as a conservative banker. “She has doggedly taught me many lessons.”

“I think of her as a star,” says close friend Ronnie Casey, who met Tanouye near the end of 2008 and says the two had “instant chemistry.” “She was someone people gravitated towards. She was kind to everybody. There was never any drama or ill feelings with Kiyomi.”

The two shared a love of the drag queen RuPaul, whom they got to meet in person at a book signing in 2010.

Kiyomi Tanouye
Kiyomi Tanouye.

“He took one look at her and said, ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie,’” Casey says. “She never had a day when she didn’t look good.”

Another close friend, Adriana Handono, says that while she considers Tanouye to have been the “Queen of the Nightlife,” she says she values most the intimate moments they shared together, like when Tanouye would cook for the two of them or they would have “girl talk” at the Downtown Oakland YMCA.

Handono said she saw her friend at the YMCA on Friday afternoon and invited her to a party that night. “She said, ‘No, I’m going to do nails,'" mentioning the event at the Ghost Ship, Handono says.

Handono said she tried to call Tanouye when she her heard about the fire, but her phone was off. “I knew she was gone,” she says.

Q.Logo.Break

Tanouye's alma mater, Mills College, has set up a scholarship fund in her memory. Donors can go to Mills' giving page and pledge their gift for the Kiyomi "Jennifer" Tanouye Memorial Scholarship Fund.

Read a 2012 interview with Tanouye here.

Read an East Bay Express profile about nail art including Tanouye here.

For more of our tributes to the victims of the Oakland warehouse fire, please visit our remembrances page here.

For a printable poster of the illustration above, see here.

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