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In Memoriam: Kyoko Tokuno (1944-2021)

October 13, 2021

Photo of Kyoko Tokuno

We are saddened to announce that Kyoko Tokunoone of the longest serving senior lecturers at the Jackson School with Comparative Religion and Japan Studies, passed away on September 28, 2021, in Seattle. She was 77 years old.

Tokuno joined the University of Washington and the Jackson School nearly 20 years ago, and taught courses on Buddhism and world religion, and on Japan, Korea and East Asia. She received a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies in 1994 from the University of California and taught at the University of Oregon, joining the UW faculty in 2001. Her focus was on Buddhist texts and the cultures of medieval China and Japan, their relation to Indian Buddhism, and the development of Buddhist canon in East Asia.

“Kyoko was a cherished colleague and friend. Her work in teaching Asian Religions on an introductory level and on the graduate level was comprehensive, entertaining, and it inspired many of her students to go on to do further work in these areas,” said James Wellman, chair of the Comparative Religion program at the Jackson School. “She was the ultimate colleague and friend, who loved her work, and cared for her colleagues. She was a person who could surprise and light up a person’s life by her questions, her compassion and her insight. She will be deeply missed by everyone she met and taught.”

Known for a “hidden hilarious” sense of humor, she is remembered by colleagues for her depth of compassion and empathy, her career goals for her students, and going above and beyond all expectations to teach, provoke and nurture her students. Her written and oral critiques were known to be “frank, original and perceptive.” She had an immense amount of pleasure and satisfaction from being in Thomson Hall [the Jackson School building], around her colleagues, said many faculty in reflecting upon her contributions.

“Kyoko was an insightful scholar of Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Buddhism. And she practiced what she researched. She was a person of extraordinary integrity, humility, a quick wit, and a deep understanding of the impermanence of our lives and this world,” said Marie Anchordoguy, chair of the Japan Studies Program. “She was also that rare person who always looked at things from the point of view of the person she was talking to, not from her own perspective. This generosity and empathy permeated everything she did and said. She was selflessly devoted to her colleagues and students. I hope she knows how much she inspired us all and how we appreciated her.”

During her retirement ceremony in May 2018, Tokuno was recognized by UW faculty, staff, alumni and students for “laying the foundation of Buddhist Studies at the UW” and contributions to the field of study in Asia, including a “tremendous reputation as teacher, adviser and scholar.”

She became a professor emerita following her retirement, remained in Seattle and continued to be part of the UW and Jackson School community.

“Kyoko Tokuno represents the best of what the Jackson school stands for – a lifetime of dedication to teaching, cross-cultural understanding and caring about the world,” said Jackson School Director Leela Fernandes.

A memorial service was held on Zoom on November 5, 2021. For additional questions, please email Kristi Roundtree at