Hajime Keruma

Born on January 5, 1953

Departed on March 24, 2017 and resided in Nashville, Tennessee

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Born in Okinawa, Japan on January 5th 1953, Hajime Keruma passed away on March 24th 2017.  He was 64 years old.

A first generation American, he moved to Clarksville, TN in 1978, where he would later meet his wife.  He was a barge chef for several years before seeking employment in local restaurants.  His experience lead to opportunities to open his own sushi restaurant in Nashville, which opened in August 5th, 1985.  Koto Sushi Bar has the distinction as being Nashville’s oldest sushi bar and is in business to this day.  Regular customers fondly remember “Haji” as a hard worker, with his relaxed demeanor and genuine conversations.

Dedicated to Koto, he spent most of his spare time in his restaurant.  While relaxing in the restaurant, he enjoyed reading Japanese books and novels, watching The Discovery Channel, sports channels, and was an avid animal lover.

Hajime is survived by his wife, three children, and two grandchildren.

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39 Comments to Hajime Keruma

  1. John and Marion Harbison
    March 26, 2017 12:44 pm

    We are so sorry for your loss. You are in our thoughts and prayers.

    John and Marion Harbison

  2. Vickie Carrico
    March 28, 2017 1:25 pm

    We are are so sorry, Songmi. Love and peace to you and your family. We love you and Haji.

  3. Kim Brewer
    March 28, 2017 1:32 pm

    Songmi, I hope you will remember me. When you were on 4th ave we walked down almost every night and ate with you. It was me, my twin sister Kay, Alex and then my husband John, I had the twin babies. I am so sad to hear the news of Haji’s parting. I pray for you and your precious children. Wishing Godspeed to your beloved husband and partner. Much love – Kim Hudgins Brewer

  4. Chris Heric
    March 28, 2017 1:58 pm

    I am so sorry to hear this.
    Haji and I had become good friends over the decades. Koto was my daughter’s first and favorite restaurant. He gave me a wonderful sushi knife once, and I will treasure it even more now.

    Songmi, our thoughts are with you.

    Chris Heric

  5. Barbra Thompson
    March 28, 2017 2:11 pm

    My heart is so heavy with sadness for your loss, Songmi. I will always treasure our long friendship and the love he brought to this world. I am praying that God will lift all of you up and heal your broken hearts.

    With Much Love,

    Barbra Thompson

  6. DiAnne Patrick
    March 28, 2017 3:19 pm

    This makes me so very sad. Hajime served me my first sushi when he worked at Samurai not long before Koto opened. His sushi was always the best in town. I will always remember our long friendship fondly and wish healing for Songmi and family.

  7. Lanny Glick
    March 28, 2017 3:19 pm

    Songmi, I am so sorry for your loss. Haji was a wonderful man who lit up the world he was in. He made it a better place. He will be missed by all that knew him.

  8. Beth Anne Musiker
    March 28, 2017 4:03 pm

    Stephen and I are very sad to learn of Haji’s passing. Sending love and sympathy to you all. We will miss him!

  9. Martha Berry
    March 28, 2017 4:11 pm

    Songmi and family,
    I’m so sorry to hear of Haji’s passing. We always had such a great time in your restaurant, in all its locations. Haji was well loved and we will miss him.

  10. Sheila and Sherbe Green
    March 28, 2017 5:06 pm

    Songmi,
    Sherbe and I love you guys! And yes, us like many others, Haji served me my first ever sushi…hands down he was the very best ever! i have never eaten anything as good as Halji’s scallop handroll (and your scallop baukadun).
    Our sincere sympathy, love and hugs and kisses. May you all be surrounded and comforted by all that love you!
    We are going to miss Haji- the world was a better place with him in it!

  11. Lou Chanatry
    March 28, 2017 6:53 pm

    Another one of those who first tasted sushi with Haji. Koto is always the standard by which sushi restaraunts are judged in this town.
    Always felt like a friend at his sushi bar. He will be missed.

  12. brenda butka
    March 28, 2017 7:57 pm

    Eating at Haji’s since 1985. This is a loss for us all. Songmi, our sympathy and regards.

  13. sally hinkle
    March 28, 2017 9:08 pm

    Songmi, I am very, very sad to learn this news. Many images/memories flash by of being with you both in each location, but especially 4th Ave. where I first came to know you while experiencing absolutely the best sushi in town. My favorite was always the tuna cocktail and scallop hand roll. My least favorite, nato! After that I quit asking Haji to expand my sushi tastes. On one other occasion he made up a surprise for me and after asking how I liked it said, it was horse meat! Of course it wasn’t, he was having fun.

    My condolences and love to you and your family.

  14. Thomas Morrison
    March 28, 2017 9:24 pm

    Songmi our hearts are so heavy for you this day. Cindy and I met on our first date at the original Koto. We love you and wish comfort to you and the family after the loss of Haji. Fond loving memories of learning sushi and teaching sushi to our daughter at Koto. Wishing you peace and love. ❤

  15. Kay West
    March 28, 2017 10:59 pm

    As a transplanted New Yorker in the sushi desert that was Nashville in the ’80s I was so grateful to Haji and Songmi for opening Koto. We lived in East Nashville then and would ride our bikes over the Shelby Street bridge (then open to cars) to get to Koto. When Steve opened 328 Performance Hall a few blocks away in 1990, he sent countless traveling musicians there. It was where my kids had their first experience with chopsticks and first sushi. So sorry for your loss Songmi. Your impact on the Nashville dining scene endures.

  16. Gina
    March 28, 2017 11:09 pm

    I remember Haji and my very first sushi experience at Shogun on Division. My first california roll and yellow tail.
    That literally changed my culinary life. Most grateful you guys picked Nashville. We were the lucky ones.

  17. CJ Hicks
    March 29, 2017 12:03 am

    I first met Haji in the tiny Koto Sushi restaurant on 4th Ave South in Nashville. You could squeeze maybe 15 people in there. Haji patiently taught us all proper pronounciations and protocol of sushi tradition. He was quick with a joke, and full of great stories, whether true or not. He taught me how to properly slice an avocado. Nashville’s culinary culture was forever changed by this wonderful spirit. Songmi, our hearts are with you. We will be forever thankful for what you and Hajime created.

  18. Melissa Lundgren
    March 29, 2017 5:11 am

    I had many a Birthday and a boat dinner and Nashville s best sushi at Koto – my favorite go to restaurant since 1990 after I moved here from LA .Haji, you are a Nashville treasure and will be forever missed.prayers for your family.

  19. Kris Wilkinson Hughes
    March 29, 2017 5:34 am

    Haji, Songmi and Koto are part of the fabric of my memories of Nashville. Many times before gigs or after work at Postmasters we would go and have sushi with them. I’m so sorry to hear this news and my thought are with his family.

  20. Cati Blitz
    March 29, 2017 8:10 am

    I am saddened to hear of Haji’s passing. He served me my 1st sushi and the best in town; he had great integrity as a restauranteur! Love to his family.

  21. Kat Martin Ray
    March 29, 2017 8:14 am

    Our family is heartbroken to learn of Haji’s passing. I have also been going to Koto since the early 90’s and turned several Nashville native friends onto the joys of sushi at Koto. We have been loyal customers ever since at each new location. I tell everyone that Koto is, hands down, Nashville’s beat sushi restaurant – still. Haji always had a quick smile and such a kind demeanor. Songmi – you and your family have always been wonderful to us and we send prayers of comfort and love during this unspeakably challenging time.

  22. Andy Arrow
    March 29, 2017 8:49 am

    The Johnny Cash and June Carter of Nashville cuisine; proud, thoughtful, humble people, unwavering in their devotion to their craft, their community, and their family — beacons of integrity, the epitome of success, inside and out. A great gift and a great loss for a great city and all who have had the privilege of knowing Haji and Songmi.

  23. Mary and Brian O'Neil
    March 29, 2017 9:27 am

    Oh dear, we hardly have words to convey our shock and sadness. So many wonderful memories and great times with Haji and Songmi. Our hearts go out to you and your family. Much love.

  24. Brian O'Neil
    March 29, 2017 12:47 pm

    Songmi,
    My heart hurts for you today. Please know that your loss is shared by all that love you and your family. I’m a lucky man to have had the good fortune to know you both and hope that your grief is soon replaced with the many happy memories of your time together.

  25. Lynn
    March 29, 2017 7:10 pm

    Songmi and Family: Please accept our sincere condolences on your loss. Haji provided my first taste ever of sushi and made me a major fan of his fabulous Crunchy Shrimp Rolls and Koto! He was such a fixture and shining star in the Nashville community. He will be terribly missed by many. Our thoughts our with you.

    Lynn and Steve Waterman

  26. Lesia Latanation
    March 29, 2017 7:46 pm

    Songmi and everyone at Koto, I am saddened to hear that Haji has left us. My sincere condolences to everyone for your loss. I have enjoyed many wonderful meals with friends at all Koto locations. Haji was always wonderful and he will be missed. Much love to everyone at Koto. We will be back soon to see you all. xo

  27. Israel and Barbara Serrano
    March 29, 2017 10:41 pm

    We are so sorry about Hachime. Our sympathies and condolences go out to the Keruma family. We will always remember him as a soft spoken gentleman that would make you comfortable being around him. We will never forget the evening we spent with him and his family watching the Super Bowl. Even in his illness he was in great spirits and it was a delight being with him. We will miss him dearly.

  28. Tucker & Billie Woodring
    March 30, 2017 10:55 pm

    Songmi and family. Tucker and I are so very sorry. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. Billie

  29. Gwen Huffman
    March 31, 2017 10:24 pm

    I have been so sad. You and Haji have been in our lives for so long. So many fond memories over the years. Introducing Chloe to sushi and eating with chopsticks – she was so proud of that accomplishment. . I am so grateful we have all been on this life journey together. He will be missed- such a wonderful spirit. Much love to you Songmi and your family.

  30. Barbra and Jay Young
    April 1, 2017 12:06 pm

    Songmi Jeffrey Michelle and James we are so sorry about Haji but we are so thankful for so many great memories. Your father was such a fun person to be around we always enjoyed his company and loved to Come eat at the restaurant late so we could enjoy some fun time withSongmi and Haji. He was always so proud of all of you and we know he will continue to look after you love you all

  31. Penny Brink
    April 1, 2017 12:27 pm

    Haji’s and your sushi has been an absolute staple in my life since 1987, when I first had sushi with my dad at the restaurant on 4th Avenue at 18. Koto has been as much a part of my life as my own mother’s house as a place to spend quality time with friends and loved ones over some of the best food Nashville has ever had to offer. You are all in my thoughts.

    Domo arigato, Hajime-san.

  32. Tim Cope
    April 1, 2017 11:10 pm

    Songmi, my heart is breaking for you. I learned of this sad news just tonight when I stopped by the restaurant. Haji’s gentle manner, quirky humor, and superior sushi skills will be sorely missed by the Nashville community. You and your family are in our thoughts and prayers. I hope to see you soon.

  33. The Palladino's
    April 2, 2017 5:00 pm

    So So Sorry to learn of your recent loss.
    Thoughts and Prayers for The Keruma Family.

  34. Julie Johnson
    April 3, 2017 12:09 pm

    Songmi and family, so sorry to hear of Haji leaving us. He was my absolute favorite sushi chef and i loved following his restaurant moves from the tiny little place on 4th to the current classy dining space. A place of honor always. Thank you Haji for brightening my taste buds and my life.

  35. Lauren and Paul Ganem
    April 6, 2017 8:39 pm

    You and your family are in our thoughts. We are so sorry for your tremendous loss.

  36. Bala Swaminathan
    April 6, 2017 10:34 pm

    Terribly sorry to hear this Kiyomi. Sending you hugs, positive thoughts and prayers.

  37. keith lundin
    April 10, 2017 9:37 pm

    Songmi — you and Haji have been family to me and my family since the first Koto in 1985. I am so sad.

  38. Mary Tanner Bailey
    April 14, 2017 7:00 pm

    Songmi, We are so sorry to hear this news. You know how much Brian and I enjoy our Koto lunches. We will miss Haji’s kind wave and his exceptional talent. You all are a part of our downtown family and we hold you in our hearts as you make your way through your grief.
    Love to you and your family,
    Mary Mary and the Professor(Brian).

  39. Mike and Janine Swinford
    April 17, 2017 8:15 pm

    Just learned of Haji’s passing. Our hearts are with you in this time of mourning. Like others here, we found your food and friendship at that tiny place on 4th. We will miss Haji’s craftsmanship in all the great things he served us over the years. Hope Koto continues so we can still enjoy Somgmi Kim Chi.

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