The Life and Occasionally Scandalous Times of Yoshiko Dart

by Josie Byzek with photos by Tom Olin


Photo of Yoshiko with Stars and Stripes flag over her shoulder.On the last night of her husband’s life, Yoshiko Dart walked with him in the garden of their Washington, D.C., apartment complex. As always, they looked at the trees, birds, squirrels, and then the sky. “Sometimes we can see the moon and stars,” Yoshiko says. “He was looking down.

“I said, ‘Darling, just look up at our universe.’”

“I can’t,” Justin told her, “I have a pain in my neck.” Yoshiko said she’d help him, and she lifted his head up.

“Oh yeah,” he said, and he looked up. “Let’s have a universe kiss.”

They kissed for so long that Yoshiko became afraid. “He was not breathing well and if he kissed me too long he might just finish it right there,” she says. “But I guess he was ready.”

Back at the apartment, Yoshiko and the Darts’ Japanese foster daughters helped him into bed and one of the girls went in to talk to him—she wasn’t doing so well in her school work and Justin gave her a pep talk. “But he couldn’t talk, his voice was very small,” says Yoshiko. “He couldn’t breathe. He was mumbling almost and telling her about his own failure in high schools.” Justin went through seven high schools without actually graduating from any of them. But he shared with the girl that he’d never given up. “He tried this thing and then that thing, saying, ‘Look what I have done.’ That was so beautiful,” Yoshiko tells me.

Justin asked Yoshiko for a glass of wine and she told him if he drinks too much the doctors say he’d choke. “I appreciate their advice but give me a wine anyway,” he told her.

“So I gave him his wine and I helped him to eat and he started choking,” she says.

She helped him cough and he said, “Thank you for helping me, darling.” Those were his last words to his wife of 35 years.

“The universe. Until the last day we really contemplated about our life and relationship with the universe and humanity,” Yoshiko says.


Before we start

This is the story of Yoshiko Dart, wife of Justin Dart, and a fine advocate in her own right. You have to know a few facts about Yoshiko before you read further. First, she is not Justin. Justin, known for his deep voice and visionary calls to action, was like a drought-breaking thunderstorm—a herald that the weather pattern has just changed dramatically, that there will be rain again. Good news for farmers, or other philosophers, who have seeds to plant, whether the seeds be wheat or oppression-breaking legislation such as Justin’s ADA.

Yoshiko is not thunder. She is like the gentle rain that coexists with sunshine. You know the kind of shower—it’s spring, the crops are planted and now they need their rain. A nice, soft rain to help the crops grow. Nothing complicated, just a bit of water, that’s all.

Second—and this is important—you must know that she laughs a lot. She does not guffaw, nor does she chuckle. She punctuates the stories of her life with soft, young laughter that sounds a bit like the bells of a wind chime. She is able to review what probably were painful incidents at the time with wonderful laughter. It’s not a self-deprecating laugh, either. Actually, it’s more self-appreciating.

I wish you could hear her laugh. It’s as if whatever cloth she’s cut from is stitched with joy. It’s easy to see why Justin, lucky to be her husband, loved her so much.

“I want to interview you for Mouth magazine,” I tell her.

“I’m not sure if I can contribute much,” she says. If the interview doesn’t amount to anything and we don’t actually publish this story about her, she understands. “I don’t want to waste your valuable time.”

And she means it.

“I’ve wanted to interview you for years,” I say in return. It’s true. I just never knew how to ask.

“Maybe you have an illusion about me,” she replies. Do I see her as a female version of Justin? No, I don’t, I never have.

“I think that you’re a witness,” I tell her. “That you see a lot of things, and I’d like to see what you see.”

OK, fine, there’s some truth to that, she acknowledges. “But I have to tell you something here. I simply am not a philosopher and neither am I an artist or a writer or a communicator in the media.” Nor, she says, is she intellectual or sophisticated or fashionable. “I think I try to utilize my potential, whatever I have, as much as I can. I think that is one of the best things, maybe, that I have.”

And then she tells me the story of her life, accented with her wonderful laugh.

A message hidden in the closet

While playing in a closet as a small child, Yoshiko found a disturbing note that her mother had written. The note said her mother wanted to die, she hated her life, and had tried to kill herself by jumping into a deep river. “My mother was a very beautiful person. She never criticized other people, but she felt she was a kind of victim by her husband, my father,” Yoshiko says. “She was very sad.”

Weddings and other family gatherings were excuses for her father to get drunk and once he started drinking he couldn’t stop. He’d drink to the point where he couldn’t eat anything. Soon he’d start throwing up blood and couldn’t drink any more, and then he’d seek medical help. “Then he gets sober and starts eating, little by little. Then he recovers,” Yoshiko says. “Then he’s a very nice person. We are wishing he would never drink again. But again, and again. It happened so often. And then he had some girlfriends, mistresses, some things like that. So my mother was very sad about her whole situation.”

No matter what else you do with your life, her mother told her, get an education. “It soaked into my mind and I wanted to become something. I didn’t know exactly what, but I wanted to go beyond my mother’s situation and I thought maybe I’ll never get married because marriage didn’t look like such a fantastic thing. Looking at all the other married couples—aunts and uncles, neighbors, some husbands beating up their wives. Very crude life I saw, being a young person.”

While she was in junior high, her mother developed heart problems. Yoshiko took a year off to care for her, often having to travel to another village to see her in the hospital. “She got better, came home, but then again, same old thing. My father was drunk and so forth. So she passed away. I had to carry my horse—my burden—my father being alcoholic and my two younger sisters.”

But she somehow made it through school and college, and graduated near the top of her class at Aoyamagakin University in Tokyo. She was encouraged to try to be a diplomat or to work in an international field—her grades were that good. This was early in 1963 and, with her new degree in hand, Yoshiko went searching for a job.

Inauspicious Beginnings

The small advertisement in the Asahi Shinbun newspaper looked something like this:

is seeking positive Japanese women
who want opportunity.
Come to the Okura Hotel.

“Okura was very top, very new hotel in Tokyo,” Yoshiko says. Even if she didn’t get a job, just seeing the hotel would be interesting. She was interviewed by the president of Tupperware Japan, Justin Dart, Jr. “I had never seen anybody in a wheelchair in my entire life,” she says.

Justin told the gathered women that Tupperware was trying to launch a great venture in Japan, selling a modern product, and needed ambitious women. “All depends upon your results. You can be anything, you know, you can become an executive,” Yoshiko says, with a laugh. “‘We need you,” he said, ‘You are the ones who are going to make this company.’ I was very inspired.”

Her family thought she was crazy, “All of my friends and relatives asked me, ‘What are you trying to do—after graduating from this top-level university, you are going to become a saleslady?’ And I said, ‘this is really unique and anyway, if I don’t succeed, that’s OK. So let me try.’”

The company’s number one motto was to make people happy. “You know Justin,” Yoshiko says. “To make people happy, number one motto. And I started to believe in it, too. To find out what people want and then give it to them or help them to get it, and then make them happy. When we make a profit, let’s return most of the profit back to society. I couldn’t understand what he was trying to say at the time, but then later I understood it.”

The company hired women, and eventually people with disabilities. “He tried to give opportunity to women who were oppressed for many, many years. This is, remember, 1963,” says Yoshiko. “Particularly Japan was many years behind the U.S. in that regard.”

She became a top saleslady, then manager, then regional manager, ultimately in charge of half of Japan, flying from one city to another. “So I got this feeling, wow, I’m a real successful modern lady.” She’d tested Tupperware in her aunt’s refrigerator, to make sure it worked, “so I got this confidence that they’re not making up stories. We had tea and invited neighbors…” Tupperware parties, the first in Japan. Soon, they were all the rage.

Justin sent his personal aide to Yoshiko with a question from him: “You are doing very well. So what is your dream, what would you like to do? Do you want to have a house or a car to drive?” She did have a dream—to save enough money to marry her boyfriend in Australia. “OK,” they asked, “when do you want to go?”

Once there, she found little to occupy her so joined the local Tupperware company. “My boyfriend was older, already 38. He was trying to build a house and have a nice, calm, peaceful life. I was just rushing around and coming home in the middle of the night. So he started feeling maybe this isn’t going to work out.”

She stayed with her boyfriend’s sister, and wrote to Justin and others in Tupperware Japan, letting on that Australia wasn’t exactly going as planned. Soon Justin called her and invited her back to Japan. They were busy, he told her, hoping to hire people with disabilities and have a poetry book published by children with disabilities. She was needed.

“When would you like me to come?” she asked.

“Yesterday,” he said. He met her at the airport with a red carnation in his hand. Soon she became his translator, and then executive assistant to the President of Tupperware Japan. “The company was doing really well and Justin could see that I understood what he wanted to do. Not only just to make money, but he was interested in social change,” she says. “This is Justin by his nature.”

The Tupperware Boys

Justin hired ten disabled boys and moved them out of an institution to be salespeople for his company. He hired Dick Maduro, an American who had won dozens of medals at the Paralympics, to coach them in basketball, and the team practiced every day. Yoshiko’s job was to teach the boys salesmanship, public speaking, and other business skills.

“The Tupperware Boys” traveled with Justin and Yoshiko to Japan’s major cities to give recognition to the best salesladies. They were “very impressive,” Yoshiko says, “ like some kind of Olympic-team boys on the stage, and some of them made speeches.”

After the meeting, the city’s top managers—all women—would have a private luncheon with the president of Tupperware Japan in a swank hotel banquet room that perhaps their husbands had seen before, but they never had. “So they really had a sense of success and confidence,” says Yoshiko.

Next would come a trip to the city’s hospitals or schools for disabled children where Justin’s boys played basketball with the locals. “They gave 100 points handicap to the other team and still they won. They became a real super team,” Yoshiko says.

She adds that the boys would tell the other disabled kids, “You can do more things in the future. Look at us, we are getting more independent, we are traveling by airplane, we have a girlfriend.” Justin, the wheelchair-using president of the company, told them more of the same. “And they just started opening, those little children opened their eyes,” says Yoshiko. “Just a very beautiful experience.”

Plastic Pots and Scandalous Times

Years later, Justin would refer to his family’s business as “peddling plastic pots.” According to Yoshiko, Tupperware International didn’t expect to peddle many in Japan. Japanese women used beautifully-crafted china and ceramics to store and serve food. Why would they switch to pastel plastics?

The company expected even less from Justin, black sheep of his family and a cripple besides. Appointing Justin president of Tupperware Japan, with three employees, was likely a case of “give the big guy’s son a title and keep him out of sight.” They had to think again two years later in 1965 when their Japanese company employed 26,000 people, and Tupperware was more popular and profitable there than in its 26 other countries. Japan surpassed even Tupperware U.S. with its seventeen-year head start and a bigger country to grow in.

This was one of the great free enterprise stories in history, harnessed to the power of women unleashed from traditional roles, women given an outlet for their enterprise and energy in the marketplace, facing no glass ceiling but, as Justin had promised, being “the ones who would make this company.” The black sheep of the Dart family, with his truly revolutionary methods and the team he put together, received no credit for their success. Instead, his boss back in the U.S. thought he could improve things by running the Japanese company in a more traditional fashion.

Justin, at this time married to his second wife, had had a few mistresses and even a geisha, and drank way too much, so at first Yoshiko did not respond to his approaches. He didn’t give up. Eventually she couldn’t resist.
“He drank at night,” Yoshiko says, “and he got pretty drunk. Then in the middle of the night he’d call my name in front of other women. The geisha hit him for that. He told me those things happened. We had a real scandalous time.” Soon he had cut all the women from his life except Yoshiko and his wife.

That’s the year, 1965, when the company, and the family, moved to make their “improvements” to Tupperware Japan. His boss in the U.S. ordered Justin Junior to stop promoting women to executive positions, stop his disability campaign, stop advertising on television, “stop doing almost everything we were doing,” Yoshiko says now. “Justin couldn’t take it. He and I resigned.”

Yoshiko, like her mother before her, was now saddled with a womanizing drunk for a partner. The story of Justin and Yoshiko could have ended quite differently. It could have been a richer and better educated version of her parents’ lives together, but she and Justin pulled back. Yoshiko says that Justin “desperately needed someone to love him, stand by him, stay with him no matter what. I decided I would be the one.” Both knew that they had the power, as do we all, to decide what kind of life they wanted to live. Their decision was to live “not in terms of rich or famous,” she says, “but the more meaningful way.”

Rebounding, Justin approached his mother for financing in another venture entirely — greeting cards. He commissioned the artwork from people with disabilities, then hired TV and movie stars for a giant TV spectacular that had some resemblance to what we call a telethon today. Just one month later, Dart Card was the top card company in Japan.

What came next for the couple marked what Yoshiko calls “the turning point in his life, and mine.” They visited hospitals and an orphanage in wartime Vietnam—this was in 1966, six years before Jane Fonda did the same. “He thought he’d make a report to Rehabilitation International, and have a nice photo op,” Yoshiko says. Instead they faced what she calls “a real atrocity. The ones who are lucky enough to get inside the orphanage die in their own urine and feces, swarming with flies. Many more are dying in the streets, crawling to get inside.” A little girl reached out to Justin, held him with her eyes, clung to his arm as if he were the saint who could save her. The experience shook him, hard. “A counterfeit saint,” Justin called himself later that night.

“We went back to the hotel and Justin got very drunk,” Yoshiko says. He had seen real evil. He told her, “I am part of the evil. It’s not just somebody else. I am a part of it.” The truth confronting him now was quickly becoming more real to him than his own place in faraway American society.

The Vietnam trip horrified his genteel parents. His women and his drinking they could take, but visiting a country with which his own was at war? Using a family company to push for women’s rights and free disabled kids from institutions? It was too red for their blue blood. Justin, a scion of American capitalism, should be content to make money, not foment revolutionary ideas. Suddenly, without warning, his mother ordered Justin to liquidate Dart Card and told her son his life’s work was worthless. He was devastated.

After legally separating from his wife, Justin and Yoshiko spent a year in the U.S. and in Mexico, regrouping, trying to find their way back to their own values. “What in the hell happened to me? I sold out,” Justin told her. “The formula of my operating in this world is not correct. I have to find out what’s wrong with it and with me.”
“He was very afraid of his parents and their families,” says Yoshiko. “He told me right from the very beginning, ‘I’m a loud-mouthed black sheep,’ and yet he depended on their money to survive. I told him many times we can somehow scrape. Let’s become independent from your parents so you don’t have to worry about what they might think if you do this or that.”

Justin began reading philosophy books and sharing their messages with Yoshiko. She says she loved the philosopher Justin best of all.

Leaving the Comforts of Wealth

By 1968 Justin had divorced his second wife, married Yoshiko, and moved back to Japan. They needed a place to live, and met a gentleman farmer at a train station who said they could live in his old farm house for free if they would teach him English.

She says, “That was a deal! But when we went in we were so surprised because there were a lot of cracks in the wall. The wind and even the snow flew in.” Cracks weren’t the worst of it. “Rats were just running around our straw mattress.” The country-style toilet had a door, but it still stunk when the wind blew the wrong way. “You could see all these worms, future flies in there,” Yoshiko laughs.

They had no car, no telephone, no paved road leading to the house, and the house was too small for Justin to use his wheelchair. “So he was like a crab, sliding himself from one room to another.” The beautiful setting of the house did compensate, she says, for its lack of hot running water. It was mile-high in the mountains with a view of Mount Fuji and Japan’s South Alps. “We put in clear glass windows. They rattled around, but we could see all the way to the ceiling, so while we were sleeping we can see the stars just all over, and the moon.” When she had trouble sleeping she could watch shooting stars move from one window frame to the next.

“Also, we didn’t have central heating so we felt the cold. That made us think about life … nature, life, the whole universe.”

They lived in that cold house off and on for six years, and discovered many crucial truths. First, they learned they didn’t need a lot of money to survive. Second, and more important, they discovered what they called “Revolution in I Universe.”

“We had been accusing other people—parents or bosses or teachers or governments—for a lot of things that we were not happy about. But actually we are part of it ourselves,” Yoshiko explains. “If we become more loving and more truth-telling human beings, then society gets better and this whole universe gets better.” Besides, she says, “society just doesn’t exist outside of us or someplace hanging from the sky. We are part of the society. Even though a tiny bit percentage, nonetheless I am a very important part of society.”

If we each decide to change today, to stop hating others, to tell the truth and to eat enough good food but not overeat, and to share with other people, “if we do all that—if all of us started doing that, then we would not have all these big problems in the whole world,” she says. “That is a very important discovery.”

She has most of Justin’s writings from that time, nuggets of thought such as this: “There are values inherent in the very nature of life itself, values which are common to every culture, values which are agreed upon by all men we would call sane. These are the values of survival, of life and quality. To help me find my way out of the barbarous, baroque maze which is modern consciousness, I have gathered these self-evident value truths into a unity under the term Lifequality.”

Yoshiko remembers, “Just now our time has come, we had that kind of feeling. Now finally we can have a revolution.”

Revolutionary Love

So there it was: Revolutions to change government systems or ideologies mean nothing if each individual does not have a revolution in his or her own heart. It was the Revolution in I Universe that gave Justin and Yoshiko the strength they needed to move to the U.S., to become involved in politics, to help bring the ideal of civil rights for persons with disabilities into reality.

“Justin and I made a very good team and evolved into something completely new,” Yoshiko says. “We were husband and wife, but I think we were also more than that. Not exactly crusaders, but we tried to be, we felt a mission to be, good human beings. Then, in his own way, he tried to communicate that thought to many of his colleagues.”

They would come to an understanding together, but Justin was the one who could transmit it. “And then I did all the footwork. Only the idea alone does not work. We have to have food and a place to live, and we have to keep people’s telephone numbers and addresses. Different logistical things must come together for the ideas to be communicated. I did all that backbone work,” she says. “I can do that part rather well, but I would not be able to communicate like Justin.”

Still, Yoshiko does have some strong ideas about the movement. “There is great potential and a great future in our movement if we continue to increase our focus on unity, and if we grow big enough to allow the differences of opinion of other people with love. That’s very difficult, but if we make a conscious effort I think we can do it, like Justin has. Don’t get so upset about some people who have a quite different opinion.”

She notes that unity is more important now than ever, with the government becoming increasingly oriented to states rights and no-holds-barred free enterprise. “Not only government, but private sectors. And all those people are trying to erase all the gains that we have made … to try to go back to pre-Abraham Lincoln time. Particularly people with disabilities are at the edge of losing almost everything. This is the time we have to get into politics seriously. As Justin said thousands of times, ‘as if your life depended on it, because it surely does.’”

She spent over three decades with Justin and still marvels at his ability to love. “He could love humanity in each person, including his biggest enemies. That was just a remarkable thing and quite often I’d ask, ‘How can you do that? How can you love your enemy?’ I guess little by little I learned myself, so I don’t have a real enemy in that way. I have an idea that I don’t agree, but humanity in that person is something else.”

Again, Yoshiko stresses that she is not a communicator, “Not in the way that you want to put in the media, but just a sincere, simple, life experience story.”

“Since Justin died, every night I go out to the same garden place when I am in town. I go out every night without failure, I do the same thing as if Justin were with me. I meditate and ask his spirit to help me finish my life as he did.”