By Karleen C. Chinen
It’s not every day that you get the honor of meeting a person who has enjoyed a full century of life. In the case of David Yoshio Aka, make that 100 years-plus!
On Aug. 7, Mr. Aka celebrated his 100th birthday with his wife Mitsue, their four children, his youngest brother, Roichi — and his new ‘ohana at the 15 Craigside retirement community in Nu‘uanu. Mr. Aka, who is a youthful-looking centenarian, was actually born May 21, 1914 (give or take a few days) in Huelo in East Maui. His birth, however, was not registered until Aug. 7, 1914, which became his “legal” birthdate.
David Aka was the eldest of six children born to Ryosei and Nae Aka, who immigrated to Hawai‘i from Shuri, the ancient capital of the Ryükyü Kingdom. When Mr. Aka was 10 years old, his parents took their family to Okinawa. After six months there, the family returned to Hawai‘i, but left their two eldest sons, David and Ray, then 8, with family in Okinawa. The Aka brothers continued their education in Okinawa and graduated from Okinawa Kenritsu Daiichi Chügakko in Shuri.
Mr. Aka returned to Maui in 1934 at age 20 — brother Ray followed a year later — and began teaching Japanese school with his father. He also helped with his family’s three-acre pineapple farm.
He had forgotten much of his English in his 10 years away, so after saving enough money, he came to Honolulu to relearn English — enrolling first at ‘Iolani, then Hawaiian Mission Academy and, finally, at McKinley High School.
When World War II broke out, Mr. Aka was interviewed by the FBI because of his Japanese language background and the many years he had lived in Okinawa. His father, a Japanese school teacher, was arrested by the FBI and interned on the Mainland, initially in Louisiana and later in Arkansas — this, while sons, Yoshimori Roy and Roichi — were serving in the U.S. Army with the Military Intelligence Service.
In 1961, Mr. Aka retired from his accounting position with the state Department of Agriculture, where he had worked for 20 years. After a short retirement, he returned to the workforce as a purchasing agent for the Kaimana Beach Hotel for three years and then worked for the YMCA for another three years before finally retiring for good.
He and Mitsue, his wife of 69 years, lived in Mänoa prior to moving to Craigside in October 2012, where their “neighborhood” grew exponentially bigger. While still in Mänoa, Mr. Aka had enjoyed growing his own Mänoa lettuce, eggplant and string beans, all of which went into the couple’s meals or were shared with family and friends.
The Akas’ children — Gary, Raymond, Steven and Lorraine — live on the Mainland. All four and their families braved the impending Hurricane Iselle to fly home to celebrate their father’s 100th birthday.
Besides brother Roichi, now 90, who also resides at Craigside, Mr. Aka has three surviving siblings — Bernice Hashimoto and Roy Aka, both of whom live in Cincinnati, Ohio, and a sister, Janice Okudara, who lives in Honolulu.
Mr. Aka attributes his good health to exercise and constant movement. And get this: Mr. Aka drove until he was age 98, when he and his wife moved to Craigside.
Mr. Aka remains an early riser, waking at 5:30 or 6 and usually turning in around 11:30.
He uses a walker, just to be safe, and is hard of hearing; other than that, he is perfectly healthy. A visit with his doctor the day before his Craigside birthday party found him in tip-top shape.
Mr. Aka shared some interesting Okinawan and family history with the Herald. He said his paternal great-grandfather, whose family name was Takasato, was the physician to King Shö Tai, the last king of the Ryükyü Kingdom, who reigned from 1848 until 1879.
Takasato received his medical training in China and became very close to King Shö Tai. The king trusted him so much that he appointed him administrator of the island of Aka (Aka-jima), one of the four inhabited islands in the Kerama island group, located just west of Okinawa island. In time, Takasato adopted the island’s name, Aka, as his family name. And that rare name lives on with the Aka family in America.
Before getting up to leave, I asked Mr. Aka if he had any advice for others hoping to enjoy life until 100.
“Don’t fight with your wife,” he replied, with a bright smile and a twinkle in his eye.