Rowena, Frances and Rowena’s mom Dorothy. (Photos courtesy of Frances Kakugawa)
Rowena, Frances and Rowena’s mom Dorothy. (Photos courtesy of Frances Kakugawa)

Frances H. Kakugawa
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

Omoiyari . . . Think of others first and good karma will return to you. — Frances H. Kakugawa

Dear Readers,

At a recent poetry reading in Hilo, a college student asked, “When you return to Hawai‘i, what part of Hawai‘i makes it for you? What do you miss most?”

“Hawai‘i’s people,” I replied.

They were there throughout my events in Honolulu and Hilo. I’m going to spotlight a few of these remarkable people. There were many from my Kapoho School years and college classmates. And, there were children and grandchildren of kindergarteners I had taught. Today, I’m going to honor those women who, in their 90s, are still reading my “Dear Frances” columns and defying the aging process.

In earlier columns, I introduced you to Rowena, whose 92-year-old mother, Dorothy, read my “Kapoho” book and shared it with a 96-year-old housemate. Dorothy attended my lecture and told me that she reads this column. She even had a few questions for me. I’m only sorry that I didn’t have more time to talk story with her. Here we are in this photo — all three of us.

In Hilo, I also visited my 95-year-old Aunty Hisako. She was reading my book of poems, “Dangerous Woman,” when I entered her living room. She reads about two novels a month, even though she is blind in one eye. And, she doesn’t wear eyeglasses. When she runs out of books, she rereads them. Whenever I see her, she tells me how smart I am. When I was a child, her husband, Jun, used to tell me that I would someday grow up to be a beautiful woman. We can’t all make the right predictions, especially in Kapoho, but every scrawny girl who was teased by the boys about being “stew bones” and who wore a jacket throughout high school to hide her undeveloped body needs an Uncle Jun and Aunty Hisako to give them positive messages.

Aunty is an avid reader of “Dear Frances.” She lives that metaphor of a river that keeps flowing, no matter how many boulders are placed in it.

At Hilo Airport, on my way back to Sacramento, a woman looked at me like she recognized me. “I know you from your Hawai‘i Herald picture,” she said. “I read your column every month. I know Kapoho and all that area because we used to visit those places a lot.”

The woman was Ella Fujie, who is 96 years old. She was on her way to Las Vegas to play. She also told me that her hairdresser is my cousin Jeanne Kakugawa, whose daughter lives in Sacramento, where I live.

While browsing at Barnes & Noble in Sacramento, I happened across a worker opening boxes and displaying a newly published book, “Awakening Your Ikigai,” by Ken Mogi. I bought a copy. It turned out to be another magical moment — the perfect book to wrap up this column on these inspiring women. I believe that if the women sat around a table and read this book together, all of them would say, “That’s exactly what I do.”

Ken Mogi is a neuroscientist, writer and broadcaster in Japan. He has authored more than a hundred books — “Awakening Your Ikigai” is his first book to be translated into Eng-lish.

Ikigai is explained as “that Japanese phenomenon commonly understood as your reason to get up in the morning.” They are the “small moments, the morning air, a cup of coffee, a compliment.”

Mogi writes about the five pillars of ikigai that will help you get up each morning with joy and become your most authentic self. He also uses the philosophy of sumö to discuss one of those five ikigai pillars.

One simple statement in the book made a big difference: From the moment you wake up, begin your day with something that brings you great joy. Follow that with a piece of dark chocolate with your coffee if that gives you joy, too.

Like the remarkable women in this column, I now get up each morning with joy, and I plan to make each day a better place for someone else. It takes effort to start each day with joy instead of thinking of the tasks ahead.

There are two other special people that I would like to express gratitude to: First, to Wayne Harada of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, for mentioning my returns home as a writer in his Show Biz column and for that special space in his annual Christmas Biz column. And, secondly, to Dr. Margaret Oda, who played a major role in helping me become the educator/writer I sought to become throughout my career and beyond. It means a lot to know that you are reading my column and reading aloud the poetry in my “Dangerous Woman” book.

Frances Kakugawa was her mother’s primary caregiver during her five-year journey with Alzheimer’s disease. A native of Kapoho on Hawai‘i Island, she now lives in Sacramento. Frances has melded her professional training as a writer and educator and her personal caregiving experiences to write several books on caring for people with memory-related illnesses. She is a sought-after speaker, both in Hawai‘i and on the Mainland, sharing strategies for caregiving, as well as coping with the stresses of caregiving.

Frances with Ella Fujie at Hilo Airport.
Frances with Ella Fujie at Hilo Airport.
Aunty Hisako and me.
Aunty Hisako and me.

Book cover with title "Awakening Your Ikigai, How the Japanese Wake Up to Joy and Purpose Every Day" by Ken Mogi


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