Dr. Chad Sato
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

Jane Kurahara.

Over the Christmas holidays, I received a heart-warming letter from one of my readers sharing how he looks forward to my monthly column to be inspired. A light bulb flashed, and I thought about who inspires me: those who remain young at heart and, instead of being crystallized by the passing of time, continue to have a profound desire and willingness to learn and to grow. And since Girls’ Day was just celebrated yesterday, I decided to interview a girl who is 91 years young and discover her secrets to living an inspired life. When I first asked Jane Kurahara if she was willing to be interviewed, being extremely humble, she was hesitant at first. I told her by sharing her insights will help inspire future generations and bring an amazing perspective to what we can do during these uncertain times. Fortunately, she agreed and replied, “I don’t have much to share, but am curious to see what comes out from all of this.”  

Kurahara is a retired educator, librarian and administrator who currently volunteers for the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i sharing her knowledge about the Hono‘uli‘uli National Historic Site and the internment of Japanese on O‘ahu. From the first day we met, I was inspired by her willingness to self-reflect and evolve. Kurahara turned 91 on Feb. 16 and she still has this amazing zest and desire to keep learning and living a purposeful life. 

Kurahara takes no medications, just some supplements and vitamins to maintain her health and vitality. She wears glasses but does not need hearing aids, though she did admit that any strong accents are hard for her to hear at times. Physically as much as Kurahara loves to curl up in a chair and read, with the passing of her husband in 2009, she realized that exercise was important to living. So she works out with a personal trainer at Wellness Lifestyle two times a week and rides her indoor cycle on the other days. She sees the positive results of exercising and the deficits of just sitting around watching.  

On a spiritual level, she joined Sukyo Mahikari decades ago, whereupon a miracle convinced her of a benevolent higher presence: the healing of her granddaughter’s thumb.

Coping with COVID-19

She admits to being an introvert and enjoys staying home, but learned through the years the importance of movement. Before COVID-19, she was very active and rarely stayed home. But COVID-19 gave her permission to stay home and she realized that it’s okay to take it easy sometimes. Kurahara is also a student of life and believes she is a “slow learner” and jokingly states that the reason she is still here is that she hasn’t yet learned or experienced all that she needs to in this lifetime. She shares having some fears regarding COVID-19, but instead of letting the fear take over, she tells herself to get off her oshiri (buttocks) and get out!  

The hardship and pain she went through during World War II and the fact that she made it out of that catastrophic time have helped her to weather this pandemic better.”

Hono‘uli‘uli National Historic Site

Kurahara shared that although she and her family were fortunate not to be interned during World War II, her late husband was interned in California, which left an indelible mark on him. She said he was an amazing, kind-hearted soul that helped many as a social worker, but had difficulties dealing with authority and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. He was, however, emotionally supportive and he got her to open up by a simple “tell me what’s bothering you, I can’t fix it if I don’t know.”  

His gentleness opened the floodgates when she bottled up her emotions and then warmth and happiness would replace her anger and suppressed feelings. Seeing how he was impacted by his internment experience was the initial fuel for Kurahara’s work on uncovering the Hono‘uli‘uli Internment Camp on O‘ahu. When she also realized that only a few knew about the site, she feared that if it wasn’t brought to light, this history would be lost and forgotten. According to the online Densho encyclopedia, Hono‘uli‘uli Internment Camp was the “largest and last-occupied World War II-era civilian confinement site in the Hawaiian Islands.” [encyclopedia.densho.org/Honouliuli_(detention_facility)]

Upon interviewing the few remaining living internees and then holding the first exhibit, Kurahara realized how this act contributed to the healing process for the internees. “It was a human story of what happens to one’s inner being when wronged,” said Kurahara. It became imperative to her to preserve this part of history. 

Kurahara credits numerous grassroots heroes in the community and bridge builders, who helped because it was the right thing to do, which ultimately culminated in the final icing on the cake when President Obama signed the proclamation making Hono‘uli‘uli a National Historic Site preserved in perpetuity!! The key takeaway for Kurahara from this 17-year effort was that when you are in alignment, have faith, support of the community and you’re doing the right thing, everything works out in the end.

Knowing when to listen and when not to

Kurahara credits her parents for passing their wisdom down to her. Her mother taught her to be kind and care for people without judgment. Her father pushed her to excel in school and reinforced that she finishes what she started. She confided that her first year in college abroad was challenging and she almost came back home but stuck it out and grew from the experience. Her late husband taught her people skills and through his patience got her to share her feelings when bothered and acknowledged that without him in her life, she would have passed on much earlier.  

After a few years teaching, she knew she would die early if she continued to work in a career that she had no passion for. Coming home from work she lacked the patience to help and understand her sons, which to her was unacceptable and that is when she had to listen to her soul. One day, she spoke with the school librarian who loved her job; it sounded like her dream job. Eventually, the opportunity arose for Kurahara to become a librarian, which entailed going to library school for five summers to get her librarian degree. She broke the news to her father by having an answer to all his arguments and in the end, he gave his blessing. Kurahara shared, “the vision of my world and day-to-day life was transformed. It went from being a bit dull and gray to the sun explosively shining. I realized I was on the right path, finally. Happiness has been a part of each day since.”

Pearls of Wisdom for Future Generations

According to Kurahara, one of her secrets to her vitality is to have a clear, defined purpose, which provides the big WHY for living and is an absolute necessity to take on, move through and overcome challenges. One of the blessings about getting older is that the pieces of life experiences begin to fit together and “wisdom comes from connecting the dots,” said Kurahara. “Human beings are imperfect. Everyone is a little bit right and a little bit wrong.” Even if you disagree, by attempting to see it from the other’s perspective you can find some common ground and move forward even if just a little. We are one human race with similar universal values; although spoken in different tongues, we express the same thing. I.e., in Africa, I say “ubuntu” but in English, I say “sharing or caring for each other.” The importance is connecting and identifying whether it is your problem or whether it is another’s problem. Taking on something to try and fix that which is not yours to fix will not help the other or you. 

Going through several similar experiences it dawned on Kurahara that when she tried to help fix a situation for her grandson, it wasn’t her problem to fix; but it was his to fix and learn from. She then started being a cheerleader in his life and was very proud of what he was able to accomplish on his own. She encourages others to give themselves a pep talk when things seem difficult or when there are too many obstacles. Don’t give up, look for ways to go around, under, over the obstacles, or join up with others who are aligned with you, and be patient with a small step at a time. The overall theme of her pearls of wisdom is all about acceptance, open communication, connecting with others and taking responsibility for your thoughts, words, and actions.  

Five Important lessons

Over the years, Kurahara has recognized five important lessons:  

  1. Think about at least five things to be grateful for each day.  
  2. No matter what, always maintain a persevering attitude. Don’t give up or resort to drugs or alcohol. Problems and challenges are woven into the fabric of everyone’s lives. When these problems are huge, we must work on them together, the smaller ones we can “swiss cheese” it [make holes in it little by little].  
  3. Your unique values are important. Learn how your values work for you in life.  
  4. Value community. Focus on the we rather than the me. 
  5. Don’t be so hard on yourself, because after all, no one is perfect!

When Kurahara is not busy with her volunteer work at the JCCH, she likes to read, watch University of Hawai‘i men’s and women’s volleyball games, email friends and play with her dog, Buddy. I agree wholeheartedly with Kurahara’s life lessons. I’ve witnessed many of my clients over the years who have similar mindsets and can live their lives more fully and well. It’s about being aligned with yourself, knowing your values and being of service. 

I asked Kurahara in closing to share a quote with today’s youth. She quoted famous author Steve Maraboli: I find the best way to love someone is not to change them, but instead, help them reveal the greatest version of themselves. And in true Jane fashion without realizing it, created her quote, “If you do one little thing, that little thing can make a difference in the world if it is the right thing to do.”

Dr. Chad Sato graduated from UCLA in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and earned the Doctor of Chiropractic degree with honors from Life Chiropractic College West in 1998. Sato founded his practice, Aloha Chiropractic (alohachiro.biz), in Mänoa valley, O’ahu, on Oct. 1, 1999. He is a sought-after educator, speaker, author and mind-body specialist who helps people reach new levels of empowerment when it comes to their health and wellness by staying present with their body signs, making appropriate life choices and utilizing stress instead of managing it.


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