Kuakini’s Hale Pulama Mau auditorium was decorated festively – tables topped with sakura paper fans and a blossoming orchid, with intricately cut paper cherry blossoms dusted across pink tablecloths – ready to celebrate Kuakini Home’s first in-person event in two years. On Sunday, May 22, guests from the Japanese Women’s Society Foundation and this year’s Cherry Blossom court entered the auditorium followed by residents wearing orange lei to celebrate Kukani Home’s 90th Anniversary as a residential care home for Hawai‘i’s senior community.
Special messages congratulating Kuakini Home were framed on a blackboard from Governor David Ige, Congressman Ed Case, Congressman Kaiali‘i Kahele, Senator Mazie Hirono and Senator Brian Schatz.
Residents filed in, seated with Cherry Blossom court members or JWSF members.
“I love it here,” said resident Alice Takata, once she settled into her seat. “I know I’m in good hands.” The Palama native smiled and added, “Kuakini Homes and I are the same age. I’m going to be 90 in a few days.”
Kuakini Home was founded 90 years before the Sunday celebration to the date, on May 22, 1932. Initially called the Japanese Home of Hawaii, the facility began as two wooden cottages located on the ‘Ewa-side of the Japanese Hospital (now known as Kuakini Medical Center). The first 13 residents were patients from the Japanese Hospital. By the end of the first year, the home grew to house 48 residents, mostly retired Japanese immigrants who had worked in the plantation fields and had no family on the island.
Residents went for walks and shopped or went to movies nearby; some helped with yard work and gardening even though it was not a requirement to do so. If they needed medical assistance, they received treatment at the nearby Japanese Hospital.
In 1942, the Japanese Home of Hawaii was renamed Kuakini Home. In 1980, the home relocated to the second and third floors of Hale Pulama Mau building, where it remains today. The new space doubled occupancy; increasing from 50 to 100 beds and featured a solarium, television room, library-learning center, chapel, dining room and auditorium. Two years later, Kuakini Home was the largest care home in Hawai‘i.
Over its 90-year history, Kuakini Home continues to provide longterm and respite care for men and women of all ethnicities and backgrounds and enhances residents’ quality of life in a safe environment. Residents are offered numerous activities including sightseeing, field trips, crafts, karaoke, movies, intergenerational activities with local schools, daily exercises and performances by movie stars and entertainers from Japan. When members of the Imperial Family of Japan visit the islands, some stop by Kuakini Home to visit the residents.
The care and comradery is evident as Takata paused to say hello to familiar faces, including Ann Kato, whose mother lived in the home until 2018, but still continues to visit.
“I enjoy being around you guys,” said Kato. “I made friends, too. Friends like Alice would share their stories about their lives and what they did.”
“We call her ‘Treat Lady,’” Takata said with a laugh of Kato, who would bring goodie bags for residents on holidays and special occasions. Even during the heat of the pandemic Kato would still drop off treats for the staff to pass out to the residents.
“I love everything [here]; the kindness, the special activities,” said Takata, who has been living at the home for four years and particularly enjoys events like karaoke and bingo and days like today, a day of celebration.
The 90th anniversary celebration kicked off with Dragon Beat Taiko Hawaii. After a rousing drum performance, emcee Brianne Yamada, 2021 Cherry Blossom Queen, welcomed guests to the anniversary celebration.
“What an accomplishment that we are here to celebrate again today,” Yamada said. “We understand that Kuakini Home isn’t just a place for lunch; it’s not just a place for those to live – it’s a place to take care of our Issei, our Nisei, our older generation, for them to have a safe place to live. Everybody, I think, can attest to wanting the best life for our grandparents, and to know we have such a special place here at Kuakini Home makes it such a treasure here on O‘ahu.”
Governor David Ige and Gary Kajiwara, president and CEO of Kuakini Health System, each gave welcoming speeches, recognizing the efforts of the JWSF.
“The Japanese Women’s Society Foundation has been a strong supporter of Kuakini Home throughout its history,” said Governor Ige. “I want to add that there is one constant that has tied the history of the home and the [JWSF] together; And that common bond is Mrs. Lillian Yajima and her mother, Mrs. Alice Noda.”
The JWSF has been a longstanding partner with Kuakini Home since 1973. The JWSF was founded in 1954 as an educational and service organization, with the purpose of promoting friendship between the United States and Japan, cultivating friendship among members and encouraging members to engage in community service. After honorary president Haruko Tsumura returned to Japan, Alice Noda was elected as JWSF’s first Hawai‘i-born president. In 1979, her daughter Lillian Yajima served as president and helped establish many programs still enjoyed today at Kuakini Home.
“In continuing the support of Kuakini Home, Lillian Yajima has been a ‘major force,’ and I put that in quotes,” said Kajiwara, who himself has been with Kuakini Home since 1976. “A major force in supporting Kuakini and its residents over the years.”
Yajima and JWSF continue to collaborate with Kuakini Home to provide the annual Adopt-a-Mom-and-Dad program; the Birthday Angels program to celebrate residents’ birthdays; monthly friendship teas; and many fundraising campaigns to assist facility’s relocation to the Hale Pulama Mau building, purchasing equipment and recreational items, facilities improvement as well as purchasing gifts and treats for the residents.
“From 1973 to today,” Kajiwara added, “JWSF has donated $1,052,079 for the support of Kuakini Home and its residents. So again, we are thankful for this continuing partnership with the JWSF.”
Kajiwara also gave a special thanks to the JWSF president Lori Fujikawa-Casey, JWSF community-service co-chairs Corday Feagins and Staci Yoshihara for coordinating the 90th anniversary celebration and JWSF member Sheree Tamura for coordinating the entertainment. Kajiwara also thanked the Kuakini healthcare team for their continued hard work.
“We, at the Japanese Women’s Society Foundation, are elated to be in this auditorium again,” Fujikawa-Casey said. “The JWSF realizes that we would not be able to do a fraction of our Kuakini Home events without willingness from the facility to welcome us in. Please allow me a few minutes to recognize an individual that helps make this possible.” Fujikawa-Casey described a longtime JWSF member who has also been working for Kuakini Home as a clerk since 2002 and one of the primary organizer’s of the day’s event.
“This individual is hardworking, generous, welcoming, supportive and kind. She brings a sense of Zen whenever she enters a room, and she’s always the first to assist with a smile on her face and provides support to those around her,” said Fujikawa-Casey. “Please join me in thanking Suzette Lau Hee, an irreplaceable member of JWSF, and I’m certain, a diamond for Kuakini Home.”
Fujikawa-Casey presented Lau Hee with a canvas painting of Mount Fuji reflecting off the ocean, framed by cherry blossom branches on each side. The painting was commissioned and donated by artist Connor Straube, whose custom art matched Hau Lee’s hand-painted shoes.
As the guests ate lunch – Natsunoya Tea House bento provided by JWSF and dessert homemade by Lau Hee – Sheree Tamura took over emcee duties as the entertainment program began.
Aolani Silva, Miss Teen Aloha State American Scholar 2021 and KZOO Radio 1210 AM Karaoke Grand Championship winner 2014, opened with her rendition of ”Dairyou Matsuri” followed by Okinawan dance group Tamagusuku Ryu Senju Kai Frances Nakachi Ryubu Dojo’s performance of “Nubui Kuduchi.” Next, Anju Madoka of Madoka no Kai performed “Koko ni Sachi Ari” on the shamisen. The Hanayagi Mitsusumi Dance Studio with Dennis Oshiro Music Studio continued the entertainment with “Kita Gunu no Haru.”
By the time Silva took the stage again, many residents and guests finished eating their bento and sang and clapped along rhythmically as she sang “Omatsuri Mambo.”
Three children from Tamagusuku Ryu Senju Kai Frances Nakachi Ryubu Dojo returned to the stage to perform “Tanchamee” followed by Hanayagi Mitsusumi Dance Studio with “Kaguya Hime.” Next, Anju Madoka took the stage with a shamisen performance of “Tanko Bushi,” joined by Tamura, who demonstrated the hand motions to go along with the music. Attendees followed along, dancing from their chairs.
“Did that stimulate your blood?” asked Tamura, after the performance.
Guests and residents, including Takata, responded with a resounding, “Yes!”
For the finale, all the performers returned to the stage with Blane Mitsunami to sing “Ue o Muite Aruko/Sukiyaki,” and attendees joined in, singing along.
After the performance wrapped up, Tamura thanked everyone for coming, and closed the afternoon celebration by saying, “Keep eating well; be safe; enjoy life.”
For more information about Kuakini Homes, please visit kuakini.org.