Centenarian Mildred Kobashikawa Maintains a Healthy Body, Mind and Spirit
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
At 100 years old — 101, next month — Mildred Kobashikawa is an active older adult who enjoys cooking, taking care of her home and garden and spending time with her family. On the day of our interview for this Hawai‘i Herald feature, she had baked homemade manju that was the best manju this writer had ever tasted. She had even created a special flower-like design stamp to decorate her manju, which made it look extra fancy. What a surprise it was to learn that the stamp she had used to imprint her design was one end of a spool of thread!
Kobashikawa was born in February 1917 in the sugar plantation town of Pu‘unënë on the island of Maui. To give readers a sense of how long ago that was, Queen Lili‘uokalani was still alive at the time, although her monarchy had been overthrown more than two decades earlier.
“My father came from Okinawa,” Kobashikawa said. Her father, Saburo Oshiro, went to work in the sugar fields of Pu‘unënë. “My mother came later as a picture bride, also from Okinawa.” When they married, her father was 24 and her mother, Ushi, was 18.
The first two children born to the young couple were boys. Then came Kikue — or “Kiku-chan,” as she was called back then. Kikue took the English name of Mildred when she got older. As the first daughter born into the family, Kiku-chan was spoiled by her relatives. She would often cry if she wasn’t being carried, which led to her being nicknamed “nakimiso,” an affectionate term for a crybaby.
In all, Kobashikawa’s parents had seven children: two boys and five girls. Their second son died in infancy from the Spanish flu, and their last daughter, Sumi, died of a liver infection when she was only 24.
“My parents moved to the Big Island when I was 4 years old,” said Mildred. “They went to a sugar plantation in Kohala.”
However, that would be only the first stop for the growing Oshiro family. They continued moving to improve their financial circumstances. “They moved to so many places because they found that certain places give more money.” Mildred said it felt like they had moved all over the Big Island. Besides Kohala, the family lived in Hälawa in North Kohala and Niuli‘i, near Kohala and Waipi‘o.
She still recalls an incident from her childhood. “One day, my mom told me to buy ume (Japanese pickled plums) after school. She gave me 10 cents. For 10 cents you could get kind of a big plate (of ume). So I got the 10 cents, and after school, I was going to the store . . . Hirano Store.”
Before reaching the store, however, she noticed a bunch of kids having the time of their lives jumping on a pile of sugarcane. It looked like fun, so she decided to join them. In the process, she lost the dime her mother had given her for the ume and went home empty-handed. She got a good scolding from her mother.
“Those days, 10 cents was big money,” Kobashikawa said. Her mother made her go back to the sugarcane pile to look for the dime, but it was no use — she couldn’t find it. It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
When an opportunity presented itself on Maui, the family returned there, this time settling Upcountry, in Makawao, where her father joined a relative working on a pineapple plantation.
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Kevin Kawamoto is a longtime contributor to The Hawai‘i Herald.