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96-year old Hanako Yoshimura still going strong and giving back

August 29, 2011
Hanako Yoshimura making yarn lei for HSTA-R

Born in Honolulu during the height of the Spanish Influenza period of 1915, Hanako Yoshimura’s parents were told that they should not expect their infant daughter to live beyond her teenage years.

Ninety-six years later Yoshimura is still going strong, while living in the Hale Anuenue Restorative Care Facility in Hilo.

“I spent most of my childhood years being under weight and in school I was never allowed to participate in sports,” Yoshimura said.

It was during her senior year at McKinley High School that Yoshimura finally made weight and was placed into a physical education class.

“I had never played sports prior to my senior year and I was in terrible shape,” she said.  “It was the only class that I ever got a “D” in and that ruined my chance to make honor roll that year.”

Yoshimura graduated from high school in 1934 and recalls what brought her family to East Hawai’i.

“My father was a mason during the Great Depression,” Yoshimura said.  “He was working only one or two days per week and that wasn’t enough to support the family.  My uncle, who was living in Laupahoehoe, invited us to move to the Big Island where he was able to find more work.”

As Yoshimura started to get older she began to using a Japanese exercise machine everyday and would walk up and down her driveway to stay in top physical condition.

“I discovered health exercises called Nishi Shiki,” Yoshimura said.  “I would follow that style of good health and believed that it helped me with my current ability to stay healthy.”

Yoshimura always wanted to learn how to play tennis but never made it to the courts, and instead learned to be a competitive ping pong player.

“I would play ping pong and became a pretty good player,” she said with a wide grin.  “I was also pretty good at horse shoes.”

Yoshimura later incorporated the Nishi Shiki diet, which advocated drinking persimmon leaf tea, and has been on the diet for over 50 years.

“Now I like drinking ginger tea with honey and apple cider vinegar,” she said.  “I was very stiff and bent over and I believe the ginger tea helped straighten my stiff joints so that I could stand up without pain.”

What is really impressive about this 96 year old woman is that she has an active mind and her recall is as sharp as a tack.

“My favorite television shows are Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune and Family Feud,” she said.  “I also like doing puzzles.”

Her only child, Betty Ann Yoshimura, visits her regularly and says that her mother is a competitive scrabble player.

“My mom likes to play scrabble and I rarely beat her,” the younger Yoshimura said.

“I look forward to playing scrabble all the time and every Wednesday I get to play someone from the County Companionship Program, which is a lot of fun,” Yoshimura said.

Yoshimura’s 19 year old great granddaughter will be visiting her from California and the elder tells me that her great granddaughter has been practicing scrabble in order to keep up with her.

What is even more amazing is that Yoshimura went to college at the University of Hawaii at Hilo to get her Early Childhood degree so that she could go into the classroom to teach preschool.

“I got my college degree when I was 60 years old so that I could teach at the Holy Apostle Pre- School in Hilo,” she said.

With years of teaching skills already under her belt, from teaching at a Japanese language school, and Ikebana (flower arrangement) and embroidery sensei, Yoshimura is a true believer in the concept of being a ‘Life Long Learner.’

“I taught Japanese School for over 30 years,” she said.

Today, with two and a half years in Anuenue, Yoshimura continues to stay active by doing a variety of craft work.

She had recently completed making 28 yarn leis for a retirement group which made the request, and was working on finishing five baby blankets for her two great grandchildren, one of which is expected in December.

Yoshimura has also written a few songs and she had no problem singing to me during the interview.

Lively, happy and maintaining a strong social conversation provides great stimulation for this active super senior.

When asked what her secret to longevity was Yoshimura shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know.”

One thing for sure is that Mrs. Yoshimura has maintained a good sense of humor and her mind is very active as she engages in conversation, probably due to her hours spent playing scrabble and doing her puzzles.

Yoshimura embodies the healthy, dignified spirit of aging and serves as a good role model for all of us aspiring to hit the century mark in life.

And someday should you happen to see a young senior jogging up and down Shower Drive in Hawaiian Paradise Park, remember to smile, say “woof” and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”

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