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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Our Honolulu
A lifetime retraced at age 101

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

Fame sits uncomfortably on the fragile shoulders of Masa Maeda, who posed reluctantly for a picture at the Japanese Consulate yesterday because she's 101. She was born in 1900, the beginning of the 20th century.

I wouldn't risk her disapproval by writing this if it weren't for her great-grandson, Brandon Maeda, who was born in 2000, 100 years later at the turn of another century.

What's the difference between 1900 and 2000? The landscapes are so different that Brandon certainly wouldn't recognize the one his great-grandmother was born in. Here are some things he should know.

Two days after Masa came into the world on June 12 in Hale'iwa, Hawai'i officially became a U.S. territory. The day before, throngs of people came to Kapi'olani Park to watch the Kamehameha Day horseraces.

The parade included the elite in stylish gigs, Japanese and Chinese families in farm wagons, sports fans on bicycles, and men and boys on horseback.

Masa, of course, wasn't there. She said her family soon moved to Wai'anae where her father worked at the railroad station loading pineapples on the train that ran from Honolulu to Hale'iwa. The only girl in a family of four boys, she said she bathed in the furo, or Japanese-style hot tub, off the bedroom with her mother.

The house had kerosene lanterns for light, a Japanese stove and an outhouse a good distance away.

"I was good at marbles," said Masa. "Sometimes I beat my brothers." She remembers a Japanese doll in a kimono that she didn't play with, just looked at.

After the sixth grade she went to work in a "haole house" in Wai'anae. Then the family moved to Honolulu where Masa got a job at age 16 in a Japanese doctor's office. It was in his home.

This was a high point in her life because she learned useful skills at a time when there wasn't much opportunity for girls. A Japanese family taught her to sew and the Japanese doctor taught her to mix his medicines and ointments.

In Wai'anae, she had become friends with a boy from Japan who worked on the railroad. He came to visit her family in Honolulu. "Some boys rascal," she said, but he was "a good boy."

She was about 20 when they decided to get married. Two of her granddaughters-in-law and I tried to figure out how this worked. It seems that the families agreed. There was a big party, after which they stayed together and had four children.

He was a carpenter, built their house in Kalihi. He bought the land and she bought the lumber.

During their marriage she raised four children, ran a barbershop at home, grew and sold orchids, and sewed pants and shirts for a store in Chinatown. Now, in a nursing home, she crochets with dainty hands, brown and graceful.

She has 14 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. Masa used to visit Las Vegas, but just plays bingo now. She said she likes Honolulu better the way it is now.

Bob Krauss can be reached at 525-8073.