KAPA’A — “Not bad for a 102-year-old man, eh?” Hajime Morita’s grandson, Glenn Morita, commented, while watching the centenarian celebrate his 102nd birthday Wednesday.
“He can do everything except walk,” said Glenn Morita, a Kaua’i Police Department detective.
Surrounded by three of this four children, Morita kept saying, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” as he gestured to both long-term-care patients at the Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital, as well as his own family, many of whom took up seats between patients in the hospital’s auditorium.
Josie Pablo, the hospital’s long-term-care unit activities coordinator, was overjoyed with the event. “He’s the oldest patient we have here,” she noted.
“And, he’s the last of seven children. His sister, Shizuno Hiranaka, was 103 when she passed on earlier this year. She also was a client here,” Pablo said.
“He was born on Sept. 7, 1903, in an area near Kilauea,” said Glenn Morita, who noted that he had forgotten the name of the area where his grandfather was born. But on a tour with Jack Gushiken of Guava Kai, Gushiken took them to the area where Hajime grew up.
“It’s near the Morita Reservoir,” Glenn Morita said. “That reservoir was named because one of the brothers had the job of controlling the water there.”
Raised in the Moloa’a area, Hajime Morita was the fifth of seven children born to Kaichi and Kinu Morita. Mabel Senda, one of Hajime Morita’s four children, said that he became known as “Da Milkman,” because he used to work for Lihue Plantation, where his job was to deliver milk to the plantation camps and workers.
Later, she said, when his services as a milk delivery man were no longer required, he became a truck driver for the plantation.
During the times when he wasn’t working, Hajime Morita loved to sing, and music appeared to be one of his favorite pastimes, as he spent the summers playing taiko and singing at the bon dances, Senda said.
Glenn Morita added that Hajime Morita also was a sumotori. During the plantation era, sumo tournaments were held at various locations around the island. Even today, Glenn Morita said Hajime Morita loves to watch the sumo tournaments on TV.
“Remember the old Nielsen baseyard?” Glenn Morita asked. “He used to go to tournaments there, where he said he would win lots of rice.” The Nielsen baseyard was at that time cut into the hillside along Rice Street in an area that is now occupied by the entrance to the Kaua’i Marriott Resort & Beach Club.
Using some of Hajime Morita’s likes, Pablo explained that, by getting him a hand-held taiko (paranku in the Okinawa culture), they were able to get Hajime Morita to join in on the group’s activities.
During the special performance by the Kapa’a Senior Center Japanese dance group yesterday, Hajime Morita kept time with his taiko, not missing a beat.
Between numbers, Hajime Morita insisted that he do the “banzai,” a Japanese celebration cheer, to thank not only the dancers, but the guests who took time to come out and honor his birthday celebration.
His voice quaked with emotion as he got assistance from Pablo, who held the microphone for the birthday celebrant, his granddaughter-in-law lending her hand to hold the taiko for the tribute.
“Shin ro, shinpu, banzai!” the elder repeated the words by heart three times, the third being the loudest.
Earlier, before blowing out the candles to his special strawberry layered cake, Hajime Morita gave his family a good-natured argument, noting that he was 102 years old, not 201 years, after he observed that the candles, placed for the benefit of cameras, looked like 201 from his vantage point.
That delayed the blowing out of the candles, as the candles were arranged, and rearranged, to Hajime Morita’s liking and, finally, with the encouragement and verbal prodding from his family, he took one deep breath.
Swosh! All three flames were blown out, as the auditorium erupted in applause.
Pablo noted that Hajime Morita is “very feisty for 102 years,” the active elder joining their beach-outing group recently at Lydgate Park, and, depending on how many volunteers and staff members she can muster, might also join the group Saturday when the Mahelona Hospital seniors are part of the Aloha Festivals’ parade at 10 a.m. at Kukui Grove Center.
“He has a very supportive family,” Pablo said.
But, the celebration was not over yet, as Dr. Dwight Lyon, chairman of the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation board that oversees both Mahelona and the Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital at the West Kauai Medical Center, who was visiting the hospital for the day, came over with Llewellyn Wynne to offer their personal birthday wishes and greetings.
Shaking Lyons’ hand, Hajime Morita remarked, “I just went to the doctor, and he told me I going live another 10 years!”
- Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or email@example.com