Back row, from left: Powell Kodani, Kenzo Shintani, Kei Inoue, James Kitazaki, Marion Shigekuni, Tom Uyeda, Katsuko Yamada, Ritsuko Shinbashi, Meiji Club president. Front row, from left: Kathy Endo, Kimiko Miseroy, Florence Sato, Jean Shinsato, Florence Takaaze, Asako Tomita, Kisui Fujimoto, Ruby Yamaoka.

By NJ NAKAMURA

While coping with life’s troubles of higher prices, infections and new weather patterns, it is always a welcome change to get together to share happiness with others.

A joyous birthday celebration was held on Saturday, June 11, for seniors who are 85 years loved. Fifteen birthday celebrant members of the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center’s (SFV JACC) Senior Citizen Meiji Club were treated to a hearty bento lunch. Their loving family and friends were there to help them celebrate this life achievement.

Several of them began their early years in Japan, Okinawa, the Philippines and Hawaii. However, the majority were born and raised in the mainland United States. Fortunately, many of those seniors were willing to share some of their unique life experiences.

After being released from the internment camp, Tom was shy and didn’t have much to look forward to. Yet, he clearly remembered a special highlight in his life. He joined a coed social club started by Roy Murakami and it was called the Larks. Beaming with a huge smile, he explained that it opened the door to “meeting many GIRLS!”

As a group, they went to the movies, dances and the zoo. He appreciated having Roy grab him by the arm and then place him to stand face to face with a gal to dance with. That is truly a fond memory for him.

In 1958, after graduating from the University of Hawaii as a medical technologist, Florence moved to California. With that move, her life improved immensely. There were more job opportunities, more travel destinations and she made many new friends. She currently teaches the tai chi class at the SFV JACC.

One woman felt that after 85 years, she is a wiser person. Her life experiences made her more aware of the various personalities and behaviors of those around her. Some are more friendly and others are different. Overall, she believes it is better to stay involved with people, to avoid loneliness.

As a young child living in the Philippines during World War II, another woman remembered hearing the dreaded planes fly overhead. Then the bombs would fall and explode in the nearby city of Manila. Along with three other family members, she would hide in an underground cave next to her house.

Yet the most heart-stopping, terrifying feeling was of trying to hide from the Japanese soldiers. If seen by any of those soldiers, they were required to bow their heads or risk being killed immediately.

Ruby is still grateful for the opportunity to travel to Europe with the Meiji Club. They visited England, France and Germany in the early 1990s. She continues to participate in the Meiji Club’s guitar class, hula class and the Aloha Poker Club. As an eager beginner, she quickly learned the game Texas Hold ’Em and became a third-place winner!

All of the Meiji Club activities give her a sense of purpose because she laughs a lot and she feels alive.

After moving from Texas in 2008, James made many new friends at the SFV JACC. He joined the ukulele class, guitar and the Aloha Poker Club. He especially enjoys the senior “HotMeal” on Fridays, with the most recent meal served being pork tonkatsu. Naturally, he sits at the lunch table with his poker-playing buddies.

Kei met and married her husband at the age of 21. By the age of 27, they had four children and then a surprise child later. Since 2009, she has overseen the preparation and serving of the senior HotMeal program. Before the COVID shutdown of the SFV JACC, the meals were offered twice a week. One of her pleasures is seeing everyone enjoy the food while laughing and smiling during the meal.

A person is never too old to have a birthday party. It is a wonderful way to honor and celebrate everyone’s life and accomplishments.

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