By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
REDONDO BEACH — With song and decorations of pink butterflies, Mae Kakehashi celebrated her 100th birthday on May 28 in Redondo Beach.
Joining her at the head table were siblings Mary Kageyama Nomura, 98, the Songbird of Manzanar, and Susumu Bill Fukuwa, 92. Both siblings serenaded their beloved onee-san (older sister) who assumed the role of taking care of the family and quit school when their mother died suddenly. Oldest brother Frank Kageyama also left school to help take care of the young family. He was a horticulturist and worked on the Manzanar Guayule Project.
The butterfly has special significance to Kakehashi, who was a medical stenographer in the Manzanar camp hospital. She married her husband Hideo in Manzanar on Feb. 19, 1944 and is an active participant in the Manzanar reunions. The family were talented artists and mom Machi Kageyama was a gifted singer and shamisen musician who performed under the stage name “Cho Cho-san.” The siblings formed a group, the Kageyama Trio, that would perform at Yamato Hall and USO shows.
After Machi’s death, a butterfly flew into the family’s home and paused briefly before each child. Kakehashi felt that it was her mother’s spirit watching over them and has loved the delicate butterfly ever since.
It was fitting that songs filled the Catalina Room. Niece Lisa Ishibashi performed “Dream a Little Dream.” Nephew Norman Nomura sang “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” Son Dr. Robert Kakehashi and his sons Michael and Ryan sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
Before the gathering of more than 150, son Robert revealed that his mom loves all kinds of music, including the Doors, Neil Young and Jefferson Airplane. Birthday greetings were also offered via video by Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts and Padres Hall of Fame pitcher Trevor Hoffman.
Daughter Colleen Kakehashi Hoff compared their life growing up to an episode of “I Love Lucy,” with mom Mae as Lucy getting the family into all kinds of zany adventures.
Phyllis Hayashibara of the Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument committee paid tribute to Kakehashi, who has been active with the monument committee since 2011 and is featured in a quote on the obelisk.
Grandsons Michael and Ryan Kakehashi said that their baa-chan was always there to cook a meal of sukiyaki or tamale pie and give them $20 bills.
Kakehashi worked for Dr. Iwao George Kawakami, Dr. Mitsuo Inouye, Dr. Nam Lim and Dr. Akita Nishizawa as their medical secretary for 31 years at the West Bay-UCLA Medical Group. The entire gathering sang “Happy Birthday” to Kakehashi and shared a champagne toast.
The event was made even more special with birthday wishes for Dr. Kawakami, who will turn 102 in July, and Shig Miya, a well-known bonsai grower, who will turn 102 in December.
Kakehashi still resides in her home in Mar Vista and is always stylishly dressed. At the party, she greeted her guests and walked through the hall in chic leather boots.
In an interview with historian Art Hansen, Kakehashi recalled a very different type of boot that she and her sisters Tillie and Mary wore. The sisters bought cowboy boots to ward off rattlesnakes and scorpions in camp.
“So that’s what we did. We bought our boots and went to Manzanar with our boots on,” Kageyama said.
Photos by GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo