family photo of one man with a black hat, older woman with red sweater, older woman with pink bandana, young woman with tie die sweater

With the average Asian American living to 85 years old, the thought of living past that age sounds infeasible. However, this is quite common in Our Community. Keiro interviewed Kimi, a Los Angeles native who is 100 years young. 

From Family Restaurant to Elementary School

black and white photo of woman

Kimi grew up in almost the heart of Little Tokyo, off of 3rd Street and San Pedro. Her family owned a restaurant that opened as early as three o’clock in the morning to serve those who worked at the nearby food wholesale market. After all these years, Kimi cherishes the memory of spending time in the restaurant with her family and the dishes her father made. The family owned and operated the establishment until World War II when her family was sent to the Santa Anita incarceration camps.

Although she would never work in a restaurant again, Kimi was able to find work elsewhere. She left the camps through a work sponsorship by a doctor in St. Louis. Kimi found a listing for domestic work and applied for the position without hesitation — even though she only received $60 a month. Eventually, even her sister, Alice, was also able to move to St. Louis where she worked next door to her. When the war was over, she kept working in administration through various companies until she retired at Westwood Elementary School.

Keeping the Routine and Family Connections

portrait of older woman in pink

Nowadays, a routine helps Kimi as she ages. One of her favorite activities to do is eating breakfast, which is normally toast with a lot of butter. Since Kimi’s days start early, she not only has one breakfast but two! She also enjoys playing solitaire, going on regular walks with her dog and caregiver, shopping at Target, and spending time with her family. Every day, one of her family members makes sure to visit her — for either a meal or to run errands. Her family plays a vital role in her routine. Even though she may not talk as much as she used to, she simply enjoys hearing the conversations around her.

When asked what is her secret ingredient to being a 100, she says “just eating properly.” She grew many vegetables over the years in her backyard. So much so that those who knew her called their home “the farm”, and their cousins would say, “Oh, [Kimi] is still alive because all of the vegetables… you guys had vegetables all the time!” 

Special Occasion Outings Spark Joy

Outside of her normal daily routine, Kimi also enjoys when her family takes her on special outings to places such as going to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and even the arcade. Her grandson, Matthew, takes her to the local arcade where she loves playing the crane machines. Mathew commented, “She’s happy following around. [The family] can go do whatever they want and [she] just watches and because it’s stimulating, she’s not just in the house all the time. So we try to take her to different places.”  

man in white shirt, boy in blue shirt, girl in yellow dress, older woman in pink, and woman with sunglasses

One of the newer events that her family was able to take her to Little Tokyo was the Keiro no Hi Festival in 2023. Debbie and Eileen, Kimi’s daughters, and Matthew had such a lovely time bringing her mother out to enjoy the festivities. They were able to stamp the Ireichō — a book where survivors and ancestors can stamp the names of over 125,000 persons of Japanese ancestry who were incarcerated during World War II—  at the Japanese American National Museum and have her photo taken at the portrait studio. Although Little Tokyo has changed since Kimi lived there when she was younger, it did not stop her from enjoying the event. 

Kimi has lived a tremendous life that is full of love, hard work, and family. Her family enjoys the time they have with Kimi and appreciates the foundation she laid for the life they have today.