Being 103 Years Old: A Life of Laughter and Smiles

Hiromi Nishimura can tell you a lot about canning salmon and hunting for mushrooms. He lived through the Great Depression and witnessed two World Wars. His is a life long-lived and well-traveled, but when you ask him about how he did it – how to live to be 103 years young – Hiromi will let you in on his little secret: laughter and smiles.

Born in Seattle on January 16, 1916, Hiromi grew up with six siblings and two loving Japanese American parents. As a young man, he attended the University of Washington on the heels of the Great Depressions, and earned a degree in forestry. He then enlisted in the Army, finding himself in the 7th Division, B-Company. When war broke out, Hiromi was called for the MIS in 1943.

Four years later, he was discharged and made his way home to Seattle. He spent the years that followed building the family’s property management business. From hotels to hospitals, Hiromi worked to keep the company’s buildings shipshape. While he isn’t as involved today as he was years ago, he is still part of the family business.

Looking back on his childhood, Hiromi always has a good story to tell.

Once when he was a boy, Hiromi and his father went fishing before the sun came up. He remembers walking along a wooded roadside with a fancy king salmon in a sack on their backs. Suddenly, a patrol car pulled up from behind and a policeman asked his father to open the bag, thinking they were up to no good. With a small “ha-ha”, Hiromi says that the police officers were surprised to find only a slimy dead fish inside.

As with all of his stories, this one ends with a twist and a good belly laugh.

And everyone at the Nikkei Senior Gardens retirement community in Arleta will tell you that Hiromi’s laughter is special. You can hear his warm voice a floor above or a hallway down. When standing next to him, the first thing people notice is his generous smile.

“He brings so much joy and laughter,” says Patti Kimura, director of life enrichment at NSG. “He is always willing to try something new.”

Learning New Games and Growing Fresh Hobbies

Hiromi is a regular at Keiro’s classes, participating in iPad courses and vitality forums. He is always the first resident to get to the NSG library, to ensure he gets his favorite spot, up front and center. Patti says he never misses their monthly trips to museums, and often encourages others to come along.

Each morning, Hiromi exercises downstairs with other residents. He says he prefers the stationary bike, but participates in tai chi or any of the other exercise classes that may be scheduled for the day. No matter the activity, he always makes an effort to try it out.

At 103 years old, Hiromi says he still is learning new things – most recently Mahjong.

Hiromi Playing Mahjong
Hiromi playing Mahjong with his friends
Hiromi at Memori Kai Class
Hiromi doing exercises at Keiro’s Memori Kai Classes

He and four other residents gather for beginner classes almost daily. Hiromi admits that it’s challenging but fun, and he will wait patiently for a seat at the table. Poker and blackjack are still his favorites, but he says Mahjong is growing on him.

In a garden behind the resident rooms, Hiromi also grows daikon, tomatoes, and other vegetables. He will claim that he isn’t a gardener, but he regularly checks on his harvest and enjoys giving away what his gardens yields. When there is a particularly large harvest, he donates the fresh vegetables to the kitchen for everyone to enjoy.

And that, too, brings a smile to Hiromi’s face.