HAWAII AT WORK
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Lee Ann Maruyama Jones, right, general manager of International Healing Academy in the Waikiki Trade Center, on Thursday offered guidance as student Shiki Komura practiced lomi lomi massage. At left is instructor Pohaikealoha Au.
Learning Lomi Lomi
Lee Ann Maruyama Jones helps perpetuate an ancient healing art
Lee Ann Maruyama Jones joined the International Healing Academy in Waikiki as general manager about five years ago, and she continues to be grateful for the opportunity. The former sales director for Atlantis Adventures was pretty much minding her own business when an industry colleague suggested she meet with the academy's Japanese owners, who were looking for someone local to run their new Hawaii outlet. The meeting resulted in her pursuing an entirely new career -- teaching lomi lomi massage and other aspects of Hawaiian culture to students recruited from Japan. Jones -- who is "barely" in her 50s, she said -- was herself born in Japan and speaks Japanese fluently. She then lived in California before moving here at age 11. She is a graduate of Roosevelt High School and has a bachelor's degree in psychology from University of Hawaii. She is married to musician Steve Jones, with whom she has a son, 15, and lives in Mililani.
Lee Ann Maruyama Jones
Title: General manager
Job: Runs the International Healing Academy in the Waikiki Trade Center for RAJA International
What is the International Healing Academy? A school of some sort?
Answer: It is. But I don't want to call it a school. Let's call it a workshop.
Q: Which means what?
A: We cover Hawaiian lomi lomi and cultural programs -- hula, music, and spirituality.
Q: So who's the typical customer?
A: All from Japan.
Q: Why is that?
A: We have a company in Japan -- the home office is there -- and they do all the sales and marketing there. In Japan, they started with reflexology schools and reflexology salons.
Q: Who's they?
A: Oh, our company. The home company is called RAJA International.
Q: And what is its focus?
A: Its focus is healing.
Q: And who owns it?
A: Keiko Fujita. Unbelievable woman; really unbelievable insight toward setting trends.
Q: So she started teaching reflexology?
A: Right. So RAJA stands for Reflexology Association of Japan.
Q: How did the company expand to Hawaii?
A: She (Fujita) came to Hawaii and realized Hawaii is the healing islands, and she decided she wanted to invest in the mana, I think, in teaching the Hawaiian-style healing.
Q: Whom did she learn from?
A: She didn't learn. She came here and decided she wanted to teach Japanese people and introduce them to Hawaiian-style healing such as lomi lomi. So she has a daughter that is in charge of the lomi lomi. Her name is Sayo. She came here and she learned from Aunty Margaret Machado. She's famous. She's a master of lomi lomi.
Q: And lomi lomi is a massage?
A: Yes, a massage technique that the Hawaiians had from ancient times.
Q: So, Sayo, in turn, has been teaching others who teach at the academy?
A: Well, Sayo being Japanese, she couldn't teach here, so the company hired locals, like myself, and we hired local lomi lomi teachers. But naturally she had to know what lomi lomi is all about to promote it in Japan.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Lee Ann Maruyama Jones, center, general manager of International Healing Academy, on Thursday helped instructor Pohaikealoha Au, right, teach student Junko Yagi about lomi lomi.
So what was your background?
A: Oh gosh. My background is just totally different. I've always been in tour and travel. I was in sales and marketing.
Q: For whom, for example?
A: Atlantis Adventures. When I was with them, I was their sales director, for eastbound, so I handled all the Japanese accounts.
Q: How did you hook up with these folks (International Healing Academy)?
A: I got hooked up because the president of (travel agency) Aloha Seven (Fukuyoshi "Lucky" Kawazoe) called me and said he wanted me to meet somebody, this lady, and just to talk to her and listen to her. I wasn't looking for a new job or anything. I loved what I was doing. But I said OK, and I found out they were looking for somebody to work for them here.
So I met her, and we really agreed on a lot of the philosophies that we both had. I had said no in the beginning -- you know, small company starting up -- but anyway, long story short, they said, no, they wanted me to run it. I knew nothing about lomi lomi at that time, but they knew I could run it. I said I wanted to think about it, but they didn't want me to think about if for that long. I was in tour and travel for 25 years. But two days later I decided, I will go.
Q: So now you have learned about it?
A: I'm a licensed therapist now. It's insane. I never thought I would go in this direction. But I love it. I have learned about Hawaiian culture, which is unbelievable.
Q: What are your duties as general manager?
A: First of all, I changed the curriculum, because once I understood more about the culture, I wanted to do it the right way, follow the Hawaiian protocol. Meaning lomi lomi is not about just technique. We wanted to teach people the spirituality about it. At the same time, though, I didn't want Japanese people to think that I was pushing a religion. So I was very careful.
Q: How many students, typically, are there at any one time?
A: Because it is a four-week course, we have anywhere from 10 to 15 students.
Q: And they come from Japan?
A: Yeah. It's a very intensive program.
Q: How many people do you work with?
A: Several. The biggest entity in my life here is Regina Makaikai Igarishi. She's a former Miss Aloha Hula. She's a culturalist. She's been doing hula for 40-something years. She came with me, actually, from Atlantis. You should actually be interviewing her. She's amazing. We also have Pohaikealoha Au; she is our kumu for our lomi lomi, and she is Mrs. Hawaii 2000. I have just the best people around me. I'm so lucky. You should be interviewing her, too! Also I have (singer and songwriter) Teresa Bright, who comes in and helps teach our cultural music and crafts.
I'm going to say one more name: Noelani Bennett. She's our lomi lomi kumu. Her mom is Emma Veary, the singer. Our students are so lucky, they get introduced to all these top people; it's so much knowledge.
Q: What's your typical day?
A: The typical day is us passionately trying to teach our students about lomi lomi and doing it the right way -- however long it takes. It's classroom instruction. We have charts. We go over (the lessons) daily, step by step, and by the fourth week, they should know one hour of really complete lomi lomi. By the fourth week they look different, they think different and they don't want to leave. They always cry. Because it's not only lomi lomi they learn about. They learn about themselves. Whatever they had pent up inside, it's about letting go. It's amazing.
Q: It sounds amazing.
A: It is. Five years ago I would never have imagined.
A: So are you happy at this job?
A: Oh, unbelievably so. It opened my eyes so much. I was in tour and travel for so long. But, of course, I'm still in Waikiki, so I feel like I'm still in tour and travel. I love that work a lot, but I love what I am doing now.