Saturday, May 8, 1999

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, left, looks at old photos with her
grandmother Tari Soto, 98, and mother, Laura Hirono, 74.

Lieutenant governor
reflects on the
‘bookends’ of her life

Three generations: Center to
honor Hirono, her mother
and grandmother

By Rod Ohira


After 16 years in Japan, Waipahu-born Laura Chie Hirono returned to Hawaii to start a new life in March 1955 with two young children and no money or job.

"Nothing could be worse," Hirono said about her marriage to a heavy drinker and gambler. "I was so desperate, I felt I couldn't go down further."

Starting from scratch, Hirono worked seven days a week to support her children and parents, who returned to Hawaii in 1957 with Laura's youngest child.

"Nothing I can do can be as difficult as what my mother did," Lt. Gov. Mazie Keiko Hirono said. "It took a lot of courage to come here with three kids to start a new life, not knowing how it would turn out.

"But she kept moving the family forward. My mother is in a class by herself. She's a risk-taker who has a lot of guts. I learned risk-taking from her."

The Moiliili Community Center is recognizing Laura Hirono; her 98-year-old mother, Tari Shinoki Sato; and 51-year-old daughter as "three generations of outstanding women" at its second annual Applause Encore banquet tonight at Waialae Country Club.


A bucket about 12-18 inches high and 2 feet wide -- the Japanese call it a tarai -- sits in the tofu factory room at Hawaii's Plantation Village. The bucket has come full circle with Laura Hirono.

It is sturdy and dependable, like the three women it served, beginning with Tari Shinoki, a picture bride who came to Hawaii in 1923 to marry immigrant sugar worker Hiroshi Sato.

In 1924, while living at Waipahu's nishi or west Japanese camp, Tari used the tarai to bathe her infant daughter, Chie, who later took Laura as an English name.

The same tarai went with Hiroshi and Tari Sato to downtown Honolulu in 1928, when the couple opened a bathhouse near Smith and Maunakea streets.

When Mrs. Sato returned to Fukushima Prefecture in 1939 with Laura and her younger brother, Akira, the tarai went with them.

"She wasn't feeling good, possibly from overwork, and wanted to go home," Laura said. "My father stayed back to run the business for two years. He took the last ship to Japan before the war."

Hiroshi and Tari Sato brought the tarai with them when they returned to Hawaii in 1957.

"My parents were working on a flower farm (on Lunalilo Home Road) in 1957 and six of us were living in a one-room shack that didn't even have a bath," Laura Hirono said. "We took baths in the same tarai my mother bathed me in when I was born."

Before donating the tarai to Hawaii's Plantation Village, Laura Hirono used it to mix concrete when she built a garden walkway at her daughter's home.

"Wherever we moved, it went with us," Laura Hirono said. "Now it's back to its birthplace (Waipahu)."

Photo courtesy of the Hirono family
In 1952, Laura Hirono had her hands full with her three
children: Wayne, in her arms, Mazie and Roy.

Laura was 15 years old when she went to Japan to live.

"I felt out of place and wanted to go back to Hawaii," she said.

While her parents farmed, Laura went to school and worked as a bookkeeper.

"Just after the war, Japan didn't have anything," she said. "We always got robbed at night; they took our clothes."

Laura was 22 when she married Matabe Hirono, a veterinarian. After briefly living with her parents, the couple moved to southern Fukushima.

Over time, the marriage soured.

"After six years, I just couldn't take it anymore," Laura said. "He just drank and gambled. Sometimes he didn't come home for days."

Mazie Hirono, 4 years old in 1951 when Laura left her husband, recalled, "There was no food or money in the house. He sold all of our things to gamble."

Laura Hirono remembers the day she decided to leave: "My brother sent money to buy a school uniform for my son. My husband took the money, went to town and never came back home.

"It was getting closer to the start of school, so I went to look for him. I found out he had ordered an overcoat for himself with the money. He didn't need an overcoat in the spring. That's when I made up my mind to leave."


She took her three children -- Roy, Mazie and Wayne -- with her.

"I told his family I was taking (Roy and Mazie) to school at my mother's place," she said. "I sold all my clothes to get the funds for train fare."

Laura and her children stayed with her parents for four years.

"My husband never came around once," she said. "My parents were supportive and took all of us in. My mother gave us money. I guess it all boils down to love."

The Satos decided to return to Hawaii shortly after she came to stay with them, Hirono said.

"Since they weren't doctors or skilled people, my parents could only go back under the quota system and it takes 10 years," she added. "But I had citizenship, so we decided I'd go first."

When she first returned to Hawaii looking for a better life, Laura Hirono lived with her brother, Akira, who had returned to Hawaii after the war ended.

Laura brought Mazie and Roy with her but left Wayne in Japan with her parents. "I didn't bring him because he was too young and I wouldn't be able to care for him and work," she said.

The family moved into a rooming house on Kewalo Street.

"The first place had one room, one table, three chairs and one bed," she said. "Mazie and Roy slept on the bed. I slept on the floor with a futon.

"The landlady was so nice. The rent was $35, but she charged us less because I didn't have a job."


Laura Hirono went to work for Hawaii Hochi as a typesetter. She also worked three nights a week for a private catering company.

Money was tight and the family was forced to move often, but Laura kept them together. Mazie Hirono recalled that she and her brother used to get a dime once or twice a week from their mother.

"We both had baseball piggy banks," Mazie Hirono said. "My older brother spent all his dimes but I saved mine. But one day I came home and the dimes were gone. My mother had to use it to buy food."

Life was a struggle, but they made it. Laura Hirono became a newspaper proofreader in 1961 and retired from the Hawaii Newspaper Agency in 1986. At age 74, she and her widowed mother -- Hiroshi died in 1989 -- live with Mazie and her husband.

"They are my bookends," the lieutenant governor said. "My grandmother is more persevering and my mother is a risk-taker."

Mazie's older brother, Roy, is a Hawaiian Electric Co. supervisor. Her younger brother, Wayne, drowned here in 1978 at age 26.

"We came a long way," Laura Hirono said. "There were times when I thought I would never be able to buy a car. But we did it.

"Now I can look back at some of those things and laugh about it," she said, looking proudly at her mother and daughter, a tear in her eye.

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