Monday, August 9, 1999

Nurse remembers
early Kuakini

The hospital will celebrate the
100th anniversary of its opening
next year in July

By Rod Ohira


In his best 1920s English, a Japanese immigrant is trying to explain something to a taxi driver.

This is what the driver is hearing: "Mauka fire, down below shasha, too much pilikia," said 92-year-old former nurse Sugako Imai Fujikawa, recalling one of her favorite anecdotes.

The translation? "Mauka fire means fever, down below shasha diarrhea, and too much pilikia is big trouble," Fujikawa added. "He was trying to tell the cab driver " 'take me to the hospital.' "

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin

'Me, I'm not afraid of anything.
To be a nurse, you have to
have a natural feeling of
wanting to help.
It's love.'

Sugako Fujikawa



Most first-generation Japanese in Hawaii couldn't understand or speak English, says Fujikawa, one of four people in Kuakini Nursing School's first graduating class in 1929.

"They had a hard time telling doctors what was wrong with them."

That's one of the reason why the Japanese community founded what is now Kuakini Medical Center, which will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of its opening next year.

The Japanese Benevolent Society was established in 1892 to provide relief to Japanese immigrants in Hawaii, especially those who could not afford medical care, and in July 1900, the society opened the 38-bed Japanese Charity Hospital in Kapalama, which later became Kuakini.

The hospital moved to a two-story wooden building in Liliha with 40 beds two years later and then to its current location on Kuakini Street in April 1917.

Fujikawa was 11 years old when she moved to Hawaii from Japan in 1918. She attended Kaiulani School in Kalihi until the eighth grade before entering Kuakini's nursing school.

"Nobody spoke English," Fujikawa said. "All the doctors and nurses (at the hospital) were from Japan. There was one (Japanese) doctor who spoke only in German for medical things."

Fujikawa earned $5 a month and says her duties were nothing like what nurses do today.

"We carried bodies to the morgue and changed water for flowers, most of what nurse's aides do now," she said.

Many patients at the hospital were stricken with tuberculosis, says Fujikawa. The public view of TB then is similar to its attitude toward AIDS victims today, she added. "Me, I'm not afraid of anything," Fujikawa said. "To be a nurse, you have to have a natural feeling of wanting to help. It's love.

"I took care of a lot of patients, they're like family. When they get well, you feel happy. But some don't recover. That's the sad part."

Fujikawa provided extras for patients, like bentos from home.

"There was a TB patient in isolation and one day he was so down," she recalled. "He said, "Imai-san, I like go outside.' I carried him on my lap outside and sat him down on a chair. "He cried and cried. He was so happy to see outside. That night, he died."

Fujikawa's late husband, Masaru, was a pharmacist at Kuakini Hospital for 33 years. They were married while she was still in nursing school. "He came up to me, and out of the clear blue sky, asked me to marry him," she said. "I didn't know what marriage was so I said OK.

"You know, we never went out on a date, even after we got married."

Kuakini Medical Center is looking for people like Fujikawa, who have stories, photos or memorabilia about its past for the centennial celebration. Anyone interested should call Kuakini's public relations office at 547-9168.

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin