Misao Tamura, in foreground, has given her special bread recipe to Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin Temple for their Mother's Day sale. Her hongwanji friends are, from left, Mary Tanouye, Setsu Takashige, Takako Oda and Fujiko Motobu.

Garden of life

A Maui woman’s talents for
gardening and baking make
their mark across islands

Misao Tamura will long be remembered for her fresh baked bread and her anthuriums -- a legacy of warm comfort and tropical color. Now 92 and frail, Tamura has moved from Haiku, Maui, to her son's home in Kailua and no longer bakes or gardens. But until just a few years ago, she was active with both hobbies. She clearly made her mark.

Tamura and her late husband, Kazuo.

Let's start with the bread -- a round, soft loaf studded with raisins.

Tamura baked it for Makawao Hongwanji Mission, where it was known as "Tamura Bread" and was a big seller at temple bazaars. She taught the recipe and technique to other temple members, who have kept up her tradition.

Tamura's son, Kenneth, estimates that 400 or 500 loaves of bread were baked yearly for about 20 years in Makawao. The faithful would line up for them.

"First, they opened the bazaar at 7:00 and people would come at 6:00. So then they opened at 6:00. They stand in line at 5:00. This is Maui people, now."

After moving to Oahu, Tamura brought the recipe to the Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin, where a cadre of baking ladies have adopted and adapted it. Once they figure out how to produce it in quantity, they plan to make it a signature item, "Betsuin Bread," for their own temple events.

They'll offer it for the first time on Mother's Day, at a small fair for temple members after Sunday services.

Misao Tamura flips through photographs of her anthurium hybrids, which she grew on Maui, where she lived for many years.

As for the flowers: Tamura maintained a large garden of anthuriums, just for pleasure. Eventually she learned to hybridize, developing new colors.

Anthurium enthusiasts from around the state would come to see her flowers, Ken Tamura says, and she'd often give them away. Several Oahu growers still have those plants -- or keiki grown from them.

In a way, Tamura's hobbies gave her an extended family -- two, in fact -- the Betsuin bakers on two islands and the anthurium growers who are seeing her plants into a new generation.

Misao Tamura grew up in a Maui plantation home (the luna's old house, son Ken says). Her father was a carpenter.

"My mother used to make bread when I was young," she says. "I used to help her, so that's how I started."

She married Kazuo Tamura, who died in 1998. He worked for the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife, in the state nursery in Kahului.

Her husband shared her green thumb, growing ornamental plants and fruit trees. He was an expert on grafting, his son says.

At the hongwanji fairs, he would sell plants as his wife sold her bread.

The Tamura family, from left, are: William and Joni Crook, Lisa Tamura, Kevin Tamura, Misao Tamura, Keegan Tamura, JoAnn Tamura, Kenneth Tamura, and Koa Tamura, a Borzoi Labrador.

The couple had three children -- Ken, Elaine and Lorna. Among them, the children produced three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

None has inherited an interest in plants or baking. Ken, in fact, skipped back a generation in career choice, going into his grandfather's line of work. He runs KT Construction with his son.

But he did take up his parents' dedication to the temple. He remembers regular attendance on Maui. "The minister was good. He would tell stories, but he would make it into a serial, so you have to come back to hear the rest of the story."

His own children went to mission school in Honolulu -- "after that came Cub Scouts (the Betsuin troop). After that I got stuck."

He became a Scout leader, then a member of the Betsuin board. His company remodeled the temple several years ago to alleviate termite damage.

It was only natural that when he moved his mother from Maui into his own home last year, she was adopted into the temple as well.

Thus did that Makawao loaf of bread make the interisland jump.

The original recipe was a basic yeast loaf that Tamura made over into a light raisin bread. "I looked in a book and I got this recipe," she says. "I changed it here and there."

She says she always enjoyed baking, all the way back to when she used to help her mother. "I like to see it rise nicely. Sometimes it doesn't rise if the day is too cold. You have to choose the right day. A nice, warm day."

That was actually a long speech for Tamura, who doesn't say a lot these days. Ask her a question and she'll say she doesn't do this anymore, or that -- "I don't cross anymore," she says of her anthuriums. "Now I'm old."

And so it remains for others to talk about that part of her life.

"I like to see it rise nicely," Tamura says of baking bread. "Sometimes it doesn't rise if the day is too cold. You have to choose the right day. A nice, warm day."

Clayton Quintal, a former president of the Hawaii Anthurium Society, took a group to Maui seven or eight years ago to see what was growing. He remembers Tamura's garden as the best stop on the tour.

Her particular interest was the "tulip" variety -- technically, amnicola -- a small anthurium often kept as a houseplant. "She would cross the different tulips. She played with the colors," Quintal says.

"She gave us one of her best ones. She just said, 'Here.'"

Tamura was in her 80s by then, but Quintal remembers her as still maintaining a large number of plants.

"She was such a nice lady. She insisted we stay for lunch."

Among those traveling with Quintal was Yuki Tsujimura, who brought home a tri-colored anthurium -- red, orange and white -- as well as one of Tamura's orange tulips. She's kept both growing.

Tamura's Maui plants were given to the Makawao Hongwanji when she moved. But there in Tsujimura's Wahiawa home, and in who knows how many gardens throughout the islands, the Tamura line continues.

Who would guess, looking at the quiet, tiny woman, taking quick glimpses of the world from behind the oversized, round frames of her glasses.

"She's not a talkative lady," Tsujimura allows. "But I know she loves her plants."

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