Kupuna Life: Origami

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Don’t say Lillian Yajima is “98” years old. She proudly claims the “half”…98 and a half years old….and the retired teacher is still teaching. Kupuna at care homes and children here at the Japanese Cultural Center’s Ohana Festival last Sunday, sharing a traditional art she learned “nearly” 98 and a half years ago.

“When I was little, my mother, most mothers teach simple ones like the ball,” said Yajima. “Grandma of course definitely she had taught me little things too, so it’s something that’s passed on.”

“I like paper folding then later on I was thinking that’s a japanese art craft that I would hate to see it get lost that’s why I started teaching origami.”

But some things have changed. Instead, Yajima uses a calendar, NOT origami paper…

“Now I cut that out completely, I don’t use japanese origami paper at all,” says Yajima. 

She’s on a mission to reduce, reuse recycle.

“But it’s so pretty you know this design I said oh i’m gonna make a box. Try, I tried, that’s the first attempt at trying to make something out of newspaper and it turned out so pretty.”

“And” they’re not just origami boxes,

“This one is a white envelope, the inside had this pretty color, so I said oh i’m gonna try and make a box.”

She calls them “precious memory boxes.”

“It has my brother Richard’s name. I kept this it was in an envelope in a drawer 30 40 years. Just sitting there because it’s so pretty but now I can use it. Now i’m making it more alive in my mind why it’s worth it to do origami now.”

This mother of two still has her hands in “many” things. She wrote an award-winning book “Kokoro: From the Heart, Cherished Japanese Traditions in Hawai’i,” dedicated to her mother.

“In memory of Mrs. Alice Noda, a founding member and the first local president of the Japanese Women’s Society.” 

The book raised money to donate to her alma mater UH, and for a UH gerentology scholarship, Lillian started with a cookbook she also wrote. 

She has a passion for caring for the elderly, she’s active with many groups, and also notable, a 1938 graduate of Roosevelt High School where she earned the top award for Rifle sharp shooter.  

But when asked if she sell’s her boxes … There’s only one answer. 

“Nothing I do I sell. Nothing. All gift giving, everything even my hula lesson how many years I been teaching but it’s all free because I believe in passing on things.”  

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