Faye Murata isn’t afraid to dress up in a flashy fish costume to liven up the Rhythm and Life Chair Exercise class she teaches at the Moiliili Community Center — or as a monkey, a sumo wrestler or the late singer Michael Jackson.
Murata, 74, said that she enrolled in painting and exercise classes at the center when she retired in 2000 from 25 years of teaching Japanese at Saint Louis School because she wanted to stay busy. Now she teaches weekly chair exercise classes there for seniors with special needs and at four other senior centers and several smaller senior, adult day care or nursing home facilities around Oahu.
“I never thought I would teach again,” she said, laughing. “Next thing I know, I’m going on the 11th year now!”
Murata’s petite figure stands nearly at eye level to the seated seniors as she buzzes from chair to chair to greet them before class. But she’s a firecracker.
“I carry my voice so they can hear me,” she explained in a recent phone interview. “If they tell me they cannot hear me, (I say) tonight you better clean your ear!”
Murata said between 40 and 50 people, sometimes more, attend her weekly exercise class at the Moiliili center. Her oldest student is 101.
“Flower!” she yelled out to them at a recent class while Japanese folk music played in the background. Everybody followed by cupping their hands together and pushing them out gracefully to the right, then up to the left. “Bird” came after, and everybody’s arms waved like wings.
“I like her class the best because we have circulation exercises and mental exercises,” Eleanor Hayashi, 83, said. Hayashi, a retired elementary school teacher, said she enjoys the Japanese folk music because “it brings back songs that we knew when we were growing up.”
Murata also volunteers as a translator to help Japanese nationals, is planning a “Golden Age” variety show fundraiser for the center to be held at the Ala Moana Hotel in July, is working on translating to English an autobiographical book titled “aloha!” she wrote in Japanese that was published in Japan last year, and is an avid artist.
“So, I am very busy person,” she said, laughing. “Next year I can maybe concentrate on my painting, and my next goal is to have my own painting exhibition.”
When a tsunami destroyed Japan’s coastline last year, Murata planned a performance for her students onstage at Ala Moana Center to promote aid and fast recovery for the country.
“That was really, really unique,” she said.
Murata said she couldn’t do the performances without help from her friends, including fellow teachers Linda Kim and Grace Tobita and teacher-in-training
Setsuko Tokumine. Her 78-year-old husband, Robert, also joins in on the fun and often emcees and sings karaoke to keep the crowd busy while she changes costumes, she said.
“This kind of volunteer thing without the family support, there is no way,” Murata said. “No matter what you do, if your family no cooperate, you cannot do anything.”
Murata was born in Manchuria, China, but her family moved to Hiroshima, Japan, with only what they could carry when she was 8 years old. She came to Hawaii when she was 16 to study abroad, and so her parents would have one less mouth to feed, she said.
“Because I could not speak one word of English,
I was supposed to be 10th (grade), but I was in first grade,” she explained. Her teachers’ solution was to have her hop from grade to grade every half-hour for an entire school year before moving on to Kohala High School on Hawaii island. Eventually, though, she went on to earn her master’s degree in education from the University of Hawaii and became a Fulbright Scholar in 1985, invited to study abroad at Tokyo University.
Murata shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. In fact, she said she traveled with three other friends just two years ago to perform at the Adult Day Care Center of Las Vegas.
Murata said she spends so much of her time entertaining and helping others because of the assistance she received when she first came to Hawaii.
“All my lifetime I’ve been volunteering, helping the people, because the reason why I am here today (is because) from the Day One, the people are very, very … nice to me,” she said. “I help them because of my experience from way back. Like in other words, a paying back to them.”