Coronavirus didn't stop Scarborough's Masako Okawara's 100th birthday


Spry and fond of her houseplants and casino games, centenarian Masako Okawara is a true survivor.

She’s remained in her North Scarborough condo for weeks now, and has had no visitors, but the COVID-19 pandemic could not stop Okawara’s 100th birthday party.

It started in the morning with two granddaughters’ families, spaced around a handmade sign, calling up to Okawara at her fifth floor window.

“My mom just loved it,” said daughter Grace Tanaka, who lives with Okawara.

By 3 p.m., the elder was the star of a co-ordinated Zoom party. Any relatives who could, said Tanaka, came online for the teleconference to greet Okawara and watch her blow out a candle on a sugar-free wafer cake.

Family members hope their celebration inspires people to use such platforms “to spend more quality time with family and friends.”

They had planned to book a restaurant for the party, but the centenarian is a quick study when it comes to newer technologies.

Okawara can no longer visit casinos each week, as she did, but she plays free games on a tablet, Tanaka said.

“We march around the condo,” added Tanaka.

“She walks every day. She’s always cooking, cleaning; she never stays still.”

Born in Okayama, Japan, Okawara came to Canada’s west coast as a teenager. She was interned during the Second World Warand met and married Tanaka’s father, Shojiro, in her internment camp.

After she came to Toronto, she stayed.

Shojiro, at 90, passed away during the SARS outbreak in 2003, soon after what is now the Scarborough Health Network’s Birchmount campus was locked down in response. “He had pneumonia, and I took him to Scarborough Grace that very first day,” Tanaka recalled.

“He passed away in the hospital. We couldn’t go in and see him or anything.”

Tanaka later moved her mother into her condo. Okawara had colon cancer at 92 and broke her hip at 99, but kept bouncing back. After getting a new hip, she walks without a cane.

To aid her recovery, granddaughter Allison Tanaka, an instructor, taught her Pilates, exercises Okawara still performs in the condo every other day.