Lily NakaoLily was born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1928, the twelfth of thirteen children  Her parents were immigrants who originally contracted work with the plantations and coffee farms in Maunawili, Oahu on short terms with the intention of returning to Japan.  However, they ended up staying in Hawaii to raise their growing family and started a vegetable farm in Palolo where they lived for 30 years.  Then the family moved to Kapahulu and briefly operated a Saimin Stand, a noodle shop. This was a time when Waikiki beach had rice paddy fields and Diamond Head could be seen from miles away.

Upon  graduating from Kaimuki High School, Lily entered the University of Hawaii and graduated with a BA Degree having majored in Vocational Home Economics.  She obtained her 5th Year Teacher’s Degree after returning to the Teacher’s College at the University. In 1963, her husband Hiroo was transferred to Tokyo.  With six children in tow, the family began life in Japan.  For the next 40 years, Lily raised her seven children and taught sewing at the International School of the Sacred Heart.  She later worked at the Hakubi Kyoto Kimono School as the International Secretary for Mr. Takayoshi Mizushima, founder, owner, and President of the School.

It was here at the Hakubi School that Lily came across the Japanese art of chigiri-e.  She had never seen anything that was so beautiful and unique.   It inspired her so much.  At the age of 60, she began to take classes offered at Hakubi with the intention of mastering the art form to take back to America in hopes of sharing it’s beauty.

Over the years, Lily spent time between Tokyo and Honolulu, continuing to perfect her chigiri-e skills.  Her dream came true twelve years ago, when she volunteered to teach a chigiri-e class at the MoiliiliCommunity Center for the Senior Program in Honolulu, Hawaii.  Classes are now also offered in Hilo, Hawaii as well.

Unlike traditional Japanese chigiri-e which tends to depict mostly typical Japanese images, Lily’s images over time have gravitated more toward tropical flora. Growing up in Hawaii amongst the tropical vegetation, she was more familiar and resonated with their characteristics, shapes, colors and environment, enabling her to express their natural beauty.  This original perspective of combining the traditional Japanese artform with tropical plants developed Lily’s unique approach to her art.  We hope you enjoy her beautiful creations.


Lily has done Demonstrations, Presentations and Lectures on Chigiri-e at the following

  • Japanese Community Center of HawaiiBlaisdale Center , Honolulu Senior Fairs
    • New Year’s Celebration
    • Children’s Day
    • Cultural Day
  • JTB Honolulu Festival
  • Schools
    • Local elementary, middle and high schools in Hawaii
    • Florid
    • Pittsburg
    • University of Illinois , Spurlock Museum