Saturday, January 26, 2002

Music store’s matriarch dies

Toshiko Hokama / 1903-2002


By Leila Fujimori

Although Toshiko Hokama loved music, she couldn't carry a tune.

"But she certainly sang anyway," said youngest offspring Amy Mitsuda.

Hokama's lack of musical ability didn't stop her from opening Hokama's Music in Honolulu and Wailuku -- which specialized in traditional Japanese music -- and running it for more than 70 years.

Nothing stopped the enterprising Hokama in pursuing new ventures and ideas.

"Whatever assets she had as a person, she used them to the fullest," said daughter Yasuko Betty Inada, who helps run the shop on South King Street.

Hokama, 98, died at home Jan. 17.

She was Toshiko Tamanaha when she was born in Nishihara, Okinawa, in 1903. A family friend predicted she would succeed in Hawaii because she was a go-getter. That prediction proved to be true.

Hokama arrived in Kohala on the Big Island at age 18 to marry Seiko Hokama, a plantation laborer.

But plantation life was not for her, so they moved to Wailuku, Maui, and opened up Hokama Store, a general merchandise store.

"She was the engine, the decision-maker," Mitsuda said.

The savvy businesswoman believed she could best sell what she personally liked.

"Since she liked music, she decided to go into the record business," Mitsuda said. "She knew nobody else was selling, so it was a nice market for her at the time."

So in the 1930s, she was one of the few to sell Japanese recorded music in Hawaii and perhaps the only one on Maui.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the store's entire Japanese record inventory was confiscated.

Undaunted, Hokama took the opportunity to sell American music to U.S. troops on Maui. After the war, the store resumed selling Japanese music.

In 1958, Hokama and her husband moved to Honolulu to open a store on Beretania Street. They began importing records directly from Japan.

In 1967 the Hokamas purchased the 1319 S. King St. site for Hokama's Music.

The store is renowned locally and in Japan for its wide selection of traditional Japanese recorded music. The Nippon Columbia Recording Co. awarded Hokama with a gold record plaque in 1984 as the longest continuous dealer for its recordings.

"She always had in the back of her mind that it was a good way to promote the Japanese language and culture," Mitsuda said.

But more than that, Mitsuda said, Hokama believed "good music cleanses your soul."

Hokama is also survived by son Masatoshi, daughter Hazel Wada, 10 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Private services were held.

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