Ohana set tone
for Arakawa’s

By Melvin Masuda
Special to the Star-Bulletin

Ohana has become an international word this year with the worldwide popularity of the Disney Co.'s "Lilo & Stitch" movie: "Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind ... or forgotten."

Long before the year 2002, this spirit of ohana was the backbone of the Arakawa's of Waipahu store, founded in 1909 by Zenpan Arakawa, an immigrant from Okinawa.

From 1909 until its closing in 1995, Arakawa's store was the essence of ohana: As soon as you walked in to the 1 1/2-level store on Waipahu's Depot Road, you felt you were part of the family, as a member of the Arakawa family personally greeted you with a "Howzit and how may I help you?"

The 1 1/2-level store was actually the third incarnation of the small plantation store first opened by Zenpan. In 1912 he moved the store to Depot Road, where it was in the location later taken over by Big Way market.

A Waipahu landmark since 1909, Arakawa's closed its doors for good on April 2, 1995, as employees waved aloha.

Then, in 1955, he opened the 1 1/2-level store. Every nook and cranny was crammed with merchandise, from clothing and jewelry to hardware, food and even sporting goods. In fact, the reason for the 1 1/2 levels was the one-half level upstairs occupied by the sporting goods. Going to Arakawa's was like stepping back in time, back to the old sugar plantation days when life in Hawaii seemed simpler and more relaxed.

For my family, when I was growing up, it was always a "treat" to drive out to what was then "the country" in the 1960s and 1970s and to visit with the family manager, Goro Arakawa, who wrote the ads for the store, including the "famous" radio ads with the rooster going "cockle-doo-dah-doo!"

In typically modest fashion, as a "country boy," Goro -- one of several sons and daughters of Zenpan -- never let on that he actually been trained in the Ivy League, at Columbia University Business School in New York. He was one of the first in Hawaii to come up with the concept of "if you buy the item here and later find it cheaper elsewhere, you can have it from us at the lower competitor's price."

At the same time, Goro -- the second generation -- also set the example for the present, third generation in terms of community service. Now retired, Goro was a spark plug for the founding of the Waipahu Plantation Village.

Today, although Arakawa's store is closed and has become part of Hawaii's history, the third generation of Arakawas continues the family tradition of community service: Zenpan's grandchildren include Myron, previously a counselor at Kamehameha Schools, now at Punahou School; Cosmo, formerly football coach at Waipahu High, now athletic director at Kapolei High; and David, a former Legal Aid law clerk, now the top civil lawyer for the City and County of Honolulu.

No doubt, Zenpan would be proud of his grandchildren's carrying out his legacy!

Melvin (Mel) Masuda, J.D., M.P.A., is
an associate professor of business law.

E-mail to City Desk


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