Waipahu icon fought to preserve planting lessons

Any story written about Waipahu in the 20th century would almost certainly require Goro Arakawa to be brought to the fore.

As a civic leader, historian, promoter and advocate, Arakawa has dedicated much of his life to ensuring that Waipahu will always be remembered as the gritty and humble but proud plantation town where immigrants from different homelands worked. side by side in the cane fields and factories and developed a shared appreciation for each other.

A memorial service will be held Sunday for Arakawa, who passed away on November 15. He was 97 years old.

Arakawa was perhaps best known as the face of Arakawa, the iconic department store created by parents Zempan and Tsuru Arakawa. As the store’s longtime vice president of advertising, credit and promotions, it was the youngest son Goro Arakawa who anchored in the minds of Oahu residents the inextricable bond between Arakawa and the Waipahu sugar mill just a few hundred meters away.

Lesser known, Goro Arakawa was instrumental in the development of the Waipahu Cultural Gardens and its Hawaiian Plantation Villages, as well as the location of the Leeward YMCA and the Philippine Community Center on a property that once housed the factory, plant and administrative offices of Oahu Sugar.

Yoshiko Yamauchi, board member for Waipahu Cultural Garden Park, said Arakawa’s dynamism and influence is essential for people to understand what the plantations mean to Hawaii and its people.

“I don’t think the plantation lifestyle would be (pictured) as it is today,” Yamauchi said. “I think he would have been lost.”

Arakawa told him that it was during his university studies on the East Coast that he gained an appreciation for museums that represented phases of American history and that it was the living open-air museums that he admired. the most, said Yamauchi. As a result, the HPV places a lot of emphasis on guided tours and interactive presentations featuring music lessons or ethnic clothing for school students.

Arakawa’s appreciation for the plantation lifestyle was evident early in his life. While Arakawa’s was known in its later years for its unique line of merchandise, Arakawa understood that the store’s history was rooted in the needs of the plantation workers it served, Yamauchi said. He sold tabis, gloves, raincoats and, of course, the gingham patterned palaka shirts which were used because they were durable. Arakawa made the palaka shirts a fashion statement, describing their importance to plantation life in small blurbs published in Honolulu newspapers, she said.

It wasn’t just Arakawa in the commercials. “He slowly taught you the plantation lifestyle,” Yamauchi said. It didn’t end there: Arakawa’s radio spots started with a plantation rooster crowing, and newspaper ads always featured a photo of the plantation and the chimney of his sugar mill. .

As for the culture park and plantation village, “he had the foresight and managed to bring people together to do it,” Yamauchi said.

The oldest son, David Arakawa, remembers his father hosting ethnic festival days featuring food, entertainment and crafts, in the Arakawa parking lot.

Honolulu businessman Tim Johns was Amfac’s vice president of real estate development in the mid-1990s when he found himself with his company at odds with mild-mannered Arakawa over the future of the factory site. Amfac’s original plan was to redevelop all of its Waipahu Street mauka land, Johns said.

Arakawa had other plans. “Slowly, patiently – but relentlessly – Goro explained to me how important it was for us to do what we could to help preserve those parts of Hawaii’s past that explain so much how we are today. Johns said. “He taught me how our past as a sugar cane plantation has been so essential in making Hawaii the melting pot it has become.”

Today, the mill chimney and generator are preserved and integrated into the Leeward Y, while the FilCom Center has been built nearby. “He could see – when many couldn’t – that the pace of change in Hawaii was accelerating so quickly that we really risked losing the qualities that make Hawaii so special,” Johns said.

Despite his stubborn side, those who knew Arakawa called him a good-natured, gentle man who enjoyed playing the ukulele and singing Hawaiian songs at parties. He has lived humbly most of his life in a family building with no elevator in a modest neighborhood of Waipahu.

David Arakawa said his father was an eternal optimist who taught his children to “dream big, be creative and resourceful, always listen to the advice of others and seek everyone’s help.”

Goro Arakawa also told his children “not to have a big head,” to be humble and to thank others for their work, his son said.

Sunday service at Mauka Chapel in Mililani Memorial Park begins at 10:30 am Tours begin at 9:00 am. A reception will follow. Palaka or casual attire is requested. No flowers.

Arakawa is survived by his sons David, John and Woodrow; daughter Lei-Nani Arakawa-Brooke; 14 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife Mary and son Lance.

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