“There has been another turn in the affairs of the local fish markets as a result the newly built Gehr market on the right bank of the Wailoa river, above the railroad bridge is to all intents deserted.”
“This was brought about by a hui of Japanese fishermen … who have bought out the entire business of RA Lucas and have taken over the unexpired portion of his lease of the Waiakea fish market.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, September 23, 1907)
On September 17, 1907, Torazuki Hayashi and Hitaro Egawa formed a cooperative named Sui San Kabushiki Kaisha. Kamezo Matsuno and other peddlers and fishermen became associates (“officially known as the ‘Japanese Sea Produce Company.’”) Pacific Commercial Advertiser, September 23, 1907)
Controversy loomed over this business transaction due to many Japanese fishermen committing to sell their catch to the Gehr Fish Market then later changing to support the new Sui San Kabushiki Kaisha. This matter was settled in the courts and US Suisan Kabushiki Kaisha, Limited was in full swing. (Suisan)
Kamezo Matsuno was an “issei” immigrant who came to Hawai‘i from Okikamura, a small fishing village in Oshima-Gun, Yamaguchi Ken, Japan. At around age 29, Matsuno was one of the youngest of the original founders. The other founders were also Issei. (hawaii-edu)
Issei (first generation) were born in Japan and emigrated to the Islands. Like the other ethnic immigrant groups, the Issei generally worked on sugar and pineapple plantations. The term Issei came into common use and represented the idea of a new beginning and belonging.
The children of the Issei were the Nisei, the second generation in Hawaiʻi and the first generation of Japanese descent to be born and receive their entire education in America, learning Western values and holding US citizenship.
Subsequent generations follow the simple counting patter; the Sansei were children born to the Nisei (the third generation;) Yonsei, the fourth generation – born to at least one Sansei parent and Gosei, the fifth generation – the generation of people born to at least one Yonsei parent, etc.
Back at Suisan Kabushiki Kaisha, Limited … in three years, the market’s fish auction became a staple seafood provider in Hilo and in 1911 the founders built a second, more modern, fish market. To help bring in the market’s prized ahi (yellow fin tuna) or onaga (long tailed red snapper,) it also bought several sampans. (Honolulu)
In 1899, Gorokichi Nakasugi, a Japanese shipbuilder, brought a traditional Japanese sailing vessel (called a sampan) to Hawai‘i, and this led to a unique class of vessels and distinctive maritime culture associated with the rise of the commercial fishing industry in Hawai‘i. Japanese-trained shipwrights adapted the original sampan design to the rough waters of the Hawaiian Islands.
A booming fishing business was no match to the massive tsunami that destroyed both fish markets in 1923. Suisan rebuilt, but World War II threatened to dismantle the company next.
Martial law was declared in Hawaii during WWII, property was seized and Japanese fishermen were prohibited from operating their fishing vessels. Many of the company’s Japanese employees were taken to internment camps. (Honolulu)
Suisan started recovering when this ban was lifted at the end of the war and fishing resumed. The reprieve didn’t last long. A second tsunami hit Hilo, and Suisan, in 1946; Suisan rebuilt yet again.
Suisan continued to look forward and gained momentum in the 1950s. Improved fishing methods, technological advances and efficient shipping methods allowed the company to become profitable.
Suisan was able to harvest larger catches and increase exportation of fish. As part of this progressive movement, in 1954, US Suisan Kabushiki Kaisha, Limited changed its name to Suisan Company, Limited and purchased the property at 1965 Kamehameha Avenue.
Unfortunately, in 1960 another large tsunami devastated the Hilo Bay area and the Suisan Fish Market was also affected. While Waiākea businesses and residents relocated, Suisan continued to support fisherman at the mouth of the Wailoa River. (Suisan)
In July 2001, Suisan closed down what got it all started, the original fish auction market. Later, Suisan moved its offices to the Ben Franklin Building at 333 Kilauea Avenue.
The company opened Kona-Suisan in 1976. The second location primarily distributed seafood caught in the Kona area, but also served as a will-call location for Suisan’s West Hawaii accounts.
From 1970 to the 1990s, Suisan experienced a period of rapid growth, requiring a progressive expansion of its food distribution warehouse facilities. In the 1980s, Suisan became the Big Island’s largest food distribution facility. In 2004 Suisan started its Non-Foods Division.
Originally a fish market, Suisan is a one-stop distributor that carries all primary food and non-food items. The Big Island distributor offers a wide range of fresh, frozen, and dry groceries for small and big businesses, including fresh and frozen meats, seafood, fruits, vegetables, dairy items, frozen processed foods, fresh prepared foods, and more. (HawaiiFood)