Established over 100 years ago, “old” Waipahu was once a vibrant, multi-ethnic sugar plantation town whose key corporate element was the Oʻahu Sugar Company. For over 85 years, Waipahu served as a major commercial center outside of Honolulu. (Waipahu Community Association)
“In the early days of Waipahu, the parking lot behind Bank of Hawaiʻi was a wetland next to Kapakahi stream. People who lived near the stream grew rice and watercress and had truck gardens. All of us kids used to swim in the stream and fish for dojo, funa and goby.” (Goro Arakawa, Clark)
Another Waipahu institution (unfortunately, now gone) was Arakawas.
Zempan Arakawa, patriarch of the Arakawa (born on August 7, 1885,) came to Hawaiʻi from Okinawa in 1905. First working at the Oʻahu Sugar Plantation, “Arakawa got to know all the workers and what they needed. He ran errands for them. This understanding proved useful when he went into retail a few years later. He knew his customers.” (Purcell; Sigall)
The real legacy of the Arakawa family began in 1909, when Zempan and Tsuru (Ruth) Arakawa, opened their first store, Arakawa Shoten on Waipahu Street. (Okinawa Association)
In 1912 he moved the store to Depot Road, where it was in the location later taken over by Big Way market. (Then, in 1955, he opened the 1 1/2-level store.) (Star-Bulletin)
From humble beginnings of selling kau-kau bags and sewn tabis to Waipahu plantation workers, they expanded their business and turned Arakawas into Hawaiʻi’s best known “everything” store. If you needed to find something – you would find it at Arakawas. (Okinawa Association)
Learning from his experience working on the plantation, where Zempan took orders for sewing and mending work that he did at night, he soon recognized that the sugar workers needed functional and sturdy work clothing, at a price they could afford. (Kawakami)
By the 1920s, palaka (typically a white plaid pattern over a dark blue background) became very popular. The Arakawa store specialized in selling palaka fabrics to plantation workers. They referred to palaka as gobanji, the Japanese term for a plaid or check design. Apparently, the early immigrants used palaka only as work jackets; they did not wear palaka shirts. (Kawakami)
When Zempan retired in 1955 his children; sons Kazuo, Takemi, Shigemi and Goro; daughters Leatrice and Joan and their husbands (Sei Kaneshiro and Horace Taba) took over the running of the store. (In 1959, Zempan Arakawa was recognized as Father of the Year by the Honolulu Chamber of Commerce. (Sigall))
From the 1920s to the 1960s, Arakawas was the only clothing supply and general merchandise (including food, household goods, etc) store in the area, serving the general population and Waipahu Sugar Mill workforce. (Environet)
Eighth child, daughter Joan (who attended Wolfe Fashion Design School,) was Arakawas’ Manager of apparel and accessories. She is known for the use of palaka material and apparel that became symbolic of Arakawa.
Fourth son, Shigemi, started out as the Manager/Buyer of the Import and Gift section of Arakawas, Shigemi was often described as a “creative merchandising genius” by his siblings and wholesalers and manufacturers throughout the Pacific Rim. (Star Advertiser)
He developed the planned chaos concept of retailing that gave the store its special ambiance and was reflected in every Arakawas’ Sunday newspaper ad. (Star Advertiser)
Every nook and cranny was crammed with merchandise, from clothing and jewelry to hardware, food and even sporting goods. (Star-Bulletin)
Goro Arakawa, the youngest son of Zempan and Ruth, received a marketing degree from New York University and returned home to work in the family store. There, he wrote advertising copy that incorporated the sights and sounds of Waipahu (such as the rooster crowing radio commercials.) (Filipino Chronicle)
Ads ended with, “Arakawa’s – located on historic Depot Road, just below the Sugar mill.” Goro also came up with catchy slogans like “If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’ll find it at Arakawa’s” and “Don’t say you can’t find it until you shop at Arakawa’s.” (Filipino Chronicle)
The 1 1/2-level store was actually the third incarnation of the small plantation store first opened by Zempan. 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 Hawaiʻi seemed simpler and more relaxed. (Star-Bulletin)
On buying trips around the world, he displayed an uncanny eye for finding things that would catch people’s fancy and sold goods as varied as sculptor Noguchi lamps, tapa-themed dinnerware, mosquito coils, and plastic orchid leis. (Star Advertiser)
With the gradual decline of the sugar industry, the community’s economic and social vitality slowly began to deteriorate. The historic town core centered on Waipahu Depot Road was devastated by the closures of the sugar mill and Bigway Market in 1999. (Waipahu Community Association)
Through the generosity to the communities they served – Arakawas became the symbol of an era in Hawaiʻi’s history that represented hard work, sincerity, honesty and generosity of spirit. (Okinawa Association)
It was a sad day when Arakawas in Waipahu (operating from 1909 to 1995) closed its doors. Gone was the assortment of colors and sizes of palaka wear, as well as the myriad needs filled by the diversity and depth of the merchandise in the store.
I’m saddened by this article :-/ My USAF family lived in Hawai’i (Hickam AFB) in the late 60s and I’m finally able to return next month with my son, and was SO looking forward to again visiting & shopping at Arakawas! Many sad tears…
Douglas D Reist says
I was stationed at Hickam AFB from 1973 to 1977. Was Arakawa’s what was then known as ‘”The Big Plantation Town Store”?
Danalee Fregulia says
I lived at Barbers Point Navy Base with my family (dad was in the Navy) in the 1950’s and I remember mom driving us to Waipahu so she could go into Arakawa’s. I remember the advertisements on the radio with a song lyrics “Drive all the way to Waipahu …ARAKAWA’S” we used to sing along. We as kids had to stay in the car since mom had a hard time keeping us four little girls rounded up at the same time behaving ourselves. I recently told my older sister if I ever get to go back to Hawaii I was going to Waipahu just to go into Arakawa’s. She told me she did get to go in and remembers it very well. I do remember going to the sugar cane plant with my brownie troop from Barbers Point elementary school.