“After 20 years of service as clerk in the Hilo post office, K Maehara will retire to private life at the end of this month. He is leaving the postal service on account of impaired eyesight and will devote his entire attention to the management of the Camera Craft Shop at Kamehameha Ave.” (Star Bulleting, May 21,1921)
Born in Japan on April 2, 1880, Kenichi (also Kenzo) Maehara was a prominent Hawaiian photographer who owned the Camera Craft Shop in Hilo. He also held the photography concession in the Hawai‘i National Park (now known as the Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.
He built and operated the Volcano Photo Studio adjacent to the on-site hotel, the Volcano House, near what is today’s Kīlauea Visitor Center. (He also operated an “up-to-date portrait studio” in the Osorio building in Hilo.
Maehara specialized in developing, printing, enlarging, coloring, and framing pictures, photographs, and lantern slides of park and island scenes. He also sold postcards, some from photographs taken by others.
Maehara came to Hawai‘i from Hiroshima, Japan in 1896 and over his 30-year career grew to become a renowned and respected local businessman whose photos of volcanic eruptions were published and distributed around the world.
He photographed the Kilauea 1924 eruption; then, Mauna Loa (“Long Mountain”) began erupting at 6:20 pm on November 21, 1935.
Lava flows from Mauna Loa were generally fast-moving and voluminous. Lava moved relentlessly at a rate of five-miles each day; it pooled up between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa at about where the Saddle Road is situated.
The ponded lava eventually began to follow the lay of the land, a natural drainage … Then, things “got interesting.” Lava was heading directly toward Hilo. (USGS)
Dr. Thomas A Jaggar Jr, the government volcanologist, estimated that the flow would reach Hilo by January 9, 1936. He suggested using dynamite to collapse lava tubes near the source of the flow in order to stop or divert it.
Explosives were first suggested as a means to divert lava flows threatening Hilo during the eruption of 1881. However, Jaggar’s plan of mule teams hiking the explosives up the mountain would take far too long – the lava flows were moving a mile a day.
It was suggested to use US Army Air Corps bombers to precisely deliver explosives. Jaggar agreed, and the call was made. The US Army Air Corps approved, and the mission and plans to strategically bomb Mauna Loa were set into motion.
Maehara took photos of the lava bombing on request from the director of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. Ironically the same photos that were commissioned by the US government.
As it turned out, after the Japanese military attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Maehara was arrested and detained under suspicion of disloyalty to the United States. Evidence used against him included photos he took of the 1935 US military bombing of a Mauna Loa lava flow.
Because of this and his participation in the local Japanese community, Maehara was declared a security threat. Army intelligence officers discovered a significant amount of cash at his premises as well as a large number of pornographic pictures, which, apparently, he had sold regularly to visiting soldiers. (Chapman)
Maehara was sent to detention facilities in Honolulu, and he was later transferred to an internment camp in the state of New Mexico.
Shortly thereafter, the newspaper reported, “The permit of K Maehara to operate a photographic concession in the Kilauea section was cancelled December 31 and will not be renewed. Mr Maehara, a Japanese alien, is interned by the authorities.” (Star Bulletin, August 12, 1942)
With the photography concession canceled on December 31, 1941, the Park’s chief clerk deposited the former concessioner’s cash; NPS employees removed his equipment to a vacant park residence, and boarded up the concession building for the time being. (Chapman)
In 1943, while he was still interned, Maehara’s Volcano Photo Studio was demolished. He would never return to the national park in an official capacity.
He returned to the Islands. In 1950, Kenichi and his wife Matsue Maehara changed their names to Yokoyama (Honolulu Advertiser Sep 25, 1950) Daughter Masako Yokoyama received her PhD from Yale in 1949; she married Floyd G Lounsbury and joined her husband teaching at Yale. (Lots here is from NPS.)