Getting involved in the family business at age 19

Getting involved in the family business at age 19 A body, mind and spirit work ethic Postwar discrimination Less information about Hawai‘i in mainland Family first Being accepted as biracial family Preserving tradition becoming more difficult To be “100 % Japanese”

Transcripts available in the following languages:

When I was 19, I was going to Kapiolani Community College and my dad got really sick. He was in the hospital for like 5, 6 months. And in those days, they used to give him enough medicine where he gets very woozy and he doesn’t know what time of day it is, what it is, so…and I used to work for him off and on since I was 7th grade. So I knew the business on the outside, but not really on the inside. I knew how to do payroll and stuff like that, but not how to estimate plans or how to read plans and stuff like that. But he just called me. He told me, “Take me to the hospital. You’ve got to take over from tomorrow.” So when I was 19, I had to do that.

And I had a lot of help from his competitors, like Bob Kaya, Eddie Nagao – they helped me how to read plans. I went to school to read plans and, you know, go to business law and stuff like that. But basically I didn’t know what I was doing for the first 2 years. It was very difficult because every business has their own language. So like the carpenter tells me, “I need 4,000 linear foot of crown molding” so I go to the material house and I picked up 4,000 bolt feet of crown molding. One crown molding is like 1 inch. Bolt feet is 12 inch. So 12 times 4,000 is like 50,000 bolt feet. So I brought this whole truckload of stuff and they all are laughing because they say, “What you doing?” so they took what they needed and told me to take the rest back. And I was so embarrassed because I’m taking the whole thing back to the same place I bought it.

So it was a learning curve that I had to do, but I had a lot of help from…in those days, competition was a little bit different than now.

Date: June 1, 2006
Location: Hawai`i, US
Interviewer: Akemi Kikumura Yano
Contributed by: Watase Media Arts Center, Japanese American National Museum

bob kaya business construction eddie nagao

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