Place

Kotake, Kamekichi and Mika, Store Property

Commercial single story building on street with metal awning.
Kotake Store

Photograph by Laura Ruby, courtesy of Hawaiʻi State Historic Preservation Office

Quick Facts
The Kamekichi and Mika Kotake Store Property, located on a street lined with commercial buildings in Honokaʻa, Hawaiʻi, contributes to the retail-office character of the town’s downtown core. The streetfront store building appears to be a one-story structure; however, the building actually has two levels, as the down sloping terrain of the lot allowed the builders to create storage space below the street level retail area.  

The store represents economic advancement for generations of Big Island residents, in this case Japanese. Kamekichi Kotake began his employment in Hawaiʻi as a plantation ditch digger. After his plantation service, he became a carpenter, and his wife Mika Kotake a retailer. They were financially successful enough in their retail operations to buy the building and raise their large family. The children were instrumental in this retail operation, and they went on to successful careers in the fields of education, health, travel, manufacturing, accounting, construction and the military. The Kotake store property is historically important as a represents the development of small businesses outside the plantation hegemony. Here, small “Mom and Pop” businesses and specialty services were developed and operated. Customers benefited from the increased range of goods available. While ethnic customs were honored, the policy of “all comers welcomed” facilitated social integration. Proprietors were able to improve their own standard of living and support the education (and upward mobility) of their children.  

The impetus for the development of Honokaʻa town rested with the influx of early immigrant workers (1860-1900) brought in as laborers on the sugar plantations. When their plantation contracts expired, successive waves of immigrants from China, Portugal (Madeira and the Azores), Japan, Korea, Philippines, and other countries began to set up businesses and restaurants in town. As buildings did not have formal addresses, locations were and still are commonly known by each historic building owner’s name or historic business owners’ names.  The people who established small, independent, businesses in Honokaʻa, often referred to as “mom and pops,” were very familiar with the harshness of plantation life and saw their stores as vehicles toward financial independence from the plantations and a means to improve the future lives of their children. Offspring were required to work in the family business, learning discipline, business and language skills while furthering their education. The result of this “litmus test” of success in such struggles was the gainful employment of many in the second and third generations securing government and professional work. 

On May 9, 1930, Kamekichi and Mika Kotake bought the present Kotake Store property for $1,000. The building itself dates from at least 1914. After immigrating to Hawaiʻi in 1907, Mika would likely have been working at a confectionary or a drugstore. In the 1920 US Census, Mika is listed as “baker, cakes and candy.” She may have been working with Mrs. Yoshikama of Honokaʻa Bakery (located across the street from the future Kotake Store.) After the Kotakes purchased the building in 1930, Mika was the primary proprietor, while Kamekichi continued to work as a carpenter. Kamekichi Kotake was born on August 30, 1875 in Hiroshima Ken, Takata Gun, Japan. He immigrated to Hawaiʻi in 1900 at the age of twenty-five. By 1910, the 35-year-old Kamekichi was employed as a ditch laborer for the Honokaʻa Sugar Company plantation, and had married wife Mika, 12 years his junior. He retired from full-time carpentry because of medical issues and he helped Mika run the store. He built small furniture, tables, chairs, stools, shelves, and chests of drawers during his retirement to sell in the shop. 

The Kotake Store was truly a general retail operation. Janet Kotake Murakami recalled that the shop was open from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm seven days a week. Canned goods, candies, and ice cream were offered. Mika sold pastries from Fuji Bakery that were delivered via Victorine’s Bus Service from Hilo, and also obtained baked goods from the Yoshikami Bakery in Honokaʻa. Perishables were originally stored in an “ice box” in which ice was placed to keep things cold before refrigerators became available. The kids would wait for the ice man so that they could pick up and enjoy the ice chips. The store also carried pharmaceuticals and dry goods, including ready-made clothing (shirts and underwear) and Japanese wares (primarily kimono and fabric prints).  As was the custom, the Kotakes offered free delivery of goods to their customers’ homes. As was the custom in town, patrons charged goods and then once a month the Kotake Store would send bills. 

In 1953, Mika Kotake conveyed the property to sons Mamoru and Jitsuo for $1 as tenants in common; Mika retained a half interest. The Kotake store closed in 1958, and Douglas and Janet Matsuda bought the Kotake property in 1962 and operated an electronics business until 1970s.

Last updated: May 10, 2021