Genshiro Kawamoto, the Japanese billionaire who recently offered homes he owned on Kahala Avenue on O‘ahu to homeless and low-income families, has been the belle of the media ball lately.
“I was on the Mainland when there was all this thing about Kawamoto on TV,” Stan Morinaka said yesterday, while standing along Kuhio Highway in Lihu‘e. “I even called home to see if I was related to him.”
Roger Palama was the sparkplug for a Tuesday afternoon rally to show appreciation for Kawamoto’s gesture on O‘ahu.
“I don’t know him, and I probably will never meet him,” Palama said. “But in all the furor over his allowing Hawaiian families to rent his homes, no one has even thanked him — not the government, not the people, no one.”
Palama said Morinaka brought all his truckers out from Kaua‘i Veterans Express to offer a Kauaian mahalo. Fredstan Kaluahine had a lot of his truckers out as well as the truckers’ families.
“Kawamoto, for the Hawaiians,” Palama yelled at the top of his lungs in an effort at being heard above the din of afternoon rush hour traffic in Lihu‘e.
“I did some checking on him,” Morinaka said. “He’s not some yakuza. His businesses are all legitimate and he makes about $10 million a day in Japan.”
Morinaka said that while researching Kawamoto, he discovered the businessman does a lot of similar philanthropy in Japan, so when Palama approached him about the idea of having a mahalo rally, he was all for it.
Among the truckers, bus drivers also took their turn at trying to get motorists to acknowledge the Japanese billionaire’s benevolence.
“I’m not Hawaiian, but my husband and my children are, so I need to be here,” one of the drivers said.
As horns blared in acknowledgement and agreement, Palama kept up his banter, “Kawamoto … for the Hawaiians …”
Each of the drivers and children waved signs bearing “Mahalo Mr. Kawamoto! Malama Pono.”
“We’ll probably never get to meet the man, but we just want people to know that Kaua‘i appreciates what he’s done for Hawai‘i’s people,” Morinaka said. “No one thanked him for what he did. I want the Honolulu media to know that we understand what he’s trying to do and appreciate it.”
Morinaka said p everyone thinks Kawamoto has ulterior motives, and has a hard time understanding he does much of the same in Japan.
Last Thursday, Kawamoto handed over keys to three of his eight planned homes to homeless or low-income families.
In addition to the keys to the homes, the families can stay in them for up to 10 years, or until their youngest child graduates high school.
Kawamoto also presented each family with $1,000 to help them move in.
“You don’t meet people like him every day,” Palama said. “He is a special guy, and we just want to thank him for what he’s doing.”
As for the truckers, they kept pace with Palama, and said they’ll do the sign-waving for about an hour, or until Palama’s voice runs out.
In between cars, Palama said, “This is more fun than going to school.”
• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or firstname.lastname@example.org.