JCAH honors Dodo Mortuary, Seaside Restaurant

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The Hilo-based Japanese Community Association of Hawaii honored Dodo Mortuary Inc. and the Seaside Restaurant as the recipients of the 2017 Nikkei Kigyo Award during a banquet May 19 Nani Mau Gardens.

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The Hilo-based Japanese Community Association of Hawaii honored Dodo Mortuary Inc. and the Seaside Restaurant as the recipients of the 2017 Nikkei Kigyo Award during a banquet May 19 Nani Mau Gardens.

Nikkei Kigyo translated in English is “enterprise of Japanese ancestry.” Both companies are more than 100 years old.

“We are indeed privileged to recognize both companies, Dodo Mortuary now being led by a fourth-generation family member and the Seaside Restaurant led by third-generation Nakagawa family,” said Ivan Nakano, JCAH president.

Dodo Mortuary is one of Hawaii’s most respected and oldest mortuaries on Hawaii Island. It was established in 1898 by Mitsugoro Dodo, an immigrant from Hiroshima, Japan. Dodo first worked at a plantation and on occasion was asked to make caskets when workers died.

He decided to go to the mainland to learn how caskets were made. Upon his return, he took a correspondence course from Hohenschuh-Carpenter College of Embalming in Des Moines, Iowa. He was a skilled carpenter and a staunch Christian.

After Mitsugoro retired, Richard M. Dodo, the only son of his four children, took over, implementing many modern changes to the business. Richard Dodo’s oldest son, Clifford, later worked alongside his father as they moved to their present location on Wainaku Street. After Clifford Dodo died, his brother, Larry, assumed the role of president of the company until his retirement in 2007.

Mitchell Dodo, son of Clifford, and the fourth generation in the family business, assumed the position of vice president and operations manager.

The Seaside Restaurant and Aqua Farm has stood as a venerable Hilo landmark for generations. The restaurant traces its beginnings to a site on the makai side of Kalanianaole Avenue at Four Mile beach. It originally was operated as a private establishment, aptly named the Seaside Club and was started by entrepreneurs Soper Nishimoto and Tommy Asayama, who opened the club in 1915 amid great fanfare. According to news accounts, the club featured live music and “geisha-themed” waitresses, and attracted some of the most influential people of its day.

Issei (Harry) Seiichi Nakagawa and his wife, Matsuno, acquired the Seaside Club in the early 1920s.

The restaurant closed temporarily following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and reopened for business in August 1942. It was less fortunate, however, in withstanding the impact of the 1946 tsunami, which destroyed the original restaurant.

Unwilling to quit, the Nakagawas obtained the lease to their present location at 1790 Kalanianaole Ave. This picturesque, 50-acre haven included the 30-acre brackish water fishpond known in ancient Hawaiian lore as Lokowaka. Here, the family rebuilt their home and restaurant and reopened on July 27, 1947.

Staying true to the legacy of the ponds, the Nakagawas became famous for raising the fish they served in their restaurant — mainly mullet and aholehole.

Through the years, they also cultivated catfish, golden tilapia and rainbow trout. A system of gates allow small fish to enter the ponds from the sea while preventing larger fish from escaping. Harry and Matsuno’s son, Susumu, and later his son, Colin, would regularly stock the pond.

The Seaside Restaurant has always been a family operation, with family members working as cooks, kitchen helpers, wait help, and more. “It’s the only way we survived,” Colin Nakagawa recalls.

Susumu served his country as a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and embarked on a career as an entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture until his retirement in 1982. He took over the business while Colin, who graduated from the University of Washington, worked at a Seattle-area bank.

But Colin Nakagawa’s thoughts soon drifted home to Keaukaha and his family’s restaurant. Driven by treasured childhood memories and a responsibility to his family’s legacy, Colin returned home in 1983 to reconnect with family and the place he loved.

The restaurant slowly took a bold new culinary direction, and along with chef and culinary instructor Mel Arellano, the Seaside restaurant began garnering a series of prestigious awards, including multiple “Best of East Hawaii” and “Hale Aina” awards.

A portion of the proceeds from the awards ceremony is used to award scholarships to East Hawaii students whose major or minor is in Japanese studies, and to continue JCAH’s mission of perpetuating Japanese culture.

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This year’s $1,500 scholarship recipients are Robert Tanoue Jr. of Honokaa High School and Mayuko Yoshida, now attending Keio University in Japan, and Caitlyn Tsuchiya of Waiakea High School, who received $1,000.

For more information about the nonprofit Japanese Community Association of Hawaii, email jcahawaii@yahoo.com, call 969-6437 or visit www.jcahawaii.org.

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