JCAH to honor Kuwaye Trucking, S. Tokunaga Store: Venerable Big Island companies ‘epitomize Japanese values’

  • Courtesy photo

    Kuwaye Trucking Inc. was founded by its namesake, Matsu Kuwaye, who started Kuwaye Taxi in 1912 with a horse and buggy before acquiring this 1922 Buick.

  • Wayne Kuwaye
  • Michael Tokunaga

The Hilo-based Japanese Community Association of Hawaii will honor Kuwaye Trucking Inc. and S. Tokunaga Store as the recipients of the 2018 Nikkei Kigyo Award today during the organization’s fifth annual Nikkei Kigyo Banquet.

“We are indeed honored to recognize both companies, Kuwaye Trucking, now led by third-generation family member, Wayne Kuwaye, and S. Tokunaga Store, led by third-generation family member, Michael Tokunaga,” said Ivan Nakano, president of the nonprofit JCAH. “We thank all the generous sponsors and individuals. Your support has made this banquet a sellout each year.”


In 1909, Matsu Kuwaye came to Hawaii from Okinawa to work for Honokaa Sugar Co. He settled in Honokaa and after completing his three-year contract, he started Kuwaye Taxi, first with a horse and buggy in 1912 and later transitioning to automobiles until 1945.

In 1940, after graduating from high school, Yasuo, the sixth of nine children of Matsu and Umito Kuwaye, asked his father to operate a Shell service station along with his older brother, James. When World War II broke out, James enlisted in the U.S. Army and Yasuo continued running the business. There was a demand for hauling services to keep Honokaa supplied with goods, so Yasuo rented a truck and began hauling goods.

Kuwaye Trucking also hauled products for Shell Oil Co., coffee for Captain Cook Coffee Co. and bagged sugar for the plantation. When the 1946 tsunami demolished the railroad system, which serviced the Hamakua Coast, Kuwaye Trucking expanded its business, adding flatbed and low-boy trailers and end-dump trailers, and after moving to Hilo, semis and tankers.

In 1950, Kuwaye Trucking purchased Hawaii Trucking Co. from Theo. H. Davies and soon began constructing roads and developing land.

Since 1912, Kuwaye Trucking has transported people, cattle, bears, lions, tigers, elephants, logs, heavy equipment, automobiles, coffee, cane, sugar, molasses, petroleum products, observatory components, bridge girders, building materials and just about anything that could be hauled.

Yasuo Kuwaye also was actively involved in the community. His son, Wayne, succeeded his father after his passing and continues his legacy of community service.

S. Tokunaga Store was established in 1920 by Sumie Tokunaga, who emigrated from Japan to Hawaii Island to work on the sugar plantation. At age 31, he opened a grocery and tackle shop in downtown Hilo. The tsunamis of 1946 and 1960 destroyed the store at its original bayfront location, but it was relocated and rebuilt several times.

Tokunaga’s daughter-in-law, Ethel, took over the business in 1960 though she knew there would be challenges for a minority female business owner. She rebuilt the store on Keawe Street and had the foresight to shift the focus away from groceries and toward the fishing and diving supplies.

In 1991, Sumie’s grandson, Michael, and daughter-in-law, Peggy, formally succeeded Ethel. Under Michael and Peggy’s leadership the store relocated to a larger store on Hoku Street which enabled them to broaden the variety of merchandise. The next 26 years allowed the company to grow tremendously to include phone and internet sales, expanding its reach to the U.S. mainland and the South Pacific.

In 2013, Michael and Peggy took a big leap, expanding once again to the current Manono Street location. The 6,000-square-foot store employs 16 with merchandise including equipment for diving, hunting and paddleboarding, darts, firearms and more. Customized fishing rods are a unique service offered and they are one of only a few stores that have the expertise to do so. The store retains a strong sense of history where you can still find traditional Japanese fishing tabis.

The Tokunagas care deeply about the environment and community, contributing not only through sponsorships and monetary donations but their personal efforts and involvement. They created the Ulua Challenge, a tournament promoting family outings and caring for recreational fisheries. It is the largest shoreline casting tournament in the state and the first to incorporate a tag and release and a barbless circle hook division.

The Tokunagas live by the creed, “Give a man a fish, feed him for the day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”

“Kuwaye Trucking Inc. and S. Tokunaga Store truly epitomize the Japanese values of ‘gaman’ (perseverance), otagai (deep sense of obligation) and gambaru (hard work),” Nakano said.


Proceeds from the event will benefit JCAH’s scholarship program and enable JCAH to continue its mission of promoting and perpetuating Japanese culture.

For more information, email jcahawaii@yahoo.com, call 969-6437 or visit www.jcahawaii.org.