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‘If you don’t smile you’re going to cry’: Owner of bonsai nursery laments losses caused by heavy rains

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Twenty-year employee Eddie Yadao carries a washed-away bonsai from a flood canal Saturday at Fuku-Bonsai Inc. in Kurtistown.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald David Fukumoto, president and founder of Fuku-Bonsai Inc., leans over a stand that once held a bonsai tree Saturday at his nursery in Kurtistown.

David Fukumoto lost many of the world-class bonsai plants on display at his nursery due to flooding from Hurricane Lane.

But it has done little to damper his enthusiasm for his work or his dreams of building a large visitor center at his property.

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“You got to smile,” said Fukumoto, founder of Fuku-Bonsai Inc. “If you don’t smile you’re going to cry.”

The 78-year-old Kurtistown resident said three-foot-high flood waters tore through his outdoor exhibit, his office, and other buildings on Aug. 24, though his nursery was fortunately spared. He said he lost all of his paper records.

Fukumoto said flood waters destroyed between $3 million and $5 million worth of artwork and inventory, and created tons of debris. “It’s priceless,” he said, regarding the displays.

Fukumoto, a self-described bonsai fanatic who has been in business for more than 40 years, said he and his staff were conducting “search and rescue operations” to find missing plants and displays.

Of the 250 “world-class” bonsai on exhibit, he thinks he lost 100.

“I am going to recover,” Fukumoto said. “I just can’t tell you how long it’s going to take.”

This isn’t the first time his business has been hit by unfortunate events.

In the 1980s, he operated a bonsai visitor center and nursery in Kona. He said his plants were lost when a contaminated fungicide was used.

His settlement with Dupont only covered a tiny fraction of the loss, Fukumoto said, and he still dreams of building a large visitor center on Olaa Road in Kurtistown that would make East Hawaii a “Mecca” for bonsai.

“All this has done is postpone the day we become an international bonsai center,” he said.

Fukumoto said he’s known for providing bonsai plants that can survive indoors. He estimated his business has shipped 1,000 bonsai plants on average each month since 1972.

While he says he has his “work cut out for him,” in regards to recovery, Fukumoto notes he has been fortunate over the years.

“To me, money is not important,” he said.

“I feel it’s a privilege.”

Fukumoto added, “If I didn’t have guts, I would have been done a long time ago.”

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For more information, visit www.fukubonsai.com.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.