Issue 8.5: October/November 2005

Old Hat

story by Leslie Lang
photo by Peter French

In 1914, when Japanese immigrants Yoshimatsu and Tomo Kimura opened Y. Kimura Store in Holualoa, Hawaiians sometimes bartered for their groceries with hats they had woven from lauhala, or pandanus leaves. Now, three generations and more than ninety years later, traditional handcrafted lauhala goods are the mainstay at what the Kimuras’ descendants have renamed the Kimura Lauhala Shop.

Kimura Store, at the junction of Hualalai Street and Mamalahoa Highway in Holualoa, started out selling food, clothes, lanterns, kerosene and other necessities of life on the plantation. The Kimuras’ granddaughter, Alfreida Fujita, says that accepting lauhala items in barter and then selling them helped her family survive the difficult Depression years. "My grandparents would tell the Hawaiian women to make the baskets tight and strong so the coffee farmers could use them to pick coffee," she remembers.

When supermarkets began popping up in the 1950s, the family phased out food and began focusing almost solely on lauhala. Now great-granddaughter Renee Kimura runs the store, where beautiful lauhala hats, baskets, mats and other products are handmade by twenty local weavers, many of whom have woven for the shop—or whose mothers wove for the shop—for decades.

"In our daily lives, we have our own Japanese heritage," says Renee, standing amidst the woody, natural smell of lauhala that fills the shop. "But the heritage of lauhala is so much a part of Hawaiian culture. It’s something really special we have here on the island."

Kimura Lauhala Shop
(808) 324-0053