What’s Really Up With Kawamoto?

Larry Price
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Wednesday - October 18, 2006
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Gensiro Kawamoto, the real estate tycoon from Japan who is the largest property owner in Kahala, startled the state with his “vision” to open the exclusive neighborhood to regular folks, Native Hawaiians specifically. Sadly, it was a front page story and excited a lot of Native Hawaiians. Kawamoto’s vision, “a mix of big modern mansions and smaller old homes on 10 adjacent properties would be rented to Native Hawaiians for as little as $100 to $200 a month” generated a flood of calls for more information.

It would be nice if the media could ignore a billionaire, but they can’t, because a billionaire can do a lot of good things for a community. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be a legitimate proposal to benefit the Native Hawaiians, rather a ploy to enhance a hidden agenda.

When it is all over with, Gensiro Kawamoto’s grandstanding will fall somewhere in the historical annals next to Captain Cook’s arrival speech on his third voyage to the Hawaiian Islands.

For those who think his generous offer is like the Japanese practice of omiyage, giving back for good deeds and thoughts, they should reconsider. Most cultures are much different today than they were 10 or 20 years ago. Gensiro Kawamoto is not a samurai - he made a lot of money in the kimono business. There is no bushido in his “vision.”

It would seem that the residents of Hawaii, especially native Hawaiians would have a finely tuned xenophobic attitude toward outsiders arriving in Hawaii with grandiose plans for local people. We should always be on guard against the Kawamotos and Donald Trumps of the financial world.

Said another way, billionaire tycoons are like cultural icebergs - only one-ninth of its actual size is visible. And the part of the iceberg you don’t see is the dangerous part. Cultural interaction is the same because only the behaviors, artifacts and institutions of the individuals agenda are above water. The values of the individual, their true beliefs and norms, are submerged and can create stress.

If Mr. Kawamoto had a genuine “vision” he would have been well advised to take it up with the Kahala Homeowner’s Association and express his desires in private, instead of in the daily newspapers. It is far better for an outsider to enjoy adjusting to a situation than creating one where they have no expertise.

Hopefully, Gensiro Kawamoto’s iceberg will melt a little while he is in Hawaii and reveal his real agenda. And while his iceberg is melting, maybe his local advisors can remind him that in an egalitarian culture like Hawaii, everyone expects to be treated equally, and in Hawaii superior social status may be short-lived.

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