Thanks to the combined efforts of small-business accelerator Mana Up, the Hawaii Food Manufacturers Association and Central Pacific Bank, local small businesses can distribute their products in Japan through the global visitor industry’s prestigious Prince Hotels and Resorts and through the omni-present Natural Lawson convenience-store chain.
While visiting Tökyö in February, representatives from Mana Up, HFMA and CPB initiated an arrangement with the hotel chain and the convenience-retail empire, so that Hawai‘i-based manufacturing firms could expand further into the Japanese consumer-goods market through these connections.
CPB Executive Chair Paul Yonamine stated, “We see this foray into the Japanese market as a pilot, to strengthen the network and infrastructure, and to generate momentum for more Hawai‘i small businesses interested in growth overseas.”
This pilot project showed great economic foresight, started mere weeks prior to the COVID-19 outbreak in the continental U.S. and in Hawai‘i. Two results of this promotional effort were the Prince Hotels’ “Tokyo Hawaii Project” and Lawson’s “The Hawai‘i Fair.”
From July 1-Aug. 31, the Tokyo Hawaii Project hosts a fair, themed to the Hawai‘i experience, held across five Prince Hotels and Resorts in the Tökyö metropolitan area (princehotels.co.jp/tokyocityarea/hawaiianfair2020/). These venues now offer Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine menus, special events (such as Hawaiian-style quilt-making) and products from island firms such as Western Aloha, Meli Wraps and Laha‘ole Design. Mana Up, which facilitates product development and marketing for local companies, will offer Lei Palm face masks and natural-rubber beach slippers by HAYN during the fair.
The Tokyo Hawaii Project is also supported by the KizunAloha Coalition, a cross-sector network of over 20 Japan-related firms, government agencies and nonprofits in Hawai‘i, that joined forces in late April after the rise of COVID-19 in the U.S., to help companies from our state foster relationships with Japanese consumers. Institutional partners in KizunAloha include KZOO Radio, Kyo-Ya Company, Japan Airlines, Halekulani Corporation, aio Foundation, JTB Hawaii Inc., the state of Hawai‘i and its Dept. of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, among other companies and institutions.
“KizunAloha is an unprecedented effort that unites our industry in the spirit of helping in times of crisis,” says Japan Hawaii Travel Association President Hiroyuki Kitagawa about the coalition to which his group belongs (for more, see cpb.bank/resources/2020/april/kizunaloha-coalition-convenes-japanese-related-business-leaders-to-spearhead-hawaii-tourism-recovery-efforts).
Promotion of Hawai‘i goods in Japan does not only fulfill an altruistic “helping [Hawai‘i manufacturers] in times of crisis” function. When the state’s coronavirus shutdown resulted in the 14-day quarantine for those coming in from outside the islands, effectively shuttering the visitor industry, KizunAloha organized to broadcast video and social-media messages to potential tourists from Japan, reminding them of the people and places of Hawai‘i for long-term branding, in anticipation of the industry re-opening in the future (for more on the KizunAloha coalition, see the May 5 Community Focus, which digital Herald subscribers can access at thehawaiiherald.com/2020/05/05/community-focus-kizunaloha-coalition-for-recovery-efforts/). Marketing Hawai‘i-themed products in Japanese settings which stimulate dreams or memories of the islands, serves to build this brand.
Running from Aug. 4-Sept. 7, the second effort, Natural Lawson’s Hawaii Fair, showcases local products, carefully curated by Mana Up and HFMA, through special “Hawai‘i” displays set up in 140 convenience stores across the Tökyö area. The Natural Lawson store displays highlight a collection of products for Japanese consumers which remind them of Hawai‘i, among them food and drinks made by Mānoa Chocolate, Alfred’s Coffee and Hawaiian Chip Company (lawson.co.jp/lab/natural/art/1402502_5111.html).
For the Hawaii Fair, Natural Lawson also worked with local entrepreneurs to create intimate, relatable video ads (subtitled in Nihongo) — such as this one that briefly recounts the immigration history of Japanese plantation labor to Hawai‘i, as economic context from which to appreciate the Hashisaka family’s business, Kauai Kookie, and its other food products: youtube.com/watch?v=a4KlXuBf1TM&feature=youtu.be.
Taking off her coronavirus facemask to greet Japan’s YouTube audience, sansei Ann Hashisaka sums up the tough sugar-cane cultivation work performed by her ancestors from Yamaguchi and Fukuoka including that of her cane-carrying (“hapai ko”) grandpa and cane-stacking, picture-bride grandma. She shares family photos from that plantation era; describes her family’s expansion into the retail business (with their Kawakami store); then concludes with a cheery plug for the delicious macadamia shortbread cookies made by the prepackaged food company cofounded in 1965 by mother Mabel and father Norman. Though the video has just started to air, a few hundred of Lawson’s 14,900 YouTube subscribers have already viewed it.
With such technologically-aided, twenty-first-century approaches to local small business, the Tokyo Hawaii Project and the Hawaii Fair also came about, in part, due to an experimental alliance between “old school” Hawai‘i firms, trade associations and Japanese travel companies (i.e., CPB, HFMA and JTB) — working in collaboration with millennial-era start-up accelerators like Mana Up. The latter is dedicated to growing the next wave of Hawai‘i small producers (such as those whose stories are found in houseofmanaup.com/pages/about-us) into globally competitive brands.
Mana Up exemplifies the national business trend — increasingly popular from the second and third decades of the millennium — for both mainstream industries and government agencies to support entrepreneurial start-ups, by furnishing them with collaborative workspaces, opportunities for seed funding and state-supported business accelerators.
Mana Up was co-founded by Punahou graduate Meli James, an award-winning, local female entrepreneur who earned her MBA from Cornell University before training in the start-up capitalism of Silicon Valley. James, former program director of the University of Hawai‘i-Mānoa “XLR8UH” venture-accelerator, now serves as president of the Hawaii Venture Capital Association.
With community-based partners such as Kamehameha Schools, James includes among her core team at Mana Up, experts on both environmental issues and Native Hawaiian representation (manauphawaii.com/pages/our-team). This ain’t your mama’s ecologically destructive, culturally appropriative tourism products: Mana Up helps conscientious local companies develop and sell ethically conceived Hawai‘i-themed goods for Japanese and global markets, aiding them in branding for the “woke” era.