Jodie Chiemi Ching

“I heard KIKU is closing. Is it true?” my mom said in a panic. Shortly after, her fear was confirmed when Hawai‘i’s KIKU station made an historic announcement on Facebook.

The Facebook message started off with “You may have heard a rumor that KIKU will stop airing Japanese and Filipino programing soon. Unfortunately, the rumor is true.”

My heart sank as memories of the original KIKU (Channel 13) in the ‘70s took me back to my childhood. “Kikaida,” “Rainbowman” and “Gambare!! Robocon” were my favorites. I also have memories of watching all the enka stars annually on the “Köhaku Uta Gassen – the Red and White Song Contest” – around the New Year with my grandparents. And then to see that it will be replaced by Shop HQ 24/7?! I wish I could say this is all a bad dream.

Various versions of KIKU have existed since the ‘60s under different call signs and owners. From as far back as the ‘80s, KIKU has had to fight to keep its unique Japanese (and later Filipino) programing on the airways. The Hawai‘i Herald, in its Oct. 2, 1981, issue, “Ninomiya: Carrying On Tradition” recounts Joanne Ninomiya’s fight to keep Japanese-language programming on the airways. The article states:

In June 1980, KIKU-TV, then Hawai‘i’s home for Japanese language TV programming, was in the throes of change. A mainland company controlled the station with 50% interest, a local hui owned 30% and Japan’s TV Asahi owned 20%. After being KIKU’s general manager for the entire 12-year history of the station, Ninomiya was suddenly placed in the position of program director/sales manager, and replaced by a manager from the mainland.

The new ownership of management brought drastic changes to KIKU’s Japanese TV format. English language programs from the mainland were instituted and conflicts, directional and otherwise, began to surface. Eventually, Ninomiya resigned and vanished from the public’s eye in the months following. Japanese programming continued to decline in airtime and with another change in management, saw a near demise.

Then after six months, Ninomiya re-emerged; this time as president of JN Productions, a company determined to perpetuate Japanese language programming on Hawai‘i’s television. 

Ninomiya pioneered local television programming aimed to engage Hawai‘i’s Japanese community by initiating local video-essays like “Hawaii in Focus” and “Gambare Seniors.”

In 1981, Ninomiya said, “Up until now you always had the media — Times, Hochi, KOHO, KZOO, etc. I want to see these institutions continue into the future. To me, knowing one language or one culture is not enough.

In 2004, Japanese-language TV programming faced another challenge. In a Jan. 29, 2004, article from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, journalist Erika Engle wrote in “KIKU, JN Productions Partnership to Downsize”:

In 1993, JN Productions Inc. and KIKU parent company, now California-based Asian Media Group, signed an agreement in which JN would secure and manage the station’s prime-time Japanese language programming and provide English subtitles for the shows.

… JN will continue to provide subtitles, but at the end of the month it will no longer provide programming…

“We’re continuing our relationship but revising it, “ said KIKU General Manager Phyllis Kihara.

… “Our No. 1 commitment is to keep Japanese programming on the air in Hawai‘i and provide a vehicle for Japanese programming to our viewers,” Kihara said.

Phyllis Kihara and KIKU-TV are the last to bring us Japanese-language and community programming for the people of Hawai‘i, unless there is someone out there figuring out how to pick up where KIKU will leave off. Or maybe station owner RNN National, LLC, will have a change of heart. I can only hope.

KIKU’s original segments — “The Wisdom of Hawai‘i’s Elders,” “On the Table,” and JP Lam’s “Itadakimasu,” “Naruhodo” and “JP’s Japanese Word of the Day” — brought our community together.

On behalf of The Hawai‘i Herald and its readers, I want to express our heartfelt gratitude to Joanne Ninomiya, Phyllis Kihara and all who fought and worked tirelessly because they valued the perpetuation of ethnic programming curated specifically for Hawai‘i’s people.

We still have (and love) NGN, which many don’t know is also a local business.

Until June 28, we can get our fill of “Kuru Kuru Japan,” “Soko ga Japan” — and don’t worry, you will get to see the last episode of “Kita no Kuni Kara,” too. Extra episodes are being aired each week to finish the series before the change.



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