Naoki and Rose Honda with the products of their dedication and hard work. “Regardless of what happens, if you are honest and work hard, people will come to trust you,” Rose always reminded Naoki in the early days of their business.
Naoki and Rose Honda with the products of their dedication and hard work. “Regardless of what happens, if you are honest and work hard, people will come to trust you,” Rose always reminded Naoki in the early days of their business.

From Farm to ’Fridge, Naoki and Rose Honda are Keeping Tsukemono Culture Alive

Arnold Hiura
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Tsukemono just might be one of the most underrated components in Japanese cuisine. Many local folks have grown up with that simple side dish of pickled veggies that provides a refreshing crunch and palate-cleansing sparkle at every meal.

In the old days, tsukemono was almost always made at home with whatever grew in the family garden or was given to them by friends and neighbors. Daikon (radish), won bok (Chinese cabbage), tamanä (cabbage), radish, mustard cabbage and rakkyo (Chinese onion) were among the favorites. Some were simply salted and placed in a crock with a cover of some kind and a heavy stone on top, while others were pickled in vinegar and seasoned with shöyu, sugar and other spices.

Very few folks make their own pickles anymore. On the Big Island, that role has largely been assumed by Naoki Honda and his wife, Rose, who own and operate Honda Food Processing in Hilo. There, in a 3,000-square foot space in the Kanoelehua Industrial Area, Honda Foods prepares a variety of pickled products made with locally grown produce.

Honda himself isn’t exactly sure how he ended up as the one keeping the tsukemono tradition alive on the Big Island. He was born and raised in Tökyö, the son of a government worker. “Nobody in my family was a farmer,” he says with a shake of his head, “but, somehow, I love agriculture.” Honda’s mother told him that as a child he loved to grow things in the family’s modest backyard — even going out in the rain to water his prized plants.

Honda pursued his passion for growing things through high school and college. He attended Tokyo University of Agriculture, where he enrolled in a program that required students to experience hands-on work in order to graduate. “You must work at least three months on a farm either inside or outside of Japan,” he explains.

Anxious to experience life overseas, Honda considered going to Brazil. In 1978, however, his fate was determined by an international farm association headquartered in San Francisco, which, each year, assigned some 100 applicants to farms and ranches throughout the United States. Before he knew it, Honda found himself reporting to work at Diamond Head Papaya in Kea‘au.

Having completed three years of college at that juncture, Honda decided to stay in Hawai‘i and work for a full year before returning to Tökyö. After returning to Japan, he completed his degree and worked several jobs before returning to Hawai‘i in 1985.

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Arnold Hiura is the executive director of the Hawaii Japanese Center in Hilo and a former Hawai‘i Herald editor. Arnold and his wife Eloise also own and operate the editorial and communications company, MBFT Media.

Naoki Honda with a few of his just-harvested daikon at his Kaumana farm.
Naoki Honda with a few of his just-harvested daikon at his Kaumana farm.

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