M. Tanaka Store, Inc. of Kalena Street, Lihu‘e, was established by Manzo Tanaka (1879-1936) (first generation) in 1915 at Nawiliwili, and has since been in operation for 105 years by four successive generations of the Tanaka family.
Manzo and his wife, Tama Tanaka, had emigrated from Japan and had arrived on Kaua‘i in 1910, where Manzo first worked as a blacksmith at Lihu‘e Plantation for five years prior to opening his store, which dealt in hardware, plumbing and sheet metal.
Their son, Shigezo Tanaka (1902-1980) (second generation), ran the business together with Manzo from 1917 until 1935, when Shigezo and his wife, Shizuko (1906-1993), took over.
Roy Tanaka (third generation), the son of Shigezo and Shizuko Tanaka, and now president of M. Tanaka Store, Inc., recently recalled that “In the early years, they also manufactured tin lunch containers called bento bakos, two-part, round, stackable containers that held rice in the lower container with the main course on top,” which his father would peddle in plantation camps throughout Kaua‘i with a horse and buggy.
And, for many years, Shizuko also expressed her artistic talent with charming window displays of flower arrangements and miniature gardens at the front of the store.
Shigezo and Shizuko Tanaka expanded their business to include auto and window glass, propane gas distribution, gas appliances, fishing supplies and contract work, such as constructing a four-mile water pipeline from Kekaha to the Barking Sands military base.
In 1950, the business relocated from its original Nawiliwili site, adjacent to what later became Harbor Mall, to its present Lihu‘e location.
Then, in 1963, following his graduation from San Francisco State College, Roy Tanaka returned home to rejoin the family business.
His daughter, Lori Tanaka Koga (fourth generation), currently general manager of M. Tanaka Store, Inc., and a graduate of California State University at Chico, entered the business in 1992, and will become president when Roy retires in 2021.
Today, M. Tanaka Store, Inc. is primarily a retail hardware, plumbing supply, masonry supply, and sheet metal fabrication business known locally for carrying a “whole lot of stuff.”
Source: The Garden Island