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Sorrow & Anxiety

Sorrow for the Japanese people and anxiety about how their crisis will hurt Hawaii businesses

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     Toru Yamaguchi says fewer Japanese tourists are visiting his
     store, Surf Garage. “My business is about vacation, not
     necessity. Even people outside the affected areas are
     traveling less.”
     Photo: David Croxford

Local businesses have responded quickly and generously to help the victims of Japan's tsunami disaster. In fact, every one of the dozens of companies contacted by Hawaii Business says it has either launched its own fundraising effort or contributed to aid groups.

"The outpouring of support has truly been inspiring," says Tyler Tokioka, Island Insurance VP of external affairs and committee member of Aloha for Japan, a statewide relief organization. "Donations of all types and amounts are coming in from communities throughout the state, ranging from large cash donations and consumer goods from local businesses, to coins from a child's piggy bank."

While their first thoughts have been to help the Japanese people, many Hawaii companies know the disaster will hurt their business and workforce. Nearly every tourism-related company will suffer, but some depend more on Japanese visitors than others.

Toru Yamaguchi, who owns Surf Garage, a surf store in Moiliili, says he's feeling the impact.

"My Japanese business is down. My business is about vacation, not necessity," he says. "Even outside the affected area, people are traveling less ... The disaster hasn't hit bottom yet."

Yamaguchi, who is originally from Tokyo, ran an import-export company before beginning Surf Garage nine years ago. His business, which includes surfboard and clothing sales, and surfboard rentals, depends on Japanese visitors for about 30 to 40 percent of its revenue.

On a recent day, a father and daughter from Japan came to check out boards and said they felt blessed to be able to surf, but they also talked sadly with Yamaguchi about the vast destruction in northern Japan. Similar mixed emotions afflict many, if not all, Japanese tourists.

Until the disaster in Japan, tourism started strongly in 2011, with total visitor spending in January and February surpassing the peak year of 2007. Since the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, the Hawaii Tourism Authority has projected these declines in Japanese visitors:

HTA says it will spend about $3.1 million on marketing and other programs in key markets in North America, Korea, China, Australia, New Zealand and Japan to offset those projected declines.

In late March, Japan Airlines announced it would temporarily reduce flights to Hawaii to 14 per week from 21. At the same time, Hawaiian Airlines' daily flight each way between Tokyo's Haneda Airport and Honolulu had only suffered a modest dropoff, said Keoni Wagner, VP of public affairs. "At this point, it is still a relatively small part of that business."

"Our intention is to grow that business," Wagner said. That includes a plan to start service to Osaka in July.

Hawaiian Airlines' many outreach efforts include a "Lei Day for Japan" fundraiser, a company match on all employee donations, and free transportation for disaster-response teams flying to Japan.

Hawaii Business talked with many local businesses hurt by the Japanese disaster, but most were unwilling to discuss specifics, saying it was too early to say. On the following page is a representative sample of companies.

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