History Of The Chamber

Our journey began on March 12, 1900, when 37 Japanese merchants assembled in Honolulu to respond to a crisis that had struck two months earlier. City health officials had deliberately set Honolulu’s Chinatown district ablaze to try to control an outbreak of the bubonic plague. Fanned by brisk winds, the fire had burned out of control.

By the time authorities were able to contain the inferno, a large section of Honolulu had burned to the ground. Six thousand people were left without shelter, food, clothing or supplies – more than half of them Japanese immigrants who looked to their fellow compatriots for assistance.

Motivated by a spirit of benevolence and pride in their community, the merchants formed the Honolulu Nippon Jin Shonin Doshikai (Honolulu Japanese Merchants Association). The association moved swiftly to assist the Japanese victims, helping them file claims with the government, and find shelter, food and supplies.

The organization continued to grow, prompting the group to change its name to the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce. In its early years, the Chamber was made up entirely of importers and wholesalers. In 1912, the Chamber decided that promotion of trade and goodwill between Japan and Hawaii would be its primary mission. The organization continued to operate as such until 1939.

Realizing that a broader membership base would strengthen the group’s presence in the local community, the Chamber members decided to join forces with the Japanese Merchants Association, an influential organization comprised of retailers. This merger would bring the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce to the forefront as one of Hawaii’s leading business groups, actively promoting goodwill in the Pacific.

However, the dark clouds of war would soon rain on the Islands. The activities of the Chamber came to an abrupt halt in the hysteria-filled days following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Many of the Chamber’s officers, prominent members and key personnel were arrested and incarcerated at Sand Island or Honouliuli in West Oahu. Some were later transferred to Mainland internment camps.

The Chamber remained inactive throughout World War II, finally resuming activities in 1947. Very discreetly, the organization changed its name to the Honolulu Businessmen’s Association.

U.S.-Japan relations improved in the postwar years, and, in 1948, the association returned to its earlier name, the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce.

Postwar Hawai’i saw a new generation of Japanese come of age. They were nisei, American-born men and women of Japanese ancestry. Nisei members assumed leadership roles in the HJCC, carrying on the vision and fulfilling the commitment of their issei predecessors, while also setting their own goals to move the organization forward.

They fulfilled one of their major goals in 1960 with the construction of a cultural hall, teahouse and HJCC office building in Moili’ili. The facility became the setting for Japanese cultural and community activities, HJCC business, as well as activities for the general public. In an effort to develop ties beyond the local Japanese community, the HJCC became an associate member of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii in 1968.

In the ensuing decades, the Chamber widened its focus. It rewrote its charter to express the urgency felt by its leaders regarding the development of a cultural center to preserve the legacy of the Japanese in Hawaii for the younger generations. This concept was shared with other Japanese community organizations. Their combined efforts resulted in the establishment in 1988 of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii (JCCH). In an effort to provide a sound beginning for the cultural center, the Chamber donated its property as a demonstration of its commitment to the project.

In recognition of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the HJCC, the Hiroshima Chamber of Commerce and Industry (HCCI) made a commitment or “moku roku” in May 2000.  With the donations from the HCCI, Hiroshima Prefectural Government and Hiroshima City, the construction of the torii gate was completed and a dedication ceremony was held on January 22, 2002.  The gate is located in the triangle park at the corner of South King and South Beretania streets.  In February 2002, the HJCC “gifted” the gate to the City and County of Honolulu (CCH).  The HJCC “adopted” the gate from the CCH under the City’s “Adopt-A-Sculpture” Program to maintain the gate.

More than a century later and with its eyes firmly fixed to the future – the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce seeks to integrate the dynamic areas of business and economic development, international relations and government affairs.