The Waimea community was built on the ingenuity and hard work of people like Tsukasa Yamamoto, who died on April 22 at the age of 94. Born at home on Spencer Road in 1920 to isei (first generation Japanese) parents, the young Tsukasa grew up with farming and an exuberance for work and play.
“His motto was, ‘Work hard, play hard.’ And he said, ‘Spend your money because you can’t take it with you behind the Japanese school.’ That was the graveyard,” his son Earl Yamamoto said, remembering his father’s words.
Tsukasa Yamamoto’s first jobs were as a mechanic for Honolulu Builders and as a part-time mechanic with Sakamoto’s, where he met his wife Sachiko. They married in 1938. Tsukasa Yamamoto continued to work two jobs and farm on the side, but world events soon intervened.
He loved to go bird hunting and on Dec. 7, 1941, Yamamoto and his hunting buddy spent the day huddled under the Ahualoa bridge, escaping a downpour, with shotguns pointed to the sky. When they returned home, they learned that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. World War II propelled the 21-year-old into agriculture and he never looked back. His first effort was T. Yamamoto Farm, which at various times was located in leased fields around Spencer House, behind Merriman’s and down Kapiolani Road.
Tsukasa bought property in Puako when the only access was the road from Spencer’s. The family spent summers and weekends there collecting night sea cucumbers, kupe (perrywinkles), fishing and making journeys to visit the Ruddle’s and the Brown’s at Kalai ‘Opua, now Mauna Lani, where he would trade vegetables to Francis Brown in exchange for squab.
In 1960, Yamamoto was able to purchase 22 acres when Lalamilo farm lots opened, enabling him to consolidate his agricultural operation. While grateful to Governor Quinn for the opportunity, this was just the beginning of some very hard work.
“It was just rocks and cactus — talk about rock walls,” Earl Yamamoto said. “A rock wall ran right through the middle of the field. All the way down.”
Then in 1981, T. Yamamoto was transformed into an official family operation with the creation of BEST Farm, an acronym taken from Burt, Earl, Sachiko and Tsukasa. It continues to thrive with the hard work of the two Yamamoto sons, Burt and Earl.
Tsukasa Yamamoto’s mechanical background and inventiveness gave him the know-how to solve the many problems that seem to go along with farming. He could weld, repair tractor engines and graft trees.
The Yamamoto home is still surrounded with a variety of fruit trees whose abundance is a testament to Tsukasa’s grafting skills. One thriving persimmon tree that he was particularly proud of grew after being grafted using a unique technique he developed. There were also pears, peaches and an apple tree right outside the kitchen window that supplied his daughter Charlotte Oshiro with the makings for many pies.
Tsukasa’s love of the land and resourcefulness kept his ‘ohana well fed.
“When we were young, on Friday night my mom would pack coco and coffee and snacks and he would take us down to the pier to fish there at night,” said Charlotte Oshiro.
Earl Yamamoto remembers his dad taking him and his high school friends hunting.
“I learned more things from him hunting and fishing than farming,” Yamamoto said. When he wasn’t farming, fishing or hunting, the elder Yamamoto made nets, coconut hats, played baseball and practiced judo, in which he had a black belt.
He believed in sharing his abundance.
“My father always thought of all of us, whatever we had, vegetables, persimmons, cantaloupe, watermelon,” Charlotte Oshiro said. “He would take it over to the cousin’s house to drop off. He’d go to each cousin’s house. My dad took veggies to them up until just a few months (before passing).”
Tsukasa Yamamoto’s legacy lives on through an oral history interview completed just two weeks before his death as well as through the resourcefulness and generosity of a life well lived. He leaves a legacy that will continue to nurture the North Hawaii community with food and the aloha spirit for many years to come.