Sayonara “The Original” Ala Moana Shirokiya

In case you’re not aware of it yet, Shirokiya closed their iconic corner-bound store by Macy’s (formerly Liberty House) on the Diamond Head side of Ala Moana Center this past March, making their move to the new Ewa wing, set to reopen under a “revitalized” concept in June 2016.

Before continuing, keep in mind that Shirokiya was founded not in 1952, nor 1802, nor 1772. Nope. Shirokiya was founded as a dry goods and notions store in 1662 in Tokyo, Japan by Hikotaro Omura. SIXTEEN SIXTY-TWO! Dude, that’s way before the United States was barely even an idea! Fascinating.

Rodney Lee over at Midlife Crisis Hawaii did a heart-warming piece back in February with lots of great comments on “Remembering Shirokiya at Ala Moana Center”. Most interesting to me, since I don’t recall that myself, was when Shirokiya was originally located where they’re moving “back to” now at the Ewa end of Ala Moana Center.

He said Shirokiya was originally “by Longs Drugs”, where reader “Dani” detailed that when Shirokiya first opened at Ala Moana in 1959 as an original tenant, they were located on the (Ewa) Mauka side by Longs, being a 2-level store, with the bottom level being where Foodland was downstairs.

“…when Shirokiya first opened at Ala Moana in 1959 as an original tenant, they were located on the (Ewa) Mauka side by Longs, being a 2-level store, with the bottom level being where Foodland was downstairs.”

Dani also went on to say the original Shirokiya on the Ewa side looked “more like a traditional store you’d find in Japan, including REALLY authentic Japanese goods and food. When they moved to the Diamond Head side where what was then at the time Liberty House as their big anchoring neighbor, Shirokiya’s decor wasn’t “as Japanese” and more modern.”

Well whether traditional or modern, even after all these years I — and likely most of you reading this — remember it on the Diamond Head side “next to Liberty House”, which is now of course Macy’s. And just like the sun, Shirokiya was always there, within our hearts being THE BIGGEST and BEST Japanese store in Honolulu.

While I’m not Japanese by blood, culturally speaking, I’ve always felt Japanese in heart. With that, Shirokiya always was and thankfully still will be one of the ONLY reasons I even visit Ala Moana Shopping Center.

I swear, if I heard Shirokiya were completely closing, and not relocating, I would be VERY BUMMED OUT, and probably protest by not ever stepping one foot at Ala Moana Center again (or at least for a while) out of sheer spite and despair. Yes, I LOVE Shirokiya that much!

Thankfully that’s not the case, and they’ll soon reopen in June 2016 on the street level of the Ewa Wing  under Nordstrom as Shirokiya Japan Village Walk. Yay! I for one am SO excited to see it!

These are some of the highlights of Shirokiya’s new 44,680 sq. ft. Japan Village Walk:

  • 50 food vendors
  • “Nippon Komachi” (six Japanese traditional product shops)
  • 5 beer stations and 800 seats
  • Shopping alley reminiscent of old Kyoto with regional crafts and artisans
  • Guardian Spirit Sanctuary with the 12 animal signs of the Japanese zodiac
  • Event and performance areas for daily activities and entertainment

Sounds fantastic, especially the 50 food vendors, as I was always happy when after Shirokiya stopped being a true Japanese department store, that they went the “foodie” route with their awesome Yataimura Food Court upstairs on the third floor.

In its final years, Shirokiya on the mall level towards the back got taken up with lots of foodie vendors as well, including Kulu Kulu Bakery, and a few other haute Japanese food shops.

All that was really left of the “original” Shirokiya other than that on the mall level were just several outsourced vendors selling items such as luxury jewelry, handbags, housewares, and personal care products, with many of it not being from Japan, save for the seasonal cultural products in the center of the store on the mall level. And of course KZOO Nihon Radio, having a studio at the mall level main entrance. Which seemed sort of a weird place to locate a radio studio in a retail store. Yet that was their in-house advertising “machine”, so OK, sure, I get it.

Ala Moana Center’s Shirokiya Japan Village Walk Floor Plan (pending)

It’s interesting that Vintage Cave will also be moving to the new digs at the Ewa wing, as I wondered what was going to happen with them, being how much money was invested into building that space out in the basement of Shirokiya where it is (or was) now.

As for what I remember about Shirokiya from the “old school” days, like most of the fellahz who commented on Rodney’s blog post, THE ELECTRONICS DEPARTMENT. Oh yes. Back in its heyday, Shirokiya had all the best audio and video electronics brands from Japan, all MADE IN JAPAN: Sony, Toshiba, Denon, Nakamichi, Onkyo, Yamaha, Technics, you name it. Not all at the same time, but at one time or another.

And being this was before the internet, their prices seemed right on par with most other retailers selling the same brands, which back then were mostly smaller niche electronics stores. Towards the end of Shirokiya’s electronics department days, I remember it being primarily just Sony products. Then eventually the department slowly got less and less, until all that was left was this tiny markdown shelf. My guess is the internet, as well as the influx of big box brick ‘n mortar competition from the likes of at the time Circuit City and CompUSA eventually caused Shirokiya’s electronics department demise.

70’s Japanese “Tokusatsu” superheros Kikaida and Kikaida 01 at Shirokiya Ala Moana, c/o Generation Kikaida (Joanne Ninomiya of KIKU-TV: “Honolulu no KIKU. Terebi Desu”)

When I was a small keed, (with my dad) I got lots of my “Kikaida” (and Kamen Rider, Ultraman, Zaboga and Rainbow Man) toys and books from Shirokiya Ala Moana, while some of it also came from Playwell in Pealridge and Hakubundo. And speaking of Kikaida, I was one of the keiki sitting in the crowd at Ala Moana Center Stage when Kikaida paid a visit back in the 1970s. However I can’t remember whether Shirokiya contributed to that event (Joanne Ninomiya of KIKU was the producer).

Shirokiya’s Yataimura Food Court ~ 2013

Around the late 90s, I remember when Shirokiya first started converting upstairs from just a Japanese grocery and housewares department into a partial food court, before they went full-on and turned it into Yataimura.At that point in time, they built a nice dining area nook on the third level at the corner overlooking the entrance to Macy’s, where you could sit down and enjoy your Japanese meal from their deli counter. I used to go there and sort of “zen” out eating my Tempura, Omusubi and other oishii Japanese okazu (deli) treats.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll dig deeper into my memory bank and share with you what more I can remember later in comments. In the mean time, share your memories of Shirokiya, either at their location that just closed by Macy’s, their original location by Longs on the Ewa side, or any other location, such as the stores that were in Pearlridge and Ka’ahumanu Shopping Center in Kahului, Maui. And share your memories of Ala Moana Center of “yesteryear” in general! Good times!

Related links:
Remembering Shirokiya at Ala Moana Center – Midlife Crisis Hawaii
Shirokiya at Ala Moana closing Thursday; reopening in new digs in June – Pacific Business News

The Tasty Island related links:
Yataimura Eats: Ramen Noodle Burger Matsufujiya
Yataimura Eats: Junpuu Ramen
Yataimura Eats: Hokkaido Ramen Tokachiya
Yataimura Eats: Gifu Takayama Ramen
Yataimura Eats: Menya Shokudo Ramen
Yataimura Eats: Shinsen Ramen
Hand-feeding Gozilla on Waikiki Beach (Nagoya Jiraiya Takana Ten Musubi)
Taste of Shirokiya
Aloha ‘Oe Sears Ala Moana

P.S. Here’s the latest progress (shots taken 5.12.16) of Park Lane, a somewhat structurally low-level multi-wing luxury condo’ being built literally atop the very most Ewa-Makai corner of Ala Moana Center…

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