Land Barren: Who is Genshiro Kawamoto?

John Temple/Civil Beat

Editor's Note: This is the second in a three-part series on Japanese real estate investor Genshiro Kawamoto and the controversy he's generating along Kahala Avenue.

Part 1: Land Barren: Japanese Billionaire Is Raising Eyebrows, Razing Houses

Hawaii has known of Genshiro Kawamoto for nearly a quarter century now, but still little is known about the famously reclusive real estate mogul.

Kawamoto rarely grants interviews, and yet at times he has appeared to relish media attention. He is a man of many such paradoxes, known for being as charming as he is ruthless, equal parts impulsive and calculating. But in an attempt to find out what makes Kawamoto tick, you have to go back decades in time and to a faraway island.

Japan is where Kawamoto's story began.

Scattered biographical details have been repeated about him in newspapers and magazines over the years. His name has been spelled Genshiro and Gensiro. He was born in Fukuoka, on the northern shore of the island of Kyushu, the eldest of six. He inherited his family's small kimono company when he was in his early 20s, but closed the business to instead invest in real estate — first in ultra-expensive Tokyo and later in Hawaii.

Digging back through decades of local newspaper clippings, Kawamoto's name first appeared nearly 25 years ago. On January 1, 1988, the front page of the Honolulu Advertiser carried this headline: "Japan tycoon buys 78 Oahu properties."

By that time, Kawamoto had snapped up about $18.5 million in Oahu real estate, mostly in Portlock, the newspaper reported. Some other details emerged: A description of Kawamoto as being in his 50s, single and unmarried. He was said to be the owner of a real estate firm called Marugen, with his priciest Tokyo buildings filled with bars and cabarets. He rarely paid less than $1 million for a property, and always paid in cash. And there was this quote, attributed to Kawamoto and reprinted from an article in the Japanese newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun:

"I firmly believe in always looking ahead and taking steps ahead of others. Land is something which must be used for practical purposes. I do not like the nouveau riche."

With that, Hawaii had officially met Kawamoto.

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