We've seen the honors and heard the accolades. Now it's time to consider what Masaru Yokouchi actually achieved for Maui. And for himself.
December 21, 2006
He died Thursday, Nov. 30. The tributes began pouring in almost
immediately. "Pundy was a class act," Maui Arts and Cultural Center
(MACC) board member Jimmy Haynes said in the Dec. 1 Maui News.
MACC general manager Art Vento told the paper that, "we've all lost our
sensei." In that story and others published days later, friends,
officials and community leaders lavished him with the phrases
"incredible guy," "generous and humble person," "gracious gentleman,"
"great man" and "Maui's last hero."
Such was the outpouring of loss and emotion following news that
Masaru "Pundy" Yokouchi had died at the age of 81. News accounts were
full of details about Yokouchi's standing as Maui's greatest patron of
the arts. He served for 12 years as chairman of the state Foundation on
Culture and the Arts. He raised $32 million to get the MACC built. His
influence, generosity and fundraising were so prodigious that the
MACC—which he chaired from its 1994 construction to his death—would
never have been built without him.
Though he gave his time and money to the arts for at least the last
four decades of his life, philanthropy didn't always define Pundy's
life. Leave it to a couple longtime elected officials to acknowledge as
much—though in hushed, ambiguous tones.
"He was well known in his early days for his involvement in politics," Governor Linda Lingle told the Honolulu Advertiser
in a story published two days after Yokouchi's death, "but his legacy
will be his contributions to the arts, especially for the keiki."
Why wouldn't politics define Yokouchi's legacy? Were the things
Yokouchi did in the old days mediocre or irrelevant? Lingle did not
say. But Ed Case, the Democratic U.S. Congressman for the 2nd District
for a few more weeks, was even more tantalizing. He said Pundy "broke
the mold in politics, business and the arts, and gave back to his
community far more than he gained."
Gave back more than he gained? Would it have killed the lame duck Case to be a bit more specific?
Even a cursory look at Yokouchi's life shows the friendly but
undeniably wiley realtor gained much in life. And why shouldn't he
have? He was, since the mid-1960's, the center on Maui around which
power gravitated. Every major politician and businessman on the island
stopped by his office, teed off with him on the links or took a ride
with him in his bright red Ferrari.
Not as well known as postwar Nisei like the late U.S. Senator Spark
Matsunaga or former Governor George Ariyoshi, Yokouchi was in many ways
their shadow counterpart—a man every bit as intelligent and clever and
civic-minded, but without the drive for public acclaim and voter
vindication. For an honest epitaph, no one need look further than
George Cooper and Gavan Daws, whose 1985 book Land and Power in Hawaii
detailed the world Yokouchi helped create and manage. Still in print
and considered a classic text, the book is the source for much of the
information in this story.
"Because of his influential role in politics, together with a
combination of luck and astuteness in real estate investing and
developing, and because of a reputation for a particularly fair and
generous way of treating others, Yokouchi was one of the most
sought-after and best-connected people in Hawaii in the Democratic
years," they wrote. "His close friends or associates in business
included [Governor] John Burns, state legislators, Hawaii's foremost
artists, judges, the reputed head of organized crime on Maui, members
of Hawaii's old haole monied class, and union leaders, as well as a host of ordinary people."
Maui looks the way it does today because of Masaru Yokouchi. Lahaina
Town, Ka`anapali and Makena all owe their development—and to a
considerable extent, their controversy—to Yokouchi. To speak of him
without acknowledging his role in these developments or the way in
which he derived compensation, is to dishonor the man and his
In January 2005, the Board of Directors of Junior Achievement of
Hawai`i honored Yokouchi as one of its laureates. A brief bio, which
ran in the Pacific Business News story announcing the award, hinted at Yokouchi's substantial achievements and wealth.
"Yokouchi, the president of Valley Isle Realty, Kaanapali Kai Inc.
and his own foundation, also is chairman of the Maui Arts &
Cultural Center," read the piece. "He is a past chairman of the
Honolulu Academy of the Arts, the Hawaii Alliance for Arts education,
and the Maui Rehabilitation Center. He also served as director of the
Maui Economic Development Board, the Hawaii Theatre and the Japan
Hawaii Economic Council. He owns the Lahaina Square Shopping Center,
Dickenson Square Shopping Center, the Old Koloa Town Shopping Center on
Kauai and the American Savings Bank Building."
Such write-ups of his resume and holdings had by 2005 become routine. But a mere decade earlier, Hawaii Business was calling Pundy "Maui's most famous unknown."
"The people who know of Pundy Yokouchi are numerous, but the people
who know about him—about the scope of his past deeds and the length of
his present reach—are fewer than ever," Jeff Barrus wrote in the
magazine's May 1995 issue. "Twenty years ago his name was a chorus in
the public ear. Ten years ago a clear solo. Today a whisper."
Born in 1925 upstairs of the family bakery on Vineyard in Wailuku
(Maui Bake Shop is there today), Yokouchi got the nickname "Pundy" very
early from the way his infant mouth formed the words "pao duce," a
Portuguese sweetbread. He never graduated from college, missed fighting
in World War II and spent nearly two decades as a baker before he hit
it big in real estate. We look around today and see realtors lined up
shoulder-to-shoulder, but back in Pundy's day, the idea of getting rich
buying and selling Maui land was novel.
In 1960, Pundy got his real estate license and opened Valley Isle
Realty. Within just seven years, the office had swelled to 10 realtors,
nine of which held some key government post. The job titles included
two state senators, one Maui Supervisor (forerunner of the County
Council), one Maui planning commissioner, one Maui County department
head and one University of Hawai`i regent.
Such intermingling of public trust and real estate seems atrocious today, but back then, not so much. In fact, in their book Land and Power in Hawaii,
George Cooper and Gavan Daws produce a chart listing each of the Maui
County Supervisors and Council members who served from 1960 to 1984. Of
those 31 individuals, five at one time or another worked for Valley
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. In '67 Yokouchi was doing
well. He'd been associated with Hawai`i Democratic Party since the
early 1950's, and then-Governor John Burns' chief organizer on Maui
since 1962, which accounted for the bounty of titles on Valley Isle
Realty stationery. But Pundy and his wife Shirley were still living in
a modest Wailuku house. Over the next decade, that would change
You can sum up the reason with one word: Ka`anapali.
The development of Amfac's Ka`anapali resort made Pundy Yokouchi. It
transformed him from a well-connected but smalltime realtor into Maui's
most powerful land agent. Before Ka`anapali, Pundy bought and sold
small pieces of land. After, he dealt in huge properties destined to
become world-famous resorts.
It happened because Amfac was in trouble. In 1967 it was planning a
big resort on the Westside, and wanted Lahaina Town preserved as a kind
of historic tourist attraction. The trouble came from the International
Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), the labor union that had long
opposed Amfac's Ka`anapali expansion plans, as well as Lahaina's mostly
Japanese owners, who strongly resisted all the rules, limits and
regulations that come with historic district designations.
Owned and run by haoles, Amfac needed someone who could talk to both
union Democrats and Lahaina's merchants—speak their language, but talk
Amfac's talk. They needed someone respected by the small businessmen,
accepted by organized labor but still live in Amfac's world of real
estate and land development.
There was no better man on Maui than Masaru Yokouchi. Pundy
immediately went to work as an unpaid negotiator for Amfac. Hailed as
an honest broker by all sides, he got Amfac to agree to providing
worker housing, the unions to go along with the new resort and the
businessmen to accept Lahaina Town as an historic district (which
turned out to be a financial windfall for them). In fact, Pundy did so
well that today it's impossible to imagine organized labor doing
anything other than wholeheartedly supporting any new hotel or resort
Things began happening for Pundy very fast. Though Amfac never
apparently paid him a dime for his work, in 1970 Yokouchi did begin
buying and selling large tracts of Amfac land. Though Pundy and Amfac
always insisted that all sales went through at market prices, there's
no denying that Pundy made a lot of money in those years.
By 1977, Pundy and his wife were living in on a 16-acre spread in
Kula, having sold their old Wailuku house to Yujiro "Tani" Matsuoka, a
tailor turned professional gambler named by at least one organized
crime official as "the Maui Boss" of gambling. As it turned out,
Matsuoka didn't live in Pundy's old house very long—in January 1978, he
Police found his Cadillac parked at the Maui Beach Hotel soon
enough, but Matsuoka stayed missing for three weeks. According to a
June 15, 1980 Honolulu Star-Bulletin
article by investigative reporter James Dooley, "a cane worker
discovered the body, with two bullet holes in it, in a canefield near
the old Maui High School."
In an interview with Cooper and Daws, Yokouchi insisted that he was
only "acquainted" with Matsuoka because of the sale, which in any case
was arranged through a third party. (Pundy wasn't the only prominent
Maui figure tied to Matsuoka—during a 1972 lawsuit against the County
of Maui alleging false arrest by members of the Maui Police vice squad,
Matsuoka sought legal representation from attorney William R. Crockett,
who later spent a decade being married to Linda Lingle).
Matsuoka also wasn't the only organized crime figure to do businesss
with Pundy. Much more than a mere gangster, Stanley T. "Banjo" Tamura
was a major player in the Hawai`i Democratic Party in the 1960's. In
1966, when Governor Burns appointed Yokouchi chairman of State
Foundation on Culture and the Arts, he also made Tamura one of his Maui
In 1951, Tamura went to work in the Maui County Finance Department,
eventually to rise to the post of chief teller. According to an unnamed
Maui Police officer cited in Land and Power, Tamura soon began running a numbers racket out of his office.
Eleven years later, the feds indicted Tamura for using the U.S. Mail
to run an illegal football pool. He pled no contest. Seven years later
the State of Hawai`i tried to bust him for running an island-wide
network of sports betting, but after a prosecution witness suddenly
refused to testify, all charges were dropped.
Through the years, according to probate records cited by Cooper and
Daws, Tamura invested in a number of Yokouchi's huis, including one
that held 44 acres in Alaska and another that owned the 16 South Maui
acres that eventually became the Makena Surf condo complex. In 1975,
three years before Matsuoka's untimely demise, someone stabbed Tamura
to death in his Wailuku home.
It's important to note that at no time in his life did anyone ever
accuse Yokouchi of being part of organized crime. But I'm mentioning
these associations here for the same reason Cooper and Daws put them
into their book: they illustrate the variety and complexity of the
world in which Pundy did business.
In 1973 Yokouchi took advantage of an Amfac land deal on Kauai. For
$1.2 million, a hui he organized bought 60 acres of undeveloped
oceanfront land at Nukoli`i. Virtually no one outside a few local
surfers and campers ever used the area, and Yokouchi's hui, which never
even touched the land, ended up selling the property a year later—for
$5.25 million, $4 million more than the price he'd paid barely 12
"We just went in and bought land," is how Pundy described his real estate investment strategy to Hawaii Business'
Jeff Barrus in 1995. "We had no real design or knowledge about values
and why certain areas would grow and others wouldn't. Because we're
talking about Maui and the Hawaiian islands, that were priced so low,
even a dumb guy that came out of a bakery and bought a property
realized profit. You just had to be brazen enough to put some money
out, and everything just grew in your favor."
Cooper and Daws devote an entire chapter of their book to Nukoli`i,
with Yokouchi playing a principal role. In interviews, Yokouchi and
Amfac officials insisted that market forces determined both selling
prices for Nukoli`i, and the authors found no evidence that either
price was rigged. But they also found no compelling explanation for why
it took Amfac four years to make public their sale of the land to
Yokouchi's hui, despite state laws requiring immediate recording.
Though they observe that, "no evidence was uncovered in the course
of research for this book that he had, in some consciously sinister
way, attempted to manipulate government for private ends," Yokouchi did
"make use of extremely good political connections that, in the end, led
to Nukolii being sold to him, and may have, after he had already resold
the property, helped ensure that his buyer could go forward with
developing a resort there."
On Kauai, the move to build a resort at Nukoli`i following Pundy's
sale achieved an infamy never imagined on Maui. Activists sabotaged
construction sites. Threats of assassination echoed in public
officials' ears. On two separate occasions, someone actually bombed the
Kauai mayor's office. In 1980, a popular vote overwhelmingly opposed
resort development, but courts initially ruled that construction could
In 1982, the Hawai`i Supreme Court overruled them and ordered all
permits revoked (this affected the proposed hotel, which was 30 percent
completed—the projects condos were already done). Interestingly, one
Supreme Court justice didn't take part in the ruling, which Cooper and
Daws attribute to his being a member of Yokouchi's hui.
But by 1984, Kauai's population had changed. The old locally driven
opposition was no longer in charge. The developers took note, and asked
for another popular vote. This time, voters approved resort
Pundy, of course, was long gone by then. In fact, his role in
Nukoli`i, though critical to the controversy (news of Pundy's sale had
created a sensation in 1980, leading at least in part to the developer
losing the first popular vote) had been concurrent with another
notorious island development: Makena.
In 1973, the Ulupalakua Ranch decided to sell its 1,000 acres in
Makena. Their first realtor couldn't move the property, so they went to
Valley Isle Realty. Soon thereafter, Pundy sold the land to the
Japanese railway giant Seibu. Like his deal with Amfac, soon after the
sale Yokouchi began working as an unpaid consultant to Seibu.
By now, Pundy was one of, if not the most powerful man on Maui. He
immediately set about lobbying the state Land Use Commission (LUC),
which was taking up Seibu's extravagant resort plans for its new
property. This could not have been a difficult affair for Pundy, since
the LUC member representing Maui got his job after Yokouchi asked the
governor to put him there.
Big land deals involving millions of dollars became routine. In 1989
Pundy returned to Kauai and purchased old Koloa Town for $7 million.
Two years later he made $35 million selling a 16-acre parcel next to
the Hyatt Regency Maui in Ka`anapali that he'd bought back in 1977 for
a paltry $2 million. And he built the MACC, which has arguably done
more for arts education and culture on Maui than anything else.
It is hard, though not impossible, to imagine another Pundy coming
along. Many of the same forces that governed Maui in the 1950's and
'60s—big landowners, resort developers, organized labor, agitated
locals—still dominate the political arena. But the Nisei leadership has
largely given way to a great extent to wider variety of ethnic groups.
In the Maui County Council and Mayor's office today, there are just two
Japanese surnames, and one of them—soon-to-be former Mayor Alan
Arakawa—is a Republican.
Eleven years ago writer Jeff Barrus worried that few in the state
knew the name Yokouchi. No matter how you feel about Yokouchi's life
and accomplishments, there's no denying that Pundy deserves his fame.
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