gwen for webBy GWEN MURANAKA

Macaron ikaga desu ka? That was my spiel last Saturday at the Mangoes at the Moana festival in Waikiki.

With my white apron, boxes and boxes of handmade macaron cookies, and my husband at my side, I offered samples to the tourists and locals who attended the Mangoes at the Moana festival at the Moana Surfrider. It felt a little like being one of those servers at Costco as festival-goers would descend in waves to try free samples. Desserts like macarons are meant to be enjoyed with the eyes as well as the taste buds, so once I had cut and smashed the little chewy cookies into samples, I had woefully destroyed a big part of their appeal, but folks seemed to enjoy them.

Next up for Eric, a sampling of chocolate and vanilla macarons at Rob Fukuzaki’s golf tournament for the Heads Up Youth Foundation that took place this week.

There was even a Rafu reader, a Hawaii local, who read about the event in my column and stopped by to say hello. Chefs, including Lee Anne Wong, a former “Top Chef” contestant, now executive chef at Koko Head Café in Honolulu, created dishes using all manner of mangoes. In a large exhibition hall, samples of fresh-cut mangoes of many varieties were there to sample. I had no idea that there were so many different types with different degrees of sweet and tart.

Afterwards, my nephew Kenny gave us a Haden mango and explained that the Haden is prized by locals for its sweetness. According to the mango industry’s official website, there are six varieties that are most common in the U.S. The Haden actually originated in South Florida in 1910.

All smiles at the Mangoes at the Moana Festival in Hawaii.
All smiles at the Mangoes at the Moana Festival in Hawaii. (Photo by Leslie Naritoku)

Maybe it’s their tropical origins, but the names of mango varieties sound to me like characters out of a Jimmy Buffett song: Ataulfo, Haden, Francis, Kent, Keitt and Tommy Atkins. I imagine them all hanging out poolside in tacky Aloha shirts and big bellies, drinking tropical drinks. With mangoes, naturally.

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A lot of mainland Japanese Americans with ties to Hawaii avoid Waikiki and all its tourists. Highlights for us are places like Like Like or Rainbow Drive Inn. When I was a kid, I’d go with my mom to Sears, Liberty House, Crack Seed Center and Shirokiya in the Ala Moana Shopping Center. Today, most of that mall caters to upscale overseas tourists and is now packed with the latest fashions from Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo and Prada.

Since the festival was in Waikiki that’s where we spent the bulk of our time. A highlight was a visit to the Lawson convenience store, conveniently located in the Sheraton Waikiki where we were staying.

In Tokyo, there seems to be a Lawson conbini on every corner. But this was the first time I have seen one since I was in Japan. Entering the store, there was the scent of something undeniably Japanese: oden. Just like in Japan, there was a big metal container of oden next to the register.

Oden is a dish comprised of things like eggs, daikon, atsuage and konnyaku, all stewing in a warm dashi broth. It’s great during the winter months and the scent, while not entirely pleasant, makes me nostalgic for Tokyo. Actually I had some for breakfast one morning, along with some musubi and they were excellent.

In a 2013 interview with Asahi, Lawson group CEO Genichi Tamatsuka said the Waikiki store is the first in what they hope is a broader expansion into the American market. The appeal of Waikiki is easy to understand: lots of Japanese and Japanese Americans gives the convenience store chain a big customer base to build upon.

So many Japanese retailers are now venturing into the U.S. Popular chains such as Daiso, Uniqlo, and Muji Ryohin are now opening stores in New York, L.A. and San Francisco.

Maybe someday soon, we’ll have conbini oden here as well.

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Whatever the misdeeds of disgraced former Councilmember Richard Alarcon and a jury last week found him to have committed a few — namely voter fraud and perjury — he must be also remembered for some noted accomplishments.

Richard Alarcon
Richard Alarcon

For Japanese Americans, that list would include his support for the preservation of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station. Last summer, it was Alarcon and his staff that pushed for Los Angeles Cultural Historical Monument status for the camp that once housed Japanese Americans, as well as Germans, Italians and Japanese Peruvians during World War II.

Alarcon did right by the JA community and his support of Tuna Canyon was critical to ensuring that the history of what took place there more than 70 years ago isn’t lost.

For those who hate politics, the motive of a politician on any issue will be looked at with suspicion. Every decision, every vote, every handshake is a step on the path to either staying in office or reaching even higher.

To me, the shame of term limits and the let’s-throw-them-all-out mentality is that it has created this environment where our politicos are forever jumping from one seat to the next, like sharks that have to continue to move along or they will die.

When the City Council handed down the decision, Alarcon said, “Declaring the Tuna Canyon Detention Station as a Historic-Cultural Monument allows us to protect this important piece of our history, and give us the opportunity to continue to learn from our past mistakes and preserve this lesson for generations to come.”

Alarcon has himself made mistakes. Tuna Canyon isn’t one of them.

Gwen Muranaka is English editor-in-chief of The Rafu Shimpo and can be reached at Ochazuke is a staff-written column. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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