Hardworking Hawaii: Long-time Big Island orchid business endures Kilauea eruption, pandemic

Hardworking Hawaii

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Green thumbs run in the Akatsuka family bloodline. Takeshi Akatsuka is the President of Akatsuka Orchid Gardens on the Big Island.

His father, Mori, has been creating his own breed of orchids for almost 50 years.

“My uncle asked my dad, ‘Hey, want to go for adventure and grow orchids outside of Japan?’ And my dad said, ‘Sure!'” Takeshi said about how the business got started.

Mori Akatsuka planted his roots on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was the perfect spot. After all, its nickname is the Orchid Isle.

“I don’t know how he did it back when he first started here in the 70s. He was not able to speak any English and he hit the ground running,” Takeshi said about his father.

Akatsuka Orchid Gardens opened up in 1974, just down the road from the Kilauea volcano.

There are over 200,000 orchids at Akatsuka Orchid Gardens, and each one takes a lot of love and patience to grow. In fact, it takes about six years to grow one orchid plant.

“While it does take six years from a baby orchid to get to the mature size, the blooming size, it also took [Mori] an additional six years because he created the seed pod,” said Corinne Akatsuka, the vice president of the family business.

Each plant is a labor of love, which is a lesson that Mori passed on to his son. Takeshi worked at his dad’s business at a young age.

“He always told me, ‘It’s building character.’ I didn’t understand at the time, but now I understand what hard work means, and that sometimes things don’t work out but you continue to try your best,” Takeshi explained.

That lesson has helped Takeshi lead his family through tough times, like when Kilauea Volcano erupted in 2018 and the business was forced to close for months. Then COVID hit less than two years later.

“It was almost like déjà vu when, ‘oh the National Park is going to close! Oh like everything is stopping.’ It was like, ‘Oh my gosh we’re going through it again,'” Takeshi said about what was going through his mind at the start of the pandemic.

Only COVID-19 was much worse for the long-time family business. Visitors stopped coming to the town of Volcano.

Pre-pandemic, there would be hundreds of people walking through Akatsuka Orchid Gardens each day.

“When had cruise ships, it would be about 1,000 people [a day],” Takeshi said. “[and when] we were able to reopen, we were averaging between 10 to 20 people. So a drastic decline.”

Business is better, but not by much. The one thing that has saved them is online sales.

“We do ship to all 50 states!” Corinne Akatsuka said about their online ordering system.

With the proper care, Takeshi said orchids can live up to 100 years old. He wants that same longevity for his business.

“The legacy that my family has built, you know, I definitely wanted to keep it going, do what we can to survive,” he said.

To order an orchid from Akatsuka Orchid Gardens, click here.

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