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Businesswoman upheld Japanese culture in isles

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When her husband wanted to bring kabuki to Hawaii in the 1960s as the opening act at the newly built Honolulu International Center Concert Hall, Mitsuru Furuya agreed to mortgage their Nuuanu home to pay for the huge undertaking.

Although Noboru Furuya is credited for his business dealings, "they were partners," said their daughter, Aileen Nagaoka, from Kobe, Japan.

"She was like the rock, the foundation for the family and the business," said son David Furuya.

Furuya, who formerly owned Nippon Theatre, Shiseido of Hawaii and radio station KZOO with her husband, died Dec. 31 at Straub Clinic & Hospital. She was 89.

While fighting with the 100th Infantry Battalion in World War II Italy, Noboru Furuya vowed that upon his return he would do something for the people of Hawaii.

Mitsuru Furuya, who worked as a typesetter for the Hawaii Hochi, a Japanese-language newspaper, supported all his business ventures. With their first, the Nippon Theatre, she did everything from manning the candy counter to serving as usherette.

The Furuyas endured postwar anti-Japanese sentiment and criticism for running a Japanese theater shortly after the war ended. But the theater was a way to bridge the cultural divide between Japan and Hawaii, Nagaoka said.

"A lot of people (Japanese-Americans) still felt the shame and still felt scared of American society," Nagaoka said. "They were still hurting from the war, but having this kind of entertainment (helped in) being proud of their heritage."

She said her father "felt the war is over, we should keep our culture and be proud of it and not look down on it."

Longtime KZOO radio announcer Keiko Ura recalled how Mitsuru Furuya became known among Japanese movie and kabuki stars as Hawaii’s "mama-san," entertaining at their well-kept home and preparing Japanese food.

"She’s a very good cook," she said. "Everybody enjoyed her food."

Born in Honolulu of samurai lineage, Mitsuru Furuya’s immigrant mother instilled in her what daughters of samurai are traditionally taught — from manners to cooking, Nagaoka said. "The first bowl of rice would be left for Dad," even when he was away at war.

In the 1960s, after her husband was approached by the Shiseido president and agreed to sell its products in Hawaii, Furuya obliged by diligently using its skin care products and serving as a model for the company’s products. Though matronly and not one to wear much makeup, she was complimented on her youthful skin, her daughter said.

Furuya supported her husband’s decision to again mortgage their home to buy KZOO.

She is also survived by eight grandchildren and a great-grandchild. Visitation is 5:30 p.m. Monday at Nuuanu Memorial Park & Mortuary; services are at 6:30 p.m. Aloha attire.

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