Richard Tajiri was “a Christmas tree guy,” his wife said. But in Hawaii he was THE Christmas tree guy for more than four decades.
“He really devoted himself to the Christmas tree,” said his wife of 36 years, Paula, by telephone from Portland, Ore. “His life revolved around the Christmas tree.”
Tajiri died Sunday, three days after his 78th birthday, of prostate cancer at his Portland home. He was diagnosed a year and a half ago, but that didn’t stop him from bringing trees to Hawaii for the past two Christmases.
Other people think about them only at Christmastime, but not Tajiri.
“We visited the farm all the time,” Paula Tajiri said. “He couldn’t do much this season, but we usually go springtime and summer and early fall and tagged trees.”
The previous year, he tagged 4,000 trees himself, she said.
“He wanted to take the best Christmas trees to Hawaii,” she said, which he had been doing up until this last holiday season, wrapping up 43 years of providing the Aloha State with holiday firs.
Paula Tajiri said that he brought in mainly noble firs from Washington state but also brought in Nordmann firs from one Oregon tree farm.
Richard Tajiri was president of Christmas Hawaii and credited Paul Kirk Sr. with setting him up in the business when he owned and operated Walk-In Liquor on Coral Street.
Tajiri not only had trees shipped to Hawaii from West Coast farms, but even sought trees as far as the East Coast and went as far north near the Canadian border and south closer to California.
“One year we went all the way to North Carolina to get Fraser firs, but it cost way too much money to bring them to Hawaii,” Paula Tajiri said. For a time he brought in Frasers from Wisconsin.
The Tajiris married in 1983 and moved to the mainland in 1986, living in Canada for a year before settling in Washington in 1987.
There they owned a Japanese restaurant from more than 10 years, said Paula Tajiri, who is originally from Japan.
They moved to Oregon in 2000, where they had another Japanese restaurant, “but No. 1 business is always Christmas tree,” she said.
Tajiri said the couple talked about keeping the Christmas tree business going until its 50th anniversary.
“That was Richard’s dream,” she said. “So we decided to keep his legacy alive and keep it another seven years so he can make the 50-year anniversary.”
After the last Christmas tree was sold on Oahu, the family traveled to Maui where the Wailuku-born Richard Tajiri visited his mother and many friends and family members.
The family will hold a small get-together in Portland, but plans are in the works for a memorial luau after Christmas 2020 in Hawaii. Following the memorial, his ashes will be scattered in waters off Oahu.
Tajiri is also survived by three daughters and mother Helen Kawahara.