'Hitachi tree' bringing owner $4 million
|Video: Tourists drawn to Hitachi tree|
By Rick Daysog
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Rick Daysog
Money may not grow on trees, but there's a monkeypod on O'ahu that's earning $4 million for its owner.
Hitachi Ltd., the Japanese electronics giant, has agreed to pay the new owner of the Moanalua Gardens $400,000 a year for 10 years to use the garden's famous monkeypod tree in its advertising.
The so-called "Hitachi tree" is one of the most recognizable corporate icons in Japan.
"Everyone in Japan knows this tree," said Kaeta Yoshida, a 20-year-old Tokyo resident who was part of a tour group taking pictures under the tree yesterday.
Hitachi — a maker of televisions, appliances, cell phones and other electronic goods — has used the century-old tree as a corporate symbol since 1973.
Hitachi previously paid $20,000 a year to use the monkeypod tree in its advertising.
The $400,000 annual fee was listed in a Dec. 28 contract between Hitachi and the garden's new owner, Kaimana Ventures Ltd. The Advertiser obtained a copy of the agreement.
Hitachi officials in Japan could not be reached for immediate comment. John Philip "JP" Damon, president of Kaimana Ventures, declined comment through a spokesman.
Damon, 45, a great-grandson of Samuel Mills Damon, bought the 22-acre gardens this month from the Estate of Samuel Mills Damon. JP Damon paid $5.05 million for the property and said he intends to keep it open to the public.
PARK RENTALS COMING?
While Hitachi is paying a generous fee for use of the tree, the money covers just a portion of Moanalua Gardens' annual operating expenses. The cost to maintain, insure and staff the gardens is about $600,000 a year.
To make up for the shortfall, Kaimana Ventures may rent out portions of the park for special events and weddings for Japanese tourists.
Osamu Hayakawa, sales and marketing director for Japanese-language channel Nippon Golden Network, said Hitachi is willing to pay a large amount because the tree is a vital symbol of its worldwide business.
Like Nike's swoosh or Prudential Insurance's rock, the Hitachi tree has become a major part of the electronics maker's corporate identity, he said.
"That's their icon," Hayakawa said.
The Estate of Samuel Mills Damon told Hitachi officials several years ago that it could no longer guarantee exclusive rights to the tree in its marketing because it was selling the park.
The Damon Estate, a banking and real estate trust set up to benefit members of the Damon family, is liquidating its assets as part of a court-ordered termination.
Under Samuel Damon's will, the estate terminates with the death of his last grandchild. That occurred in November 2004 with the passing of 81-year-old Joan Damon Haig of New Jersey.
Known for its one-of-a-kind symmetrical shape, the 50-foot-tall Hitachi tree is one of two exceptional monkeypod trees on the property that are on the National Historic Register.
The monkeypod trees have been a part of the gardens since the turn of the last century and were acquired by Samuel Mills Damon as seedlings during a trip to Africa.
RESTRICTIONS ON TREE
The Hitachi tree — which gets its distinctive umbrella-shaped canopy because it was left to grow alone in an open area — is also listed by the city as an exceptional tree.
The city designation prohibits anyone from removing or destroying the tree without City Council approval.
Abner Undan, president of Trees of Hawaii, which has trimmed the Hitachi tree over the years, said he believes that Damon's monkeypods are among the most valuable trees in the Islands. Undan said he recently estimated the value at $150,000 to $175,000.
That valuation was based on the tree's size, age, condition and shape. But it did not include the tree's value as a longtime corporate symbol for one of the biggest companies in Japan, he said.
Most full-grown monkeypod trees in Hawai'i are worth between $5,000 and $20,000, he added.
"That monkeypod tree is probably the most beautiful monkeypod in the world," Undan said.
Reach Rick Daysog at email@example.com.