By Pauline Stewart
Fumio Honda comes from a family of fishermen in a village in Japan. He came to New Zealand as a deep sea diver in 1979, over forty years ago. “I learned diving from my father and my grandfather. It was my grandfather who started the diving business. When I was 16 years old, I was quite proficient at deep sea diving even though I was still a high school student. Sometimes, I would stop going to school, because I could help my family by diving. I went to an American school and it was a much freer system allowing me to dive,” added Fumio.
All of the high schools in Japan at that time were American. They had started high schools in Japan a long time before. Prior to that, the Monks were the only teachers. “At my high school, you learned English, says Fumio. “I was in the Business Class, so I really only learned Business language in English.”
It was in 1979 that Fumio came to New Zealand for ten months to dive for horse mussels and his New Zealand destination was Whitianga. “There were just 2,500 people in the area” Fumio said. “I stayed for 10 months. We dived every day. Horse mussels are a very popular delicacy in Japan. They became very popular in 1935. If you try to dredge with trawlers, it smashes the horse mussel shells. People were pleased with my business. We didn’t scoop or dredge, just carefully hand picked them and left the smaller ones to grow. Horse mussels are found at a depth of up to 70 metres. Fumio shares a clear memory of that time deep sea diving in Whitianga. “All of the horse mussels were sold to one person and they were processed by OPC (Ocean Pacific Columbia). We were about to send the first big order to Japan, but all of a sudden, we were told that we could not get an import licence to get them into Japan, so then we tried France. There was one and a half tons of horse mussels. We were also told No, for France, but they were sent anyway. The reason why we could not get the licence was that the mussels were shucked while on the boat. We took the meat out very fresh which is how we did it in Japan, but here it was different. It was illegal to do it that way. Then they changed the rules.”
A life in New Zealand: Fumio finally came to live here in 1988 with his wife Keiko. “From the time I was in Junior high school in social studies, I heard about New Zealand and I wanted to go there.
Fumio and Keiko have lived here ever since. They have a son and two grandchildren. Their son was the first ever Japanese student at MBAS. Many would know Keiko. She gained her first job working for Noel and Nikki Hewitt in the 4 Square and has been working in New World for 16 years. Her smiling nature and efficiency is legendary.
Fumio continued his story.” I came back many times between 1979 and 1988 to dive for different companies, mostly diving in Kuaotunu. I travelled the length of New Zealand. Diving was a dangerous life. If anything happened to me, there was no safety net; I was on my own. In Japan, deep sea diving was usually a family business. In a crisis situation, a business might not worry too much about a diver if something s going wrong. In a storm, people go inside the ship but forget about the diver. But if you work as a family, you never forget you family members who are diving.” Fumio smiles.
Deep sea diving was not too continue too much longer for Fumio. The noise of the ongoing turbo charged engines on the ships was affecting his ability to hear. One day, he was pulling up a shark on the boat and the shark knocked him against a bar causing further damage to his hearing.
Fumio was learning to improve his English and looking at what else he might do, when a friend suggested, that he assist him develop and market special bacteria that can assist the health of animals and poultry.
A New Venture:
And so EPL began. It is now a New Zealand registered and ACVM approved company and has been running for 5 years. EPL stands for Environment Preservation Laboratories and specialises in making non-toxic, lactic acid bacteria products in a safe, sterile area. “We have a range of products to help prevent and or cure a range of sicknesses including bloat, facial exzema, down cows, healthier calves and more. “ says Fumio. “The origin of our product is a famous Japanese product called EM - Effective Microorganisms. “
He adds, “We do farm visits where we test your water for free and then work with you to make sure you get the right product for your animals. It is an industrial product that has been developed but many people believe that this also really helps the human gut. That is something to think about for the future. This is a great bacteria added with some minerals and sucrose. It works excellently. It is especially for these animals who have lost health for some reason. For them it is wonderful. Our chickens don’t smell, they have the product in their water. It cuts out the ammonia odour; it keeps ahead of it.”
Fumio and Keiko live on a small farm in their dark red house a short distance up the 309 not far from Whitianga township. Fumio is the caretaker. Fumio says proudly, “We are happy to be in New Zealand.”
Caption: Fumio Honda in his deep-sea diving gear on his first visit to New Zealand in 1979.