Frank Koyama has three talents that helped him traipse the globe—his language abilities, his resourcefulness and his ability to work with his hands. It helped him emigrate to the United States from Japan on a cargo ship, build a successful travel company and, finally, start over at age 74 after the setback of the COVID-19 pandemic on his travel business.
After losing his travel business, Pacific Executive Tours, due to COVID-19, Koyama is now embarking on a new handyman service called Pacific Executive Service. He is lending assistance to some apartment builders and owners and seeking new residential clients. He can paint, fix drawers and furniture, and do minor repairs and carpentry work. He’s also happy to provide Japanese cooking lessons or catering service.
Koyama is no stranger to hard work or starting over when facing insurmountable odds. He also shares an entrepreneurial bent like his daughter, Karen Koyama, owner of Nine Bells and Cat Tails in Beloit.
Curiosity begins early
Frank Koyama, from Okayama, Japan, was already a bit different at a young age. He loved tearing apart clocks to see how they operate.
“I wanted to recreate something out of those gears and do woodcraft,” he said.
He again made his own way when deciding to journey to the United States. He was the 36th generation in a long line of Buddhist priests who operated a temple, but he decided to seek a different path.
Fascinated with the English language, he was able to take private lessons to study proper pronunciation. While a junior at university in 1969, he decided to take a sabbatical. It had been a tense time with student demonstrations protesting the Vietnam War with violence on some campuses. He saved up some money while he worked as a truck driver and was inspired after reading a book about someone who traveled the world for free.
Coming to America
Koyama decided to offer his labor to cargo boats in exchange for hitching a ride to the U.S.
At 20, he stowed away on a boat after offering to work for the captain. Despite some seasickness, he arrived in Philadelphia, where he purchased a used 1961 Ford Galaxy for $190 and began his dream of traveling across the United States.
After running into some challenges during the winter months and finding himself with only $5 in his pocket, he decided to find work. He walked into a Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles asking for a job. He figured restaurant work might offer him some free food. He was sleeping in his car at the time.
Home and back
After his great adventure, he briefly returned to Japan to finish his degree and once again boarded a cargo ship to the U.S. with plans to stay stateside permanently.
In 1972 he met his soon-to-be wife in an English speaking club. To help win over her family, he found a job using his bilingual skills in the Japanese consulate in Chicago, earning him diplomatic status. His wife found work as a nanny for a wealthy family, and the couple resided in the Windy City for a time.
Koyama eventually returned to his dream of making a living by traveling after a stint working for a sushi chef in California. He started working as a tour guide for a local Japanese company in 1974. He and another partner started a new company as a vendor to the former company, Golden Pacific Tours, in 1975, offering guided trips to Japanese tourists.
By 1980 he opened Poppy Travel with passenger vans where he and other guides could speak about sites in fluent English and Japanese, a business that lasted until 1992. He later launched Pacific Executive Tours, concentrating on small business groups. By becoming a smaller company, he was able to offer widee travel opportunities, from Mexico City to Calgary, Canada. He was also part of technical business tours, offering interpreting services for businesses such as FedEx, Best Buy and Panasonic.
“We would take care of VIPs and make arrangements for hotels and transportation,” he said.
In 2019, he moved to Beloit to be closer to his daughter as well as to have his business more centrally located.
However, disaster struck when in February 2020 the first cancellation inquiry came with news of COVID-19. Those cancellations kept coming.
“Everything was gone in a one-month period,” he said.
With the cost of travel vehicle insurance being high, by July 2020 Koyama was forced to let it go.
He told his small local business group in Beloit, otherwise known as Bing, he was in trouble. They suggested he start offering his experience as a handyman as a new business as he loves woodworking and many struggle to find a handyman.
As the winds of change keep blowing, Koyama hasn’t missed a beat. He is servicing apartment buildings and working on his woodworking shop in his garage. He continues to artfully arrange food and hopes to continue what he loves—working with his hands and finding new ventures.