News Blog

Alumna Nami Yamamoto is steeped in family tradition

Every morning, Nami Yamamoto ’09 walks into her office and drinks a hot cup of green tea. Her 90-year-old grandfather has done the same throughout his life, and so has her father. The tradition is done to make sure the quality of family-owned Yamamotoyama tea is consistent. After all, it’s a consistent, reliable product that has helped the company survive for 326 years.

Founded in 1690, Yamamotoyama specializes in producing the finest green tea and nori seaweed. And with the eleventh generation, the historic tea empire will one day have its first female president in Nami.

It’s a proposition that is both “exciting” and “stressful.” But how does one keep a family business open for more than three centuries?

“To keep the tradition, you have to be innovative and open to different cultures,” Nami said. “We cannot just be in Japan, it’s a global market right now.”

Though she assumed she’d go into the family business, Nami never felt pressured to do so. Growing up, she was encouraged to travel outside of Japan. She took an intensive English course in Hawaii upon graduating from high school in Tokyo. And it was a recommendation from a favorite teacher in Hawaii which led Nami to the rural farm town of Caldwell, Idaho.

“I applied to many schools and visited many schools,” Yamamoto said. “I really liked The College of Idaho, being in the countryside, the small size and also the community.”

So in the fall of 2005, she moved 5,000 miles from her native Japan. She said goodbye to her family, not knowing she’d quickly find herself embraced by a new one. 

It started the day she arrived, when the kind faces of George Tavares ’55 and Sandy Tavares ’58 greeted Nami at the airport. The Tavares would be her host family for the next four years, getting to know the outgoing girl who was never afraid to try camping trips and other new adventures.  

“Both George and I were just tickled to have her and be part of her family,” Sandy said. “And that’s what we felt right away.”

On campus, Nami found more family members. She and other international students were invited to pizza nights with legendary C of I political economy Professor Jim Angresano. She also joined the International Student Organization, becoming president her senior year.

“It was a great experience,” Nami said. “I utilize the skills I learned leading ISO at Yamamotoyama today. Learning how to manage people was the most beneficial thing I learned at the C of I.”

These days, Nami and her husband, Daniel Goldstein, live in Southern California. Nami serves as director of Yamamotoyama of America while preparing to lead the family business into the future. With a health-conscious modern market that prefers authentic, organic foods, Nami believes Yamamotoyama will continue to thrive. But she knows you don’t keep a 326-year-old company going on tradition alone.

“I would say you need to be patient and innovative at the same time,” Nami said. “Generations preceded you, and when it’s your time to be at the top you must serve as a custodian of the business for the following generations.”

The College of Idaho has a 125-year-old legacy of excellence. The C of I is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, four NFL players and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom.  For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.