This site was created to raise awareness about the community-driven preservation efforts on behalf of a historic Shinto shrine on the island of O`ahu in the State of Hawai`i. It is known as the Wakamiya Inari Shrine, and 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of its founding. Please enjoy the articles and multimedia projects on this site — and learn about the journey of this unique cultural treasure. The shrine is part of an outdoor museum at Hawaii’s Plantation Village in Waipahu. Photo above taken by Kevin Kawamoto. All photos taken by Kevin Kawamoto unless otherwise noted.
(NOTE: When clicking on links that take you to external websites, use your browser’s back arrow key to return to this website.)
The Historic Hawaii Foundation published this article on its website in June 2013. It provides an overview of the community-driven efforts to replace the shrine’s damaged roof with a brand new one in April 2013. Photos included.
“Community Effort Revitalizes Historic Shrine — Again” by Kevin Kawamoto
Kailua carpenter Brian Schatz adds refinements to the shrine’s roof, which helps restore the shrine to its earlier architectural integrity when it featured a chigi and katsuogi, two distinct elements of traditional Japanese shrine architecture. See articles on this site for more information.
NOTE: A version of this article was published in the Hawaii Herald prior to the re-roofing of the shrine. The re-roofing project has since been completed.
HELP SAVE OUR SHRINE’S … ROOF!
Story and Photos by Kevin Kawamoto
Contemporary travelers along South King Street just about a block before Honolulu Stadium State Park in the Mo`ili`ili neighborhood are used to seeing the McCully Bicycle and Sporting Goods store with its shoebox-like architecture and turquoise-colored upper siding. Granted it’s hard to miss this familiar landmark, but local old-timers might also remember a quite different structure in that area for about six decades beginning in 1918. Visitors to the property during those years were not seeking road bikes to carry them along life’s circuitous journeys; rather, they sought spiritual sustenance and blessings from a small family-owned Shinto shrine known as the Wakamiya Inari Shrine.
Originally built in 1914 in Kaka`ako, the Wakamiya Inari Shrine was moved to the South King Street location in 1918. As Japanese immigrants began to leave the plantations for urban living, Mo`ili`ili began to take shape as a community with a heavy Japanese presence. The shrine was built in traditional Japanese style by a Hawaii architect known only as Haschun and was painted bright red in the tradition of Inari Shinto shrines in Japan. Inari signified the kami or spirit of harvest, which probably appealed to the Japanese immigrants, most of whom came from rural, agricultural areas of Japan to work on Hawaii’s sugar plantations. Near the front of the shrine was a white torii or gateway symbolizing the passage to a sacred place, and seven steps – also painted red like the main structure – that led visitors to a porch-like area surrounding the shrine’s main room. The shrine’s central space contained assorted objects of significance to the Shinto belief system and were used in rituals during holidays and special occasions.
Shinto is often referred to as the native or indigenous belief system of Japan. Unlike Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism – which trace their origins outside of Japan – Shinto is homegrown, although like other belief systems, Shinto has its variations. For example, Shinto was largely practiced at the local level for hundreds of years without much of a national organizational structure up to the late 1860s, when the long era of the Tokugawa Shogunate ended. This historical time period was followed by the Meiji Restoration, and it was during that time that Shinto was declared as a kind of state religion.
When Japanese immigrants came to Hawaii in large numbers in the late 1800s, many of them continued to value their traditional forms of spiritual enrichment. Buddhist temples and organizations were influential in Hawaii when the number of Japanese immigrants in the Islands were large. Relatively fewer Shinto shrines in Hawaii were erected, but there was usually no problem for a person to participate in both Buddhist and Shinto services, since Shinto does not require any sort of exclusive membership. Even today, many Japanese in Japan and Hawaii go to Shinto shrines as well as Buddhist temples as part of their spiritual expression.
The Wakamiya Inari Shrine was built under the direction of Reverend Yoshio Akizaki, the founder of this shrine. When the founder died, his son Takeo took over the priestly duties in 1951. The shrine remained in the Akizaki family’s possession until the family sold the property in 1979. The shrine was slated to be demolished so that a sporting goods store could be built, but a group of dedicated community members banded together to save it. Educator Gail Okawa was one of them.
“One day in 1979,” Okawa remembers, “Michael Molloy, a religion professor at Kapiolani Community College, stood up after a program on the Moiliili neighborhood at the Honolulu Academy of Arts and announced that the Inari Shrine in Mo`ili`ili was in danger of being demolished. Would anyone be interested in working to save it?”
Okawa said that several people remained after the program to talk about what could be done to help preserve the shrine. Among them were journalism professor Beverly Keever and her husband Chuck, as well as Nancy Bannick, who was in charge of the program that night and was a well-known historic preservation advocate and Hawaii correspondent for Sunset magazine.
“Our small group met several times and was unable to find a place in the urban core to relocate the Shrine,” Beverly Keever remembers.
Not long thereafter, a public event was held near the Wakamiya Inari Shrine, most likely at the Honolulu Stadium Park nearby, and then-Gov. George Ariyoshi was present. Molloy suggested that Bannick ask Gov. Ariyoshi to visit the nearby shrine, and the governor obliged. The committee that had organized to save the shrine had put a big banner along the shrine’s roof saying: “Save Our Shrine.”
Gov. Ariyoshi enlisted the help of community leader “Major” Hideo Okada, who made it possible for the shrine to be relocated to Waipahu, where it would become part of the planned Hawaii Plantation Village, an outdoor history museum that today helps tell the story of Hawaii’s working class history and sugar plantation days.
Moving an entire shrine from Mo`ili`ili to Waipahu was no simple undertaking, of course. “That (the move) cost us a lot of money,” Beverly Keever remembers. “We had to cut the roof off to get it under bridges and at midnight had to have a police escort in front and back.” The early morning hour was necessary so as not to interfere with traffic. Despite the cost and logistics, the mission was accomplished.
The grassroots preservation group that organized around the shrine managed to raise money to restore the shrine to its original appearance. Today the Wakamiya Inari Shrine sits on the grounds of the Waipahu Cultural Garden Park and is one of various historical structures that comprise the Hawaii Plantation Village. While the shrine is no longer regularly used for Shinto rituals, visitors can learn about Japanese immigrant history in Hawaii and its cultural manifestations from staff and volunteers who work at the village.
Buddhism is perhaps better known in Hawaii because of the number of Buddhist temples and organizations that exist in the Islands. Shinto seems to have a quieter presence in Hawaii’s history. Followers of Shinto do not worship one single deity but rather see spiritual forces in many different kinds of things on earth including mountains, trees, rivers, animals and renowned people. It goes back many hundreds and possibly thousands of years in Japan but has evolved over time as a belief system.
The thousands of Shinto shrines in Japan come in a wide range of sizes and architectural complexity. Many are much larger and more elaborate than the Wakamiya Inari Shrine. For example, the Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto with its thousands of towering red torii lined up one after another to form the visage of a tunnel is a famous point of interest and tourist attraction. Many Inari-type shrines also feature figurines and representations of the kitsune, or fox, which is said to be a messenger of the harvest kami or spirit. While the Wakamiya Inari Shrine may not be as large and elaborate in comparison to Japan-based counterparts, it is nevertheless rich with historical and architectural significance. It is difficult to neatly define or characterize Shinto in a short article of this nature, but it has been widely written about and discussed in other sources for those interested in learning more.
The Wakamiya Inari Shrine is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places and is seen by large numbers of park visitors each year, including school children, tourists and community members interested in revisiting or learning more about the history of working class families in Hawaii. On Saturday, Feb. 10, the Hawaii Plantation Village opened its doors to the public to celebrate the Lunar New Year and the 110th anniversary of Korean immigration to Hawaii. Visitors to the Wakamiya Inari Shrine were able to pick up omamori (amulets, charms, talisman, etc.) as well as ask for blessings from a Shinto priest dressed in traditional garb. They were welcome to walk up the stairs to get an up-close look at the shrine’s architecture, design and accessories. It provided a modern-day glimpse into what Japanese immigrants and their families might have seen and experienced almost a century earlier.
The happy ending to this story is that the Wakamiya Inari Shrine continues to have a permanent place to call home and is cared for by a concerned group of citizens dedicated to ensuring its welfare. After 30 years, however, the shrine’s roof badly needs replacing, and anyone who has had to replace a roof knows how costly that can be. Money is extremely tight these days for many non-profits, including the Hawaii Plantation Village. The Freeman Foundation has provided a grant of $20,000 to get the job started, but $30,000 more is needed to finish it. Repairs will commence in March of this year. Donations of money, which the preservation group says is tax deductible, as well as specific materials and contractor services are welcome. For more information, please contact Bev Keever (email@example.com) or Gail Okawa (firstname.lastname@example.org), both original members of the committee that helped saved the shrine in 1979, and who continue to look after its welfare more than three decades later. Or contact Hawaii Plantation Village’s Executive Director Jeffrey Higa at 677-0110.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser featured a story by Steven Mark about the Wakamiya Inari Shrine in its May 27, 2013 issue. Login and password needed to view the article under the S-A’s subscription policy. Here it is: https://www.staradvertiser.com/features/shinto-shrine-symbolizes-isle-history/
For those interested in the architectural details, here is a description of the shrine taken from the nomination form to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Architectural details are italicized.
The Inari Shrine is a rectangular, 19′ x 26′, frame building which is painted red, the traditional color for this Shinto sect’s shrines. A shake shingled Irimoya (hipped and gabled) roof with overhanging eaves, exposed rafters, and an ornamental ridgepole with chigi (V-shaped projections) dominates the structure.The shrine sits on wood posts which are enclosed by vertical plank siding to present the appearance of a raised foundation. A central set of wood steps with a simple balustrade provides access to the shrine. The roof extends outward to cover the steps, and an ornamented lobster tie beam braces the posts which support the roof extension. A balustraded, 3.5 ft wide lanai (porch) wraps around the front and two sides of the 19′ x 15′ sanctuary. Sliding doors, each with one bottom panel and a lattice-like top, enclosed the sanctuary, which contains an elevated, central altar. Unfortunately the sliding doors have been stolen, but restoration plans include their replacement. The sanctuary floor is covered with rice mats, and the ceiling and upper walls are made of 1″ x 6″ tongue and groove. The building is unaltered and has no additions. However, due to an imminent demolition and new construction project, the shrine has been moved. It will sit in the Waipahu Cultural Garden, on a site which has no significant historical value. Located in this botanical garden owned by the City of Honolulu, its traditional appearance will be maintained, including the front garden space with its stone statuary and the torii gateway.
You can look up some of the words on Google if you’re not sure what they are, or go to this glossary of architectural terms:
For the Japanese terms, this may help:
Irimoya roof: This is an East Asian hip-and-gable roof. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Asian_hip-and-gable_roof
Chigi: X-shaped finials found in Japanese and Shinto architecture. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chigi_%28architecture%29
Related to chigi are katsuogi: Short decorative logs found in Japanese and Shinto architecture. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katsuogi
Laura Ruby edited an almost 400-page book called, Mo`ili`ili — the Life of a Community (Mo`ili`ili Community Center, 2005). The book provides a massive amount of information about Mo`ili`ili and contains a section on the Wakamiya Inari Shrine (pp. 121-123), including old photographs by Nancy Bannick that show the shrine in the late 1970s. One of the photos shows the fox (kitsune) statue on a stone pedestal. The two pedestals are at the Hawaii Plantation Village, but the foxes are missing.
According to the narrative about the shrine’s history, there also used to be two lion guardian statues on the shrine grounds in Mo`ili`ili, but the elder Rev. Akizaki donated them to the University of Hawaii at the end of World War II. What happened next makes for an interesting story:
They [the lions] were stored for many years, then placed in front of Farrington Hall (theater bulding once located on Varney Circle). After they had been cemented in place, history professor Shunzo Sakamaki pointed out that they were backwards. So the lions were broken loose and placed correctly. But since they were not fixed securely in place, pranksters moved the lions and painted them. Today, they are located inside the entrance to Hamilton Library (not outside as traditional guardians). These original lions are smaller than the shrine’s replacement lions obtained after the war [World War II]. Today, neither the foxes nor the lions are displayed at the shrine in Waipahu, only two empty pedestals. (p. 123)
Shinto traditions endure in Hawaii as this Lunar New Year event at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii demonstrates. Various Shinto shrines in Honolulu participated by offering blessings, selling Shinto-related items and offering snacks.
Step through the front doors of Hamilton Library at the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus, and there they are: the original two lion statues that once sat guard on cement pedestals in front of the Wakamiya Inari Shrine in Mo`ili`ili. These guardian lions — typically found in pairs, a male and female and sometimes referred to as “foo dogs” — are also found in other Asian cultures and can often be seen in Chinatowns, temples, palaces and other sites of interest. Although these lions in Hamilton Library once had to weather the elements, they now are now safely protected indoors for all to enjoy who enter the library. Note that the lions are not mirror images of each other. The one on the left has its mouth open, with what is probably supposed to be a symbol of a pearl in its mouth. The other lion on the right has its mouth closed. The lion on the left is likely the male lion, with its mouth open to scare away evil from coming indoors. The female lion on the right keeps good from leaving, protecting those inside. Admittedly there may be other interpretations.
On Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, Hawaii’s Plantation Village celebrated the Lunar New Year with an open house that included entertainment, ethnic and cultural foods, free access to exhibits, and educational and cultural activities. A Shinto priest greeted visitors at the Wakamiya Inari Shrine.
A book by Joseph Cali (with John Dougill) called Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan’s Ancient Religion (University of Hawaii Press, 2013) provides some interesting information about Shinto in Japan. Here are some highlights from the book:
- There are roughly 80,000 Shinto shrines in Japan today.
- Of the two main belief systems in Japan — Buddhism and Shinto — Shinto has existed since ancient times and is considered native to Japan whereas Buddhism entered Japan from the outside world sometime during the 6th century.
- Shinto rituals revered nature and thus often took place outdoors.
- The Kami (spirit or deity) in Shinto can embody places, things, animals and even people.
- From the book: “Shrines can be found everywhere in Japan, from the densest metropolitan area to the most desolate mountaintop. They may be cared for by Shinto priests, by local communities, or by the families on whose property they reside.”
- Shinto shrines come in many different sizes.
- Shinto shrines “are readily identified by the distinctive torii — a simple two-post gateway, with one or two crossbeams at the top — that stands in front of every shrine. It marks an area as a sacred space where kami dwell.”
Read the book to learn more about Shinto and to learn about specific shrines in Japan.
One of the most recognizable features of Japanese architecture is the torii — or “gate” — which symbolizes a passageway to a sacred space. As such, before proceeding to the shrine, you wash your hands at a basin in a symbolic act of cleansing. Many shrines will have water for this cleansing available between the torii and the shrine. There may be a bamboo ladle for dipping into the water and pouring onto the hands. The Wakamiya Inari Shrine does not have this feature at the Hawaii Plantation Village, but many other shrines in Hawaii and Japan do. See some photos of torii, below.
The Daijngu Temple, a Shinto Shrine in Nuuanu, does not have a traditional-looking torii, as you can see in the photo to the right, above. This shrine’s torii does not have the horizontal post over two vertical pillars, as is typical at most shrines. Rather there are two long rectangular pillars joined by a thick, braided rope with white paper streamers hanging from them. Visitors walk between the pillars and under the rope to enter the shrine grounds into the a garden-like environment. This shrine has a more modern look to it, with fewer traditional Japanese architectural elements than other Shinto shrines on Oahu. In fact the shrine building itself looks more like a part of a large residence than it does a religious structure. However, there are many other elements of this shrine that reflect Shinto values and practices. Note: Usually the word “shrine” is used for Shinto structures, whereas “temple” is used for Buddhist structures. In this case, the word “temple” is used for a Shinto shrine. The photos below, from left to right, show 1) the altar of the Daijingu Temple, 2) one of two animal guardian statues; 3) this omikuji box allows visitors to drop a quarter into it and receive a printed fortune. The fortune can be tied to a nearby tree.
The main Inari shrine in Japan is the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto. It is considered to be the headquarters of all the Inari shrines in Japan and features thousands of red torii. Search for “Fushimi Inari Shrine” on Google Images and you will find dozens of photos of this impressive shrine, with so many torii lined up — one after another — that they form a kind of canopy. Here’s some information about this famous shrine:
From japan-guide.com: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3915.html
This is the shrine’s website, but it is all in Japanese. You might just enjoy looking at the photos if you can’t read Japanese: http://inari.jp/
Here’s an English-language resource: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/spot/shritemp/fushimiinaritaisha.html
There are other Shinto shrines on Oahu. For example, visitors to the Chinatown district can see a Shinto shrine on the corner of River St. and Kukui St. west of the Chinese Cultural Plaza. This shrine is called the Izumo Taishakyo Mission. Learn about other Shinto shrines on Oahu via the following links:
Ishizuchi Jinja (2020 S. King St.) — no website
On other islands:
Hilo Daijingu on the Big Island (10 Anela St.)
Maalaea Ebisu Jinja on Maui
Maui Jinja Mission in Wailuku, Maui (472 Lipo St.)
Here are some sites that explain and/or illustrate Shinto symbols, rituals and practices:
A good overview of Shinto by Jeffrey Hays: http://factsanddetails.com/japan.php?itemid=590
Shinto Ritual in Words and Pictures: http://www.nihonbunka.com/shinto/shime.htm
Shinto (from Wikipedia): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinto
“Studies in Shinto” by Yoshimi Umeda, International Shinto Foundation: http://www.internationalshinto.org/isf/studies/role_of_shinto.html
Inari Shrine (from Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inari_shrine
You can usually get “omamori” at a Shinto shrine or at festivals where a Shinto priest is present. They are protective charms or amulets that people get for various purposes — e.g., for good health or safe driving, etc. — and either keep for themselves or give away to others. They also help support the shrine since they are either sold by the shrine or visitors are expected to make a donation for them. Pictured here is a close-up of an “omamori.” This is just one type of “omamori” — there are many others. They come in different colors and with different designs. Some people believe in the effectiveness of these charms; others buy them more as souvenirs.
What are some other types of “omamori”?
Overall Protection from Harm/Misfortune/Illness, Long Life, Good Relationship, Safe Driving, Business Success, Success in Studies, Safety When Traveling, Protection of Children, Protection for People in Critical Life Stages, Happiness, Protection When Giving Birth, Protection of Pets, Marathon, Sports, etc.
When all the different colored “omamori” are placed together, they can almost look like a work of art.
Anyone who has visited a Shinto shrine has seen the zig-zagged white paper streamers called shide (pronounced “shi-deh”). They can be hanging from the torii, from different parts of the shrine, from trees on the grounds, and so forth. They are used to signify sacred space and in Shinto rituals. They can be attached to a wand and used by a Shinto priest for blessings or purification rituals. The photograph to the right is a shide hanging at the Wakamiya Inari Shrine.
There are websites and YouTube videos that demonstrate how to fold paper to create a similar-looking object, or that explain in more detail about these commonly seen objects at Shinto shrines.
Another familiar sight at Shinto shrines are the rope and bell in front of the altar as you look into the inner room. There is often an “offering box” with slates through which visitors can drop coins as a donation to the shrine. Visitors can ring the bell after making an offering. The sound of the bell is meant to alert the kami of one’s presence before praying.
The photo at right is of the rope and bells hanging at the Wakamiya Inari Shrine.
There are only a handful of Shinto shrines in the United States, most of them in Hawaii. But there is one in Granite Falls, Washington, called the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America. Massive in comparison to Hawaii’s Shinto shrines, the Tsubaki Grand Shrine sits on 25 acres of land and offers programs, events and activities throughout the year. Judging from photos on the shrine’s website, many of the participants at activities appear to be non-Asian, including the shrine’s senior priest, Rev. Barrish. Here’s a useful and interesting Q and A about Shinto from the Tsubaki Grand Shrine’s website: http://www.tsubakishrine.org/qanda/index.html.
If you’re interested in learning more about Americans of Japanese Ancestry, especially their history in Hawaii, here are some websites to visit. Or better yet, visit in person. (Admission fees vary.)
Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii: http://www.jcch.com/
From the JCCH website: To be a vibrant resource, strengthening our diverse community by educating present and future generations in the evolving Japanese American experience in Hawai‘i. We do this through relevant programming, meaningful community service and innovative partnerships that enhance the understanding and celebration of our heritage, culture and love of the land. To guide us in this work we draw from the values found in our Japanese American traditions and the spirit of Aloha.
Hawaii Plantation Village: http://www.hawaiiplantationvillage.org/
From the HPV website: Hawaii’s Plantation Village is an outdoor history museum that tells the story of life on Hawaii’s Sugar Plantations (c. 1850-1950). The Village includes restored buildings and replicas of Plantation structures such as houses of various ethnic groups and community buildings.
The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum: http://www.bishopmuseum.org/
From the Bishop Museum website: Today, Bishop Museum is the largest museum in the state and the premier natural and cultural history institution in the Pacific, recognized throughout the world for its cultural collections, research projects, consulting services and public educational programs. It also has one of the largest natural history specimen collections in the world. Serving and representing the interests of Native Hawaiians is a primary purpose of the Museum.
On the U.S. Mainland:
Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, CA, (JANM): http://www.janm.org/
From the JANM website: The mission of the Japanese American National Museum is to promote understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience.
Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience in Seattle, WA: http://wingluke.org/home.htm
From the Wing Luke Museum website: Believing that the culture and traditions of Chinese and other Asian immigrants should be preserved and taught, Wing [Luke] envisioned a place to present the history and important issues of Asian Americans. The Wing Luke Asian Museum was founded to fulfill that vision.
Why is historic preservation important? Why should we care whether historically significant buildings and sites are preserved?
The Historic Hawaii Foundation helps answer these questions in an essay entitled, “What is Historic Preservation.” Here’s an excerpt:
Authentic places of history offer opportunities to experience where real history happened. Stories are the big picture, but also include the personal. Stories recount the challenges and opportunities faced by individuals, communities and nations. Stories are shared history.
Click here for the full essay.
Here are some useful resources on Preservation:
National Park Service’s web page on Preservation: http://www.nps.gov/history/preservation.htm
National Trust for Historic Preservation: http://www.preservationnation.org/magazine/
Honolulu CivilBeat’s Historic Preservation: http://www.civilbeat.com/topics/historic-preservation/
Wikipedia’s Historic Preservation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historic_preservation
HHF’s Historic Places in Hawaii: http://www.historichawaii.org/historic_sites/historicplacesandnews.html