New Coat of Paint and Termite Repair

The shrine badly needed a fresh coat of paint and repairs for termite damage. These were completed in late 2016. The photo above was taken in May 2017.

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Welcome to the Wakamiya Inari Shrine Online Site!

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.)

Gail Okawa, Beverly Keever and Michael Molloy -- original members of the Wakamiya Inari Shrine Preservation Committee -- participate in the re-dedication ceremony.

The Wakamiya Inari Shrine was rededicated on May 4, 2014, in commemoration of its 100th anniversary. Bishop Daiya Amano and Rev. Jun Miyasaka of the Izumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii presided. Gail Okawa, Beverly Keever and Michael Molloy — original members of the Wakamiya Inari Shrine Preservation Committee — participated in a ritual shown here.


A celebratory cake enjoyed by participants at the 100th anniversary gathering on May 4, 2014, Hawaii's Plantation Village in Waipahu.

A celebratory cake enjoyed by participants at the 100th anniversary gathering on May 4, 2014, Hawaii’s Plantation Village in Waipahu.

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Historic Hawaii Foundation Website Link

DSCF2708The 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

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Refining the Roof

DSCF2859 DSCF2828Kailua 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.

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Hawaii Herald Article

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.


Story and Photos by Kevin Kawamoto

DSCF3471Contemporary 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.

DSCF2710Moving 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.

DSCF2757The 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 (bkeever@hawaii.rr.com) or Gail Okawa (gyokawa@yahoo.com), 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.

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Honolulu Star-Advertiser Article

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/

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Architectural Details

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.

DSCF2690The 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

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Laura Ruby Book

DSCF3540Laura 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 tDSCF3541he 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:


The rock pedestal as it now stands at the Hawaii Plantation Village, without the fox statue.

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)


The kitsune or fox statue that used to share the grounds with the Wakamiya Inari Shrine in Mo`ili`ili. Photo in the book taken by Nancy Bannick.

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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.

DSCF7936 DSCF7938

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The Original Lions

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.


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