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The ever so humble Wakamiya Inari Shrine at Hawaii’s Plantation Village in Waipahu celebrated the 100th anniversary of its founding in a big way on May 4. The Shinto shrine was feted with a historical photo exhibit, an informative PowerPoint slide presentation, a colorful birthday cake, delicious okazuya-style food and a special rededication ceremony performed by Bishop Daiya Amano and the Rev. Jun Miyasaka of the Izumo Taishakyo Mission, a Shinto shrine in Honolulu.

The afternoon celebration recalled the historical journey of the Wakamiya Inari Shrine, which was originally built in 1914 in the Kaka‘ako district by an architect known only as Haschun. Its founder was the Rev. Akio Akizaki, who performed the shrine’s priestly duties and was later succeeded by his son, Takeo. In 1918, the shrine was moved to Mö‘ili‘ili, where it remained until the late 1970s, when it was scheduled for demolition to make way for a sporting goods store under new property owners. A group of preservation-minded community members got together and managed to save the shrine by having it moved to the Waipahu Cultural Garden Park. The shrine, which was ritually deconsecrated before the move, helped anchor what was to become Hawaii’s Plantation Village, an outdoor museum and educational resource aimed at preserving Hawai‘i’s plantation-era history. The shrine building is listed on both the National Register of Historic Places and the Hawai‘i Register of Historic Places. After being deconsecrated, the Wakamiya Inari Shrine’s kami, or spirit, was moved to its new home at the Izumo Taishakyo Mission.

The Herald last reported on the shrine in its March 1, 2013, edition. At the time, it sorely needed a new roof. At the May 4 celebration, that now-completed new roof — restored close to its original architectural integrity — was a point of pride and joy.

A relative of the Akizaki family recently donated photographs of the shrine from its days in Mö‘ili‘ili, providing valuable information to those who are helping in the ongoing preservation and restoration efforts. Sculptor and preservationist Laura Ruby, who, among other things, is known for her leadership efforts in beautifying the Mö‘ili‘ili Japanese Cemetery along with volunteers, told attendees that she hopes to someday restore the lion-dog statues to the Wakamiya Inari Shrine. The statues are currently housed just inside the entrance of Hamilton Library on the University of Hawai‘i’s Mänoa campus.

Members of the original Wakamiya Inari Shrine Preservation Committee from the late 1970s were recognized for their pioneering preservation efforts that made the 100th celebration event possible. Amazingly, a number of them are still engaged in caring for the shrine’s welfare, along with staff members and volunteers of Hawaii’s Plantation Village, as well as newer committee members who joined up in more recent years.

Why is historical preservation important? An essay on the Historic Hawai‘i Foundation’s website helps answer this question. “Authentic places of history offer opportunities to experience where real history happened,” it explains. “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.”

Last month, the Historic Hawai‘i Foundation honored the Wakamiya Inari Shrine Restoration at its 2014 Historic Preservation Honor Awards. Also honored was the Mö‘ili‘ili Japanese Cemetery Preservation effort. These two community-driven projects have helped to enhance historical knowledge and preserve artifacts of importance to the Japanese community in Hawai‘i for all of the state’s residents and visitors to learn from and enjoy for time immemorial.

Kevin Kawamoto is a longtime contributor to The Hawai‘i Herald.


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