Vol. 13, No. 1, Jan. 1, 1992
Every day, thousands of people whiz past the Kotohira Jinsha without even knowing it. But at rush hour, drivers caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic near the Houghtailing or Vineyard Boulevard off-ramps get a unique view of Kalihi’s own Japanese Shinto shrine. Some Japanese Americans may recognize it as the sea god shrine where they attended New Year’s services or where their parents blessed their fishing boats.
These days, thousands of local Japanese and tourists from Japan converge on the shrine for their New Year’s blessings. Many of Kotohira Jinsha’s close to a hundred members are well established in the local community. Over the years, the shrine’s cultural activities have diversified to include tai chi and Chinese lion dance, in addition to the more traditional karate. To the casual visitor, Kotohira Jinsha would appear to be a pretty typical Japanese place of worship.
But there’s more to the story of this quaint, old shrine. It’s a story only a handful of Japan Americans know — a story of struggle that predates construction of the H-l freeway and the frustrations of traffic.
Few remember, or even know, that the U.S. government confiscated the shrine in 1949, or about the court battle its Issei members and a young Caucasian attorney named Frank Padgett waged to reclaim it and preserve it for the AJA community. This is the story of the Kotohira Jinsha. Its history exemplifies the life and legacy of Kalihi’s Japanese American community.
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Mark Santoki began writing for The Hawai‘i Herald as a University of Hawai‘i undergraduate in 1991 and was editor from 1995 to 2000. He is currently a manager at the Hawai‘i state Judiciary.