Dan Nakasone
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Nestled on a hill overlooking the Lili‘uokalani Gardens and Hilo Bay is Shoroan, or Pine Ocean House. The chashitsu (teahouse) is home to the Urasenke Tankokai Hilo Association where its members gather to perpetuate the centuries long tradition of the Chadō (“cha” means “tea”; “dō meansway”) ceremony.

Shoroan’s grace and subtlety set in the idyllic Edo-style gardens reflect the Japanese aesthetics – ancient values centered on living in harmony with nature. The teahouse is a sanctuary from daily life and the gardens provide an atmosphere of tranquility. There is synergy between these essential elements and the chadō tradition. Urasenke Hilo member Jane Kawazoe-Sensei described it simply by saying, “It’s a gem.”

Gardens Named After the Queen

According to “Lili‘uokalani Gardens – An Abbreviated History 1917 – 2019” provided by K.T. Cannon-Eger, president of the Friends of Lili‘uokalani Gardens, a Japanese garden and teahouse, was a dream of many Hilo residents dating back to 1912. Japanese women formed the Hilo Fujin Shinkokai (Japanese Women’s Friendship Association) under its president, Mrs. Machida, of T. Machida Drug Store. Their mission was to promote the beautification of Hilo, and one of their goals was to realize the dream of the teahouse and garden.

While on a trip to the 1914 World’s Fair in Tōkyō, Laura Kennedy, the wife of Waiākea Sugar Mill manager, C.C. Kennedy, was convinced that Hilo could have a garden at the old Waiākea fishponds (known as Waihonu) that could resemble the Golden Pavilion in Kyōto. The women of Hilo Fujin Shinkokai agreed.

By 1917, Norman Lyman, who served in the Territory of Hawai‘i House of Representatives, introduced House Bill 215, setting aside roughly 17 acres including the ponds for the Japanese garden. The bill passed, and in April 1917, Lucius E. Pinkham, governor of the Territory of Hawai‘i, signed Act 53, designating the 17 acres for the construction of the gardens named after the queen. (House Journal 1917 – Hawai‘i State Archives.)

Lili‘uokalani Gardens is composed of four parks encompassing 24.67 acres along the shoreline of Hilo Bay.
Lili‘uokalani Gardens is composed of four parks encompassing 24.67 acres along the shoreline of Hilo Bay.

Today Lili‘uokalani Gardens is composed of four parks encompassing 24.67 acres along the shoreline of Hilo Bay. There’s no definitive answer as to why the gardens were named after Queen Lili‘uokalani according to Cannon-Eger. But Cannon-Eger shared that Hilo was the queen’s favorite place to visit. The queen communicated with her former island Gov. John T. Baker about building a home for her in Hilo for her retirement. That never came to pass. Her last trip was in 1917. After that she was too ill to travel. (Hawai‘i State Archive)

This story based on oral history is often shared: In circa 1907 the queen gifted the five-acre fishpond Waihonu to the people of Hilo for the purpose of creating a Japanese tea garden. It was to honor the Japanese people who worked on the sugar plantation. But according to Cannon-Eger there is no official documentation of the land transfer.

Cannon-Eger said that it was a fad to have a

Japanese garden. Queen Kapi‘olani built a residential Japanese garden at her property on Beretania Street in Honolulu, the first in the Kingdom of Hawai‘i. In high society of the Victorian era, building Japanese tea gardens was the social thing to do. Cannon-Eger said Princess Ka‘iulani, (King Kalākaua’s niece) would dress in kimono for many Japanese-themed parties, which were the rage. (kaahelehawaii.com)

It was heartening to learn the following stories Cannon-Eger shared that are not widely known but should be:

In December of every year, the Friends of ‘Iolani Palace hang Japanese lanterns throughout the palace grounds in honor of Queen Kapi‘olani’s birthday. This tradition dates back to 1883 when King Kalākaua ordered the decoration of the palace in honor of his consort with Japanese lanterns. The queen was very fond of Japanese and Chinese lanterns.

Queen Kapi‘olani favored an inclusive Hawaiian nation and had a fondness for the Japanese and Chinese cultures. She was a patron of the Peking opera in Hawai‘i and had taken lessons in Mandarin, Cantonese and Japanese. She was also known to meet with sugar plantation workers and speak directly with them to find out any concerns they may have. (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, March 5, 1885 – Predecessor to the Honolulu Advertiser.)

Hikosuke Fujimoto was the steward and attended to the personal needs of Queen Lili‘uokalani. He would serve the queen three meals a day and run errands for her. Kikuyo, Hikosuke’s wife, had only fond memories of Queen Lili‘uokalani. “The queen was a very gentle and kind person. She used to tell my husband, ‘I’ll teach you Hawaiian, so you teach me Japanese,’” she said. Hikosuke became fluent in Hawaiian and easily communicated in the language with other servants who worked at Washington Place. (Barbara Kawakami’s book, “Picture Bride Stories”)

Founding of Urasenke Tankokai Hilo Association

The first Urasenke outside of Japan was established in Honolulu in 1951 by Dr. Genshitsu Sen, (Sen Shoshitsu XV, 15th Grand Tea Master of Urasenke). It was his dream of making chadō, the Way of Tea, an international bridge of peace. Today you will find an urasenke in cities throughout the world.

Founding of Hilo Chapter with Chado Study Group November 1971. (Photo courtesy of Urasenke Hilo)
Founding of Hilo Chapter with Chado Study Group November 1971. (Photo courtesy of Urasenke Hilo)

The founding of the Hilo chapter was initiated by a chadō study group held in the tatami room at KK Tei Restaurant in Hilo in November 1971. The study group was under the tutelage of Sojin Ishikawa-Sensei of Kyōto, Japan, who was stationed in Honolulu. The organization of the study group was through the efforts of Asako Fujikawa Sosei, late wife of the first president of the Hawai‘i Chapter, Keizo Fujikawa.

Urasenke Tankokai Hilo Association was officially inaugurated on Aug. 3, 1972, with the dedication of Shoroan, which was donated by Dr. Sen. In a 20th anniversary congratulatory message Dr. Sen said it was at a strong request by then-Mayor Shunichi Kimura and Kiyoshi Okubo, president of the Hilo Times, that he donated the teahouse to the County of Hawai‘i.

Shoroan, or Pine Ocean House, is the name of the chashitsu (teahouse) –  home to the Urasenke Tankokai Hilo Association. (Photos courtesy of Dan Nakasone)
Shoroan, or Pine Ocean House, is the name of the chashitsu (teahouse) – home to the Urasenke Tankokai Hilo Association. (Photos courtesy of Dan Nakasone)

Clara Koga-Sensei said, “Dr. Sen sent materials and carpenters from Japan to build the teahouse in the Japanese tradition with no nails.” (Carpenters specializing in Miyadaiku build temples, teahouses and homes with elaborate joints; no nails, screws, glue or power tools are used.) Rocks were also sent from Japan for the teahouse garden, walkways and tsukubai (water basin). And Dr. Sen gave the teahouse its name, Shoroan, or Pine Ocean House. One would surmise that he was inspired by a towering pine tree standing like a sentinel over the gardens with Hilo Bay as a backdrop.

The Hilo people’s dream of having a teahouse set in a Japanese garden back in 1912 was realized 60 years later with Shoroan being built in 1972. Reflecting on that 60-year span Cannon-Eger said, “that’s why I love Hilo and its people, they persevere and never give up.”

Rising Out of the Ashes

In May 1994, arson destroyed the teahouse and a group of teenagers were held responsible. Koga-Sensei said, “we lost irreplaceable items such as ceremony utensils that had sentimental value.”

Urasenke Hilo members rose up, determined to rebuild. Kawazoe-Sensei said, “We did fundraisers like garage sales, held a bazaar and we sold vegetables. We also got donations from Big Island people, around the state and aboard.” Koga-Sensei added by saying, “Dr. Sen also donated.”

In January 1995, the County of Hawai‘i sued the parents of the teenagers under the “Parental Responsibility Act” (Honolulu Advertiser). In May 1997, the parents settled for $93,000 with $85,000 coming from insurance and $8,000 in promissory notes (Honolulu Star-Bulletin).

According to newspaper articles the replacement cost was estimated at $140,000. Raising the additional $47,000 is a testament to the Urasenke Hilo members’ determination to rebuild.

The fire was a blessing in disguise. The original teahouse was built on a flat area of the gardens closer to Hilo Bay. “Whenever Hilo had a tsunami warning we would rush over to the teahouse and gather all the valuables like the ceremony utensils,” said Koga- Sensei. Today the teahouse sits on a hill furthest from the ocean and with a spectacular view of the gardens and Hilo Bay.

Nothing was salvageable from the fire other than the rocks, the walkways and the tsukubai from the teahouse garden that came from Japan. They were all installed in the garden at the new teahouse that retained the name, Shoroan.

Today when you see Shoroan, you will know there is much more than meets the eye. Shoroan has a rich history of a dream fulfilled, setbacks and the dedication of the Urasenke Hilo members to keep the dream alive.

Urasenke Hilo members: (standing, from left) Amy Nishiura, Julie Shibata, Machiko Kuki, Grace Haight, Kanako Okita, Laurie Kallis, Kotone DeSa, Marjane Aalam, Misaki Saito; (seated) Yoshii Miyaziki-Sensei, Clara Koga-Sensei.
Urasenke Hilo members: (standing, from left) Amy Nishiura, Julie Shibata, Machiko Kuki, Grace Haight, Kanako Okita, Laurie Kallis, Kotone DeSa, Marjane Aalam, Misaki Saito; (seated) Yoshii Miyaziki-Sensei, Clara Koga-Sensei.

Philosophy of Chadō

It was an engaging experience witnessing a chadō ceremony for the first time. The underlying philosophy of chadō evolved from Zen Buddhism. On the surface it’s an intricate interaction between the host preparing a bowl of tea and her assistant serving the tea to guests all with gracious Japanese etiquette. Beneath the surface, it’s a form of Zen meditation that requires physical and spiritual discipline. Urasenke Hilo members are there for that purpose. They pointed to the scroll hanging in the tokonoma (alcove) with the calligraphy that states the four virtues of chadō: Wa, Kei, Sei, Jaku (Harmony, Respect, Purity, Tranquility).

“Chadō is a release, a respite. You focus on just that,” said Kawazoe Sensei. Student Marjane Aalam, who is originally from Geneva, Switzerland, said, “I’m here for the Zen. I apply it to my daily life from driving to cooking.” Student Grace Haight, originally from the Philippines and, later, the U.S. mainland who also belongs to a hula halau, made an insightful comment many in Hawai‘i can relate to. “The chadō ceremony is like hula,” said Haight. Hula has a centuries long tradition, and it requires physical and spiritual discipline.

The Way of Tea Moving Forward

Student Misaki Saito, who is originally from Japan and the host of the ceremony that day, said chadō is still popular in Japan. But here in Hawai‘i our modern western society presents a challenge in perpetuating cultural traditions. Getting young people involved with today’s demands and distractions is a dilemma many cultural, religious and social organizations are dealing with. We see declining membership in Buddhist temples throughout Hawai‘i according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Understandably, Urasenke Hilo has experienced a decline through the years, and the pandemic did not help.

But Urasenke Hilo has a proven way forward. Having an urasenke in welcoming Hilo with Shoroan in a sublime garden setting alongside tranquil Hilo Bay is like no other in the world. Students Misaki Saito and Kanako Okita, both from Japan, did not study chadō in their ancestral land. It took coming to Hilo to immerse themselves in the cultural practice.

Students Aalam from Geneva, Haight from the Philippines/U.S. mainland and Laurie Kallis from Los Angeles also discovered this hidden gem after moving to Hilo. Aalam, who studied Asian Studies while living in Geneva, searched online and discovered Uraseke Hilo. The others found out through outreach and word-of-mouth. Community and media outreach is how organizations like Urasenke Hilo can bring awareness to the enriching cultural experiences they offer.

Leadership is also key in any organization. Hilo native and Urasenke Hilo’s president, Arthur Taniguchi, who also serves as Honorary Consul General of Japan at Hilo, has kept ties with Dr. Sen and the Urasenke Foundation headquarters in Kyōto, Japan. He credits the members for sustaining Urasenke Hilo throughout the years. “Our members willingly participate in numerous activities throughout the year sharing the tea ceremony with the community,” said Taniguchi.

Chadō ceremony host Misaki Saito.
Chadō ceremony host Misaki Saito.

Born and raised in Hilo, student Amy Nishiura said, “I started in chadō because of Kawazoe-Sensei and that was nine years ago.” Today, Nishiura is the chairperson, and she organizes community outreach like participation in the annual Waimea Cherry Blossom Festival. And Nishiura facilitated my meeting with the members for this story.

If you or anyone you know who lives on the Big Island and may have an interest in the culture of chadō, contact Urasenke Tankokai Hilo Association at: urasenkehilo@gmail.com. You can also find them on Facebook.

“You can satisfy your physical and spiritual thirst with a bowl of tea.”

Dan Nakasone is a Sansei Uchinanchu from Wahiawā. He is a marketing and advertising professional and was a producer/researcher for PBS’ award-winning food and culture series, “Family Ingredients,” which is based in Hawai‘i and hosted by Chef Ed Kenney.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here