Kauai's Japanese lantern

Kauai's Japanese lantern

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I just returned from my 3-week State Department interpreting trip and subsequent mini vacation in Hawaii!

While enjoying some R&R on my favorite island of Kauai, I discovered something that I hadn’t noticed in previous visits.  I was staying in Kapa’a, a centrally located area boasting a beautiful bike path that I love using for morning runs overlooking the ocean.  During a run, I happened to turn my gaze away from the ocean and a Japanese-seeming lantern in the distance caught my eye.  I was curious about its location on what looked like the edge of a playing field.

Upon closer inspection, it was revealed that what I saw was a 15-foot cast concrete lantern built in 1915 by Kauai’s Japanese community to commemorate the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 and Emperor Taisho’s 1912 ascension to the throne.  Here’s a bit more of its story courtesy of the Historic Hawaii Foundation website (lightly edited by me): “By World War II, pro-imperial sentiments were a problem for a later generation of Japanese-Americans who literally buried the lantern in 1943, both to protect it from vandalism during a time of anti-Japanese sentiment and as a display of pro-American loyalty.

Once buried it was forgotten until 1972, when the parents of children playing soccer at Kapa’a Beach Park complained about a dangerous piece of steel rebar sticking out of the ground.  Work crews discovered that the rebar was attached to a buried monument that no one wanted to claim, and the lantern was reburied 24 hours later.  In 1987, Mayor Tony Kunimura led an effort to unearth the lantern with the help of the Kauai Historical Society.  Thanks to this, it was eventually moved to the corner of the beach park and braced.  However, the lantern is threatened by exposure to the elements, and being buried and dug up twice has damaged it.”

Apparently the lantern’s metal braces are rusting and damaging the concrete, which has several serious cracks and breaks.  In 1991, a professional sculpture conservator appraised the cost to fix this damage as $50,000, but it was never repaired.  At the time, the Kauai Historical Society and the Kapa’a Business Association had wanted to restore the lantern as part of an overall plan to revitalize Kapa’a, but the money was never raised.  The lantern is not in the best condition, but it still stands as a tribute to Japan’s military victory and the pride that was felt by Kauai’s Japanese toward their home country.  


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