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Shinto shrine symbolizes isle history

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    Carpenter Brian Schatz of Schatz Construction in Kailua installed a ridge line at the Waka­miya Inari Shrine in the Hawaiian Plantation Village on Tuesday. The shrine was built in 1914 in Kakaako and relocated a few years later to Moiliili, where it sat for 70 years before being moved to the village in Waipahu.

Visitors to the bon dance at Hawaii’s Plantation Village, by tradition the first evening bon dance of the season, might want to pay their respects to the Wakamiya Inari Shrine, a multifaceted symbol of the isles’ cultural ties to Japan.

The Shinto shrine, which sat in Moiliili for 70 years, was the first structure to be installed at the Waipahu outdoor museum, which now comprises about two dozen buildings representing Hawaii’s plantation past. And while reincarnation is not considered a main tenet of the Shinto faith, the shrine has enjoyed enough rebirths to make one consider whether it should be.

Age and the elements had taken their toll on the 99-year-old structure, the wind and rain ripping off many of the shingles on its gracefully angled roofline and allowing water to seep inside.

"The urgent, urgent thing was to get a new roof on because it was losing shingles and we were worried about the interior," said Bev Keever, a retired journalism professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa who is member of a small group of activists devoted to saving the shrine.

The shrine was built in 1914 in Kakaako and relocated a few years later to Moiliili, where it sat for 70 years. It was built at the behest of the Rev. Yoshio Akizaki, who conducted services there and passed on his duties to his son Takeo in 1951.

In 1979 the property was sold to the proprietors of McCully Bicycle & Sporting Goods, and the shrine was slated for demolition. Keever remembers attending a neighborhood board meeting at which Michael Molloy, a former religion professor at Kapiolani Community College, announced the planned demolition and formed a group to save it. After several attempts to find a site in Honolulu, they succeeded in getting it moved to the Waipahu Cultural Garden Park, eventual site of the plantation village.

"They moved it at midnight, and they had to have police cars on the front and back, and closed the traffic," Keever said. "It was a delicate operation."

Rebuilding the roof required more than just replacing a few shingles. During the move to Waipahu, some parts called "chigi" — decorative crosspieces shaped like an "X" with a line through them — were removed, according to Lorraine Minatoishi, a local architect who was brought in to advise the group. "They had all been lost," said Minatoishi, who studied Japanese architecture.

Classical Japanese temple design calls for all elements of a structure to be of specified proportions, from the circumference of the columns to the spans between the columns and the overall size of a building, she said.

"It’s all interrelated. That’s why it’s beautiful, because everything is in the correct proportion," she said.

The architect studied various parts of the shrine to extrapolate the measurements for the chigi. The pieces were then fashioned by Brian Schatz, a local carpenter (and not the U.S. senator from Hawaii). Schatz works primarily on homes and had never done a historic preservation project before, but he took the project seriously, even studying another shrine roof to see how the chigi should be mounted.

Instead, he found out "they cheated," using metal to hold them in place. He hopes to mimic the exacting standards of Japanese carpenters to "jigsaw" the pieces firmly in place.

"It’s carpentry," he said matter-of-factly. "I’m just trying to do it and make it stay up there. There may be a book but it’s written in Japanese."

The preservation group received a $20,000 grant from the Freeman Foundation and collected about an additional $7,000 for the roofing project.

"It definitely needs some small carpentry repairs, and it needs to be painted and possibly even landscaped," said Gail Okawa, who was part of the group in 1979 and is still involved in the restoration despite having spent many years teaching on the mainland. "It would just give you a much better feel of a blissful, meditative space.

"I think it’s a fascinating part of Hawaii Japanese history, but now that it’s out here, it’s a really important part of Hawaii history as a whole."


The bon dance at Hawaii’s Plantation Village begins at 6 p.m. Saturday. To contribute to the shrine restoration project, send donations to Inari Shrine Endowment Fund, Hawaii’s Plantation Village, 94-695 Waipahu St., Waipahu, Hi 96797.

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