Illuminating the Past: Discovering the Japanese Stone Lantern in Kapaa
Discover the fascinating story of the Japanese Stone Lantern on Kauai, a symbol of the enduring legacy of Japanese immigrants and their cultural contributions to the island.
Sitting quietly and relatively unnoticed in a corner of Kapaa Beach Park is a historic 15-foot cast concrete Japanese Stone Lantern (Ishidoro) that sheds light on the rich cultural heritage of Japanese immigrants on the island.
During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, first-generation Japanese immigrants on Kauai raised money to support Japan’s war efforts against Russia. After the war, Japan returned money to be used to build monuments honoring Japanese sacrifices during the war and also to commemorate the coronation of Emperor Taisho in 1912. J.S. Teraoka, a local merchant and contractor, led efforts to build the memorial in Kapaa. The monument was completed in 1915.
The Japanese Stone Lantern can be found in the northwest corner of Kapaa Beach Park.
During World War 2, with Japan as an enemy of the United States and Russia an ally, anti-Japanese protests prompted the county to bury the monument in 1943.
The monument remained buried for almost three decades until it was unearthed in 1972 after the county responded to complaints by children that a rod was sticking out of the ground in Kapaa Beach Park. County workers dug up the monument and identified it as the Japanese Stone Lantern, but reburied it after no one claimed financial responsibility.
A plaque at the base of the lantern provides a history of the monument.
In 1987, the monument was unearthed again and restored under the direction of Mayor Tony Kunimura, the Kauai Historical Society and others. Heavy I-beam braces supported the monument for the next 20 years until a full restoration was completed in 2008 with funding from the Kauai County/HUD Community Development Block Grant Program and leadership from the Kauai Lantern Restoration Committee and the Kapaa Business Association.
An interpretive sign at Kapaa Beach Park has a photo of the Japanese Stone Lantern in front of the Miura Store in 1925.
The Kapaa Japanese Stone Lantern is a testament to Kauai’s Issei, the first generation of immigrants from Japan. The connection between Japan and Kauai dates back to the 19th century when Japanese immigrants arrived on the island to work in the sugarcane plantations. The story of the shop owner in the above photo is one of many examples of Japanese immigrants that found a new life on Kauai.
In 1907, Mankichi Miura left Japan for Hawaii, where he opened a shop named the M. Miura store that sold Japanese treats. Over the years and generations, Miura’s store evolved into the three Deja Vu Surf Shops on Kauai (in Kapaa, Lihue and the Shops at Kukui’ula). Today, 4th and 5th generation descendants of Mankichi own and work in the shops. The Japanese Stone Lantern is still located across the street from the Deja Vu Surf Store in Kapaa (next door to Bubba Burgers). (Source: Deja Vu Surf Store: Then and Now)
Originating in China, and spreading to Japan, the lanterns embody the five elements of Buddhist cosmology. The traditional lantern design consists of stacked stone pieces, each representing an essential element. The base, known as the “island stone” or “earth stone,” symbolizes the foundation of life. Above it lies the “water stone,” representing the flow of energy and continuity. The “fire box” or “fire stone” symbolizes transformation and enlightenment, while the “air stone” or “wind stone” represents the ethereal realm. Lastly, the “space stone” or “sky stone” crowns the lantern, signifying the infinite and interconnectedness of all things.
Preserving the Legacy
While time and the elements have weathered the Kapaa Japanese Stone Lantern, its significance has not faded. It is a symbol of the rich multi-cultural heritage of Kauai and casts a gentle light on the essence of Japanese history, culture and tradition on the island.