Hilo’s Stone Lanterns

(Note: Like many other popular visitor centers around the world, Hawai’i has been impacted severely in 2020 by the Covid-19 pandemic. Travel to and within Hawai’i may be challenging and difficult with varied local restrictions. Lodging, restaurants, and attractions may be closed, restricted or otherwise unavailable. Check with online travel resources and others to get the latest updates and information on travel to Hawai’i in general. Previous versions of this story have appeared in various print and online media outlets. )

The Lanterns of Liliuokalani

by John Penisten                                                     

The carefully manicured lawns marked with stately flowering trees and arching  footbridges over tranquil lagoons are accented by the mysterious but beautiful Japanese stone lanterns.  The   Japanese  garden  park  has  an  ironic  name:  Liliuokalani Park,  named for Hawai`i’s  last reigning queen of the 1890’s.   This well maintained park, one of the finest cultural parks in the islands, is located in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawai`i. 

Once nothing more than muddy fish ponds and swamplands on the Waiakea Peninsula fronting Hilo Bay,  the park  consists  of reflecting pools and lagoons, walkways, graceful bridges, colorful tropical plants and trees, and those mysterious stone lanterns.

Liliuokalani Park pagoda Bridge, Hilo, Hawaii

Liliuokalani is the only large Yedo-style park outside Japan, marked with Chinese landscaping features developed over 400 years ago in Japan. The park development began in 1907 as a memorial to the first Japanese immmigrants to Hilo who arrived in 1868 to help develop the old Waiakea Sugar Plantation.  

The park’s first monument was an antique stone lantern and wash  basin, the gift of a Japanese government official. In 1916, a  ten foot high stone lantern was donated by the Hilo  Shinkokai Japanese women’s organization.  Another early gift of a stone lantern came from  Seiichiro  Yasui, then governor of Tokyo in the early 1900’s. 

Arching footbridge, Liliuokalani Park, Hilo, Hawaii

The park  had grown to almost its present size in 1946 when a tidal wave hit.   That disaster almost erased all the work that had been  done.  About the only things that were not destroyed were the park’s stone lanterns.

In 1952 and 1957, tidal waves again struck Hilo but on these occasions the damage to Liliuokalani Park was negligible.  It was the 1960 tidal wave that wreaked havoc all along  the Waiakea Peninsula.  For Liliuokalani Park, it was a case of almost complete destruction.  But, once again, the stone lanterns survived, although some had to be dug out from the mud and debris left behind by the tidal wave.

In 1968, to celebrate the 100th. Anniversary of the arrival in Hawai`i of Japanese immigrants, thirteen stone lanterns, two stone lion gates, and a wooden torii (a log  post gateway to a shrine)  were donated by the governors of the prefectures of Japan that sent immigrants here.  The prefectures donating monuments were Niigata, Hiroshima, Wakayama,  Okinawa, Yamaguchi,  and Shizuoka. The park’s landscaping has resulted in a harmonious blend of earth,  air, and water.

Boy netting fish, Liliuokalani Park, Hilo, Hawaii

The use of stone lanterns goes back many  centuries in Japan. In the old days, they were lighted at shrines and temples.  Burning lanterns accompanied offerings to Buddha or deities and were used for night services.  Gradually, lanterns were used in private homes and placed at roadsides to guide people at night.  Today, they are mostly ornamental and are rarely lighted.

The stone lanterns are individual works of art.  They are handmade of granite, marble, or similar rock.  Bronze lanterns were made for use at temples and shrines.  The main pillar is round,  square, or  rectangular, and sometimes decorated with carvings. The shelf sits upon the pillar and the  light box upon this. The roof is gracefully sculptured and often has an ornamental ball on top. Besides the general shape there are many minor features that differ according to local style where the lanterns are produced. 

Hilo’s stone lanterns are symbols of the  resilient character of  the ethnic Japanese people whose forebears first came to Hawaii over 100 years ago as sugar plantation laborers.  The handsome stone lanterns of Liliuokalani Park are a special tribute to a courageous past.

A stroll through this serene garden is a highlight of a visit to Hilo.  Visitors enjoy the park’s attractions and beauty, and delight in seeing local folks relaxing with  picnic lunches and while watching kids fishing with bamboo poles in the placid pools.  Even local fishermen come to Liliuokalani to net “opae,” Hawaiian shrimp, for live bait.

Liliuokalani  Park is a place Hilo folks frequent  to relax in the shade and enjoy a picnic in the cool ocean breezes.  Few other places anywhere in the islands are more enchanting.  Liliuokalani Park,  named for Hawaiian royalty and with its beautiful stone lanterns, is the most regal cultural  park of its kind in all Hawai`i.

Torii Gateway, Liliuokalani Park, Hilo, Hawaii

Before You Visit

For more information on visiting the Big Island of Hawai`i and Hilo, check the following:

Big Island Visitors Bureau, 250 Keawe Street, Hilo, HI 96720; tel 808-961-5797; Web: www.gohawaii.com/bigisland     Order a free Travel Planner at the website.

Destination Hilo, PO Box 1391, Hilo, HI 96720; tel 808-966-8331;

Web: www.destinationhilo.org

More to See

The Hilo area is noted for botanical gardens and a tropical floral industry. For botanical garden visits, try the following:

Hawai`i Tropical Botanical Gardens, 27-717 Old Mamalahoa Highway, Papaikou, HI 96781; tel 808-964-5233; Web: www.htbg.com   Located 8.5 miles north of Hilo on scenic Onomea Bay; thousands of exotic and tropical plants in lush jungle setting.  Open daily 9am-4pm; admission fee

World Botanical Gardens, PO Box 324, Honomu, HI 96728; tel 808-963-5427; Web: www.wbgi.com   Located 16-miles north of Hilo on 300-acres surrounding the Umauma River and triple waterfalls, numerous exotic and tropical plants and trees like bromeliads, palms, fruit trees, etc.  Open Mon-Sat 9am-5:30pm; admission fee

Nani Mau Gardens, 421 Makalika Street, Hilo, HI 96720; tel 808-959-3500; Web: www.nanimau.com   Located three miles south of Hilo off the Volcano Highway with 53-acres of tropical flowers, orchids, plants, trees, etc.  The Garden Court Restaurant serves daily lunch and the upstairs Garden View Restaurant overlooks the lovely gardens; open daily 9am-4pm; admission fee, tram tours available.

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