Plans are under way for a full year of two related centennial celebrations in 2017 — the passing of Queen Lili‘uokalani and the 1917 dedication of the large oceanside Japanese garden that bears her name.
The 2013 Hawaii Senate and House of Representatives passed resolution SCR173 asking the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and State Foundation on Culture and the Arts to assist the Friends of Lili‘uokalani Gardens in preparations for the centennial.
The measure was introduced by Sens. Malama Solomon and Gil Kahele with support from Sen. Russell Ruderman, Rep. Clift Tsuji, DLNR, the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, Papa Ola Lokahi and the Historic Hawaii Foundation.
Act 53 of the 1917 Territorial Legislature set aside 17 acres for a Japanese garden named for the queen. It was signed into law April 3 by Gov. Lucius E. Pinkham.
Helped along by C.C. Kennedy, a former manager of Waiakea Sugar Mill, and his wife, Laura, Lili‘uokalani Gardens soon became a living benefit for the sugar workers from Japan.
The queen had developed a sincere interest in Buddhist culture and practices and Mrs. Kennedy had urged her husband that “something be done” to benefit the growing population of plantation workers from Japan, which in 1910 numbered 25,449.
The resulting gardens, though twice damaged by tsunamis, are among the favorite sites for the residents of all Hawaii and, now at 20 acres, are among the largest of the type in the world.
“According to the North American Japanese Garden Association, there are more than 450 Japanese-style gardens outside of Japan all around the world,” said K.T. Cannon-Eger, a leader of the Friends of Lili‘uokalani Gardens.
“More than 250 of those gardens are in the United States though the number that have celebrated or are approaching a centennial is a much smaller group. Hilo’s garden is mature.” Interested Hawaii County residents have established a state-approved nonprofit corporation to enhance the beauty and significance of the garden.
On the mainland, age-proven gardens attract thousands of visitors from all over the world.
The late Stephen Yamashiro, as mayor, brought a $2 million late 1990s bond issue to bear to renew the garden’s features. This year the Friends are seeking a 501(c)3 IRS tax exemption to enable donations for improvements and a full year of activities.
Rebuilding the great designs of the garden and the tea house will entice visitors from all over the world. They like these gardens and visit on such special occasions.
“We are already receiving major interest,” noted Cannon-Eger. In cooperation with the county Department of Parks and Recreation, planning is beginning for dynamic improvements throughout the park.
Cannon-Eger is a founding member of the North American Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA) and serves on the organization’s editorial board. She has visited more than 40 gardens in the United States during travels with her husband, Bill Eger, who has gathered an extensive library of more than 4,000 fine-grain garden photographs.
The board of directors for Friends of Lili‘uokalani Gardens also includes Harvey Tajiri, Yukio Takeya, Della Allison Yamashiro and Eger. With assistance from Raymond Tanouye, Kenji Kuroshima, Yoshi Ota and Donna Manion, the group has embarked on efforts to document the history of the public park and to inventory its assets.