Setting the lantern free
KAPA‘A — Rusted steel braces hug a weathered concrete statue bearing old-style Japanese characters in the northeast corner of Kapa‘a Beach Park.
The 93-year-old Kapa‘a Japanese Stone Lantern currently sits patiently, waiting to be relocated to its new home 20 feet away. On Tuesday, after decades of controversy and setbacks, the statue will to move to a permanent location.
The recent restoration of the lantern began as a class project for a Leadership Kauai class in 2005.
“The goal is to restore it,” Larry Dill, a volunteer with Leadership Kaua‘i, said. “We are going to set it up the way it was originally and strengthen it. It’s in bad shape structurally.”
The neglected statue’s current condition conceals a rich history of cultural pride, fear and hope.
The 15-foot tall, 16-ton lantern was built in 1915 by the Japanese community in Kapa‘a to commemorate the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 and to honor Emperor Taisho’s ascension to the throne in 1912.
During World War II, the lantern was buried due to growing anti-Japanese sentiment. The lantern was buried by residents in Kapa‘a to prove their loyalty to the United States and to protect it from vandalism.
After more than 30 years, parents noticed a metal rod sticking up from the ground in Kapa‘a Park and requested its removal. The County Public Works Department dug up the lantern, but because no one claimed responsibility, it was reburied 24 hours later.
In the late ’80s, with the help of the Kaua‘i Historical Society and the Kaua‘i Business Association, then-Mayor Tony Kunimura requested the excavation of the lantern. Once the lantern was out of the ground for the second time, steel braces were fitted for support. Arrangements were made for its eventual restoration and permanent placement.
Funds for the project were generated in 1991, and early plans to move the lantern from county property to the State Public Library received support from county and state officials.
But after Hurricane ‘Iniki struck Kaua‘i in 1992, all fundraising efforts were abandoned. Four years later, the historical society and the business association collaborated again to revive the effort. Assessment reports from a sculpture conservator and a structural engineer were completed in 1999.
As part of their Leadership Kaua‘i project, the team applied for and received a Community Development Block Grant for $5,000 for pre-development work. The team will submit another grant this month.
“We really need to give credit to the county for awarding the CDBG funds to make this happen,” Rayne Regush, a volunteer with Leadership Kaua‘i, said. “The funding is what it took.”
According to Dill, a consultant from the Sculpture Conservation Studio in Los Angeles and Professor of Structural Engineering Ian Robertson from the University of Hawai‘i will be on hand to begin work on the restoration once the lantern is relocated this week.
“I hope it all goes according to plan,” Dill says with a hint of nervousness. “I hope it doesn’t fall apart when we pick it up.”
Regush feels the emphasis shouldn’t be on the relocation of the lantern, but its restoration, which is “critically needed so a part of Kapa‘a’s past doesn’t disappear forever.”
Restoration details include the removal of the steel braces, cleaning and treatment of surface concrete and painting the lantern per its original color scheme.
Regush is excited for the final product because of the multiple benefits.
“It vitalizes historic Kapa‘a town, builds pride and provides benefits to all,” she said. “Everyone will be impressed with the final beauty.”
• Rachel Gehrlein, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or email@example.com.