‘The hearts of the people care for the land’

  • Ryan Collins / The Garden Island

    Volunteers gather under the 13th century Japanese style building at the Lawai International Center on Saturday as part of the Community Caring Day the center holds on the first Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

  • Ryan Collins / The Garden Island

    The hillside with some of the 88 shrines at the Lawai International Centeris seen Saturday. The center hosts a Community Caring Day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. the first Saturday of each month. The center will host its annual Pilgrimage of Compassion on Aug, 25 from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

It’s the first Saturday of the month at the Lawai International Center, a 32-acre sanctuary that hosts an extraordinary restoration project of 88 Buddhist shrines that were constructed in 1904 by workers at the nearby Koloa Sugar Company, the likeness of which exist on Kauai and Shikoku, Japan. The shrines at Lawai were constructed as a replica of the 1,000-mile pilgrimage of Shikoku, with each of the 88 mini shrines representing a bigger temple.

Volunteers are gathered at the center for the Community Caring Day, eating a bountiful lunch in the land which Director Lynn Muramoto has looked over for the past 29 years with stewardship, perseverance and “plenty of miracles.”

The Community Caring Day is an all-volunteer event where tourists and locals come together on the first Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. to “look over the land with their hearts,” as Muramoto says.

“For the Native Hawaiians, they came here as a sanctuary, and this is turtle,” Muramoto says, pointing to the main structure of the center, which is a symbolic turtle complete with restored heiau and a mound of soil representing its head.

“The rock wall creates the front flippers and the hillside is the back.”

The Community Caring Day is open to any members of the general public, and everyone is encouraged to take part in the restoration project.

Along with the monthly caring day, Muramoto also hosts tour days on the second and last Sunday of the month, with guided tours at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m., or by appointment.

During the tours, Muramoto gives visitors a lecture on the center, its mission and the storied history of the historical site.

For the last 18 years, starting in 2001 after 9/11, Muramoto and thousands of volunteers over the years decided to put together a Pilgrimage of Compassion in the fall.

This year’s pilgrimage will be held on Aug. 25 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Over the years it has turned into an annual event that draws hundreds to the sanctuary to take part in a walk through the land where orchids adorn the hillside strewn with the 88 shrines and enjoy festivities and the tranquility of the traditional, 13th-century Japanese building.

“The main thing is that you will have hundreds of people here in this quite indescribable, transcendent state,” Muramoto said. “It’s different from other community events.”

As the lunch at the Community Caring Day comes to an end and the volunteers have filled up after some trail clearing on the 32-acre property in the morning, they file out into the sacred hillsides, as some go to the main building to participate in tai chi taught by an instructor the center has brought in.

“We get a lot of people from everywhere,” said Mary Anne Nordwall, volunteer coordinator for the center.

“Caring day, there are some regulars who come, and then we get people just in town and they want to come. They want to volunteer, and they do it, and it’s awesome.”

Nordwall said the center is really whatever you want it to be, and even keiki and scouts participate in the restoration project.

“It’s a cultural site,” she said. “We maintain and preserve this piece of land and we preserve the history of what’s going on behind it.”

One of the things Nordwall enjoys most about the center is the number of local people who come to the center, and the stories that come out with them.

“That’s the part I love,” she said. “Then the stories come out about when they were young.”

As the monthly caring day comes to an end and the afternoon sun starts to set in on the volunteers again after a long morning, they can be seen slowly trickling back onto Kuhio Highway with a little more aloha in their step after giving some of their hearts and time back into the land.

The Lawai International Center is a nonprofit community project that accepts donations and volunteers for the restoration and purpose of bringing the shrines and valley back to prominence as an international center for compassion, education and cultural understanding.

“Part of the power of this place is it’s untouched by human ideas,” Muramoto said.

“You kind of sit back and just let see how it flows and see how it wants to flow. And there’s more. There are lots more miracles.”

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Ryan Collins, county reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or rcollins@thegardenisland.com.

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