Lawa‘i has always been a gathering place. The name translates as “forgiving waters,” and for centuries Hawaiians from all parts of the island journeyed to a heiau in this south Kaua‘i valley in search of healing. In the late 1800s, the island’s earliest Asian immigrants were also drawn to the valley; eventually, the heiau was joined by Taoist and Shinto temples and, in 1904 by a series of eighty-eight small Shingon shrines meant to replicate a traditional temple pilgrimage route in Shikoku, Japan.
By the late 1960s though, the shrines and the temple route had fallen into disrepair. And they might have remained that way if not for the fortuitous day when Lynn Muramoto visited the valley, saw the shrines and decided to go to work on their restoration. “It was very clear to me that this is why I am here,” says Lynn, whose grandfather came to Hawai‘i from Japan more than 100 years ago. In fact, the call was so clear that she quit her job as an elementary school teacher and, in 1990, became president of the newly founded, nonprofit Lawa‘i International Center.
Fifteen years later, the trail has been cleared and the shrines restored. Plans for the future include constructing a pavilion, festival grounds, a gallery, meditation gardens and a pagoda. When all is said and done, Lawa‘i International Center will not be merely a historical monument, says Lynn, but a serene sanctuary for people of all faiths. “Lawa‘i is more than just a place,” she says. “It is made of deep roots with the pure heart and soul of the people on this island—and it is a place for the future.” Lawa‘i International Center is open on the last Sunday of every month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information on the site and its history, visit www.lawaicenter.org.
Enshrining the Shrines first appeared in Hana Hou.