The mission of the Hawai‘i Japanese Center (HJC) is “Preserving the Past to Build the Future.” By serving as a research, educational and cultural information center for our community, the Center strives to fulfill its mission by providing access to information and resources related to the history of Japanese immigration in Hawaii. The Center further accomplishes its mission by serving as a bridge to promote understanding and collaborative research between Japan and the United States.
Originally established as the “Japan Center of Hawai’i” in February 2002, the Center was renamed to the “Hawai’i Japanese Center” in March 2003, emphasizing Japanese Culture in Hawai‘i.
The Center houses an extensive collection of rare photographs, recordings, artifacts, official documents, publications and memorabilia relating to the history of Japanese immigrants to Hawai‘i.
The heart of the Center’s holdings is the extensive collection of the late Mr. Kiyoshi Okubo and the Hawai‘i Shima Japanese Immigrant Museum, which documents the struggles and successes of Japanese immigrants here in Hawaii.
In addition, many families and individuals have generously contributed numerous items to the Center with the hopes their descendants, visitors and scholars will gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the Hawai’i Japanese from these materials.
Projects such as the oral history research in conjunction with Waseda University (Japan) and a periodical digitization project with Ritsumei University (Japan), serves to enhance the exchange of scholarly information and contribute to the resources of the Center.
The Center is unique in that its mission continues to be supported solely by volunteers in its cultural activities, fundraising efforts and building renovations.
The Hawai’i Japanese Center was organized exclusively for nonprofit purposes within the scope of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (ID# 47-083357). The specific purposes for which the corporation is organized was to acquire, preserve, research, educate, and exhibit literature, artifacts and other relevant material of historical, cultural, sociological and economic significance and value relating to the Japanese immigrants and residents of the Island and County of Hawai‘i. These purposes are further lineated as follows:
The Preservation of Historical Materials
The Center houses an extensive collection of rare photographs, recordings, official documents, publications and memorabilia relating to the history of Japanese immigrants to Hawai‘i and continental United States. The Center maintains and preserves historical material donated by individuals and families.
Research and Educational Activities
The Center organizes information and books for scholarly research. Materials from the collection have been used to develop educational presentations, exhibits, books and other publications. For example, through materials archived at the Center, Mrs. Mieko Tsuboi of Nara, Japan, discovered that her grand uncle, Mr. Bunichiro Onome, lived in Hawaii over a hundred years ago and that he was the first person to publish a Japanese language newspaper in Hawai‘i. As a result of her research, Mrs. Tsuboi was able to publish her book, Hawai’i saisho no Nihongo shinbun o hakkou shita Otoko, in 2000. Additionally, students and professors from Waseda University in Japan utilize the center when in Hilo to research Japanese immigration to Hawai‘i.
Serving as a Community Center
The Center embraces diversity and is made available to anyone interested and involved in Japanese history and culture in Hawai‘i. For example, the Center encourages the use of its facilities by prefectural groups (kenjinkai) to hold meetings or conduct workshops.
III. Problem and Opportunities
751 Kanoelehua Avenue, Hilo, Hawaii
Hawai’i Japanese Center forerunner, Mr. Kiyoshi Okubo died in 2001, however, his vision of establishing a permanent community center aimed at serving anyone interested in Japanese culture and history in Hawai’i was never fulfilled. Mr. Okubo had meticulously preserved thousands of the artifacts, publications, and historical documents donated by numerous families and individuals. However, with the closing of Kaiko‘o Mall in 2001, there arose an immediate need to find a new home for this important collection.
751 Kanoelehua Avenue, Hilo, Hawaii
Fortunately the Center was able locate lease space in a large structure located at 751 Kanoelehua Avenue, Hilo, Hawaii. This building currently houses the majority of the collection, as well as recent additions donated from various community members.
It was also to the Center’s good fortune that the current owners of the property and improvements have expressed a strong interest in selling the property to the Hawai‘i Japanese Center, fee simple, at an extremely attractive price.
Purchasing this property would provide the Center’s collection a permanent home, as well as lead to capital investments in developing the property into a world-class facility.
IV. Future Direction
Mr. Okubo put his vision of a world-class community center in the hands of his protégé, Professor Masafumi Honda. Today Dr. Honda leads a committed group of volunteers striving to make Mr. Okubo’s vision a reality.
The Center is currently located in a warehouse type structure at 751 Kanoelehua Avenue. Being on the major roadway in Hilo, (Kanoelehua Avenue starts North at Banyan Drive and travels south directly to the Hawai‘i Volcanoes National park) the Center is in a high-traffic, high-visibility location in the heart of Hilo (see map).
Recognizing the potential, and with support from the local community, the Board of Directors of the Hawai’i Japanese Center, along with its Advisory Committee, are embarking on a capital campaign to raise funds to complete Mr. Okubo’s vision.
The Center is currently leasing the structure from the current owners, and they have in good faith, allowed the Center to operate on a month-to-month lease. The Center intends to:
- Purchase the building and improvements (fee simple) from the owner.
- Refurbish and renovate the entire structure (interior and exterior).
- Make it available to the community to use.
The HJC will strive to be the live connection of the past to the present, and is currently working on a yearly membership program and multiple future events that will allow the center to sustain and maintain itself for many years to come.
renovating the interior of the HJC.
renovating the interior of the HJC.
The first phase of the project (already in progress) will the renovation of the interior of the structure estimated to cost $100,000. The Center has already raised the necessary funds for materials and has secured labor donations from local contractors to complete this phase. The first phase of the project is currently moving forward as you can see in the pictures below.
The second phase of the campaign is to identify potential large trust or private sector contributors and approach them with this proposal and collateral materials. The President (Masafumi Honda), along with members of the Board, Advisory and/or Capital Campaign Committee members will make appointments with the individuals at each organization who have the decision-making authority. The second phase goal is to raise $700,000.
The third phase of the campaign will target smaller individual donors who have contributed to the Center in the past as well as reach out to other potential donors. In this phase we will Kick-off a planned and coordinated yearly membership drive.