While visiting the beautiful island of Kaua’i, Emily and I stumbled upon a very special place, seemingly hidden from the rest of the world. It is called the Lawai International Center, and it is easily missed, as it sits tucked away between the resort heavy town of Poipu and the less than popular, but amazingly quaint, small town of Hanapepe (made infamous by Disney as the home of Lilo, from Lilo and Stitch).
The story behind the Lawai International Center and how it came to be is one of volunteers making a difference to preserve the past while looking towards the future. Throughout the passing of many hundreds of years, the current site of thirty-two acres was home to a Hawaiian temple, known as a heiau (hey-ow), a Taoist temple, a Shinto shrine, and a Shingon Buddhist temple. The fact that so many different cultures chose this one valley speaks volumes of its serene location.
The past and the future live in undisturbed harmony at the Center.
The highlight of our visit to the center was the steep and narrow hillside backing the property and the eighty-eight miniature Buddhist shrines hidden in plain site along the trail. Originally built over a century ago by Japanese immigrant pineapple and sugar cane workers, the shrines were built to mirror the eighty-eight shrines back on their home in Japan. In the late 1960s, the Lawai Cannery closed and overnight, the town moved on. Over the course of time, nature and neglect took their toll on these poor shrines sparing none from ruin. The shrines would have been lost to history, buried by the developers backhoe if it had not been for some amazing people who had enough sense of history and preservation to save the land from being turned into condominium vacation rentals.
From 1990 until today, the Lawai International Center has been a dream that became a reality. Thanks to the generosity of several donors, the 32 acres were purchased to be preserved. After the hard work of hundreds of volunteers, all the shrines have been restored and the hillside trail is accessible once again. Once overgrown with invasive plants and trees, the grounds have been opened up to allow the sunlight to shine, grass to grow and spirits to be lifted up to the blue skies above.
The trail to view the Buddhist shrines is narrow and steep at times, but there are plenty of walking sticks available. Slow and steady was the perfect way to view the individual shrines, each one had their own personality, their own look and feel. It was a very peaceful journey.
The Hall of Compassion, which was built in 2011, was made possible, like everything else in at the center, by generous donations of time and money. Beautifully built in the style of a 13th century temple, the structure rests at the foot of the hillside, beneath the shrines. As you climb the ancient Hawaiian stone steps leading up to the temple, your sense of smell is awakened by the aroma of freshly cut and treated wood.
The Lawai International Center is considered a nondenominational sanctuary. To visit it or get more information about it, please visit their website (be careful, music plays when you click that link) or Facebook page.