Description (K. T Cannon-Eger)
“We are avid fans of Lili`uokalani Gardens in Hilo, which began with a donation from Queen Lili`uokalani around 1907 of land around the five-acre pond known as Waihonu.
This area was expanded by the Territorial Legislature and Governor Pinkham to 17 acres for a public park in the spring of 1917. The gardens were named in the Queen’s honor as Lili’uokalani Gardens in Act 53, April 1917. Support for a Japanese garden in Hilo came from the Hilo community, Hilo Fujin Shinkokai (a Japanese women’s friendship society dedicated to beautification) and Mr. and Mrs. Charles C. Kennedy. Construction started in November 1917, the same month the Queen passed away. The gardens opened to the public in 1919.
The public park also was known as Nihon-koen (Japan public park). It is a strolling garden with an ocean view, tea house, bridges, and stone lanterns donated by 14 prefectures from which Japanese workers immigrated to Hawaii.
Inundated by tsunami in 1918 and 1923, and devastated by tsunami in 1946 and 1960, the gardens were rebuilt with state, county, and community support. The gardens are ADA accessible, free, and open to the public every day of the year. Lili`uokalani Gardens were expanded by three acres with the addition of Bicentennial Park in 1976.
Lili`uokalani Gardens also includes the nearby parks known as Mokuola (Coconut Island), Isles, and Rakuen (Happiness Park). The gardens are on state land managed by the Department of Land and Natural Resources and were given by several gubernatorial executive orders to the care of the County of Hawai`i for maintenance.
Friends of Lili`uokalani Gardens assists the County with improvement and maintenance with an eye toward celebrating the centennial from 2017 through 2019. Events planned include: the Banyan Drive Art Stroll in January, a floral design master class, a regional conference of Japanese landscape gardeners, a festival on the occasion of the Queen’s birthday, and more.
Lili`uokalani Gardens is used daily by residents and visitors alike. Located near Hilo’s major hotels, harbor, and airport, the gardens are a magnet for people seeking a pleasant place to walk for exercise. Other uses of the gardens include cos play, dog obedience classes, pre-school excursions, yoga lessons, plein art classes, and fund raising events, family picnics, weddings, family reunion or graduation photographs, to name a few.”
Excerpted from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin 13 November 1917, page 12
Crescent City, Hilo Hawaii, Nov. 12  – “Down by the road that leads to the Coconut island mainland landing place, there is being established and created a fine park which will eventually be developed into a place of great beauty and which will, doubtless, become famous throughout the islands and also on the Coast.
“The workmen have begun operations on the cutting down of the brush and clearing up the undergrowth and already the place looks much better. The entrance to the new park is from the beach road and is just about the junction of the three roads that meet in that locality. The men are working on the park clearing, and already charming little glimpses of the inland lagoons are to be seen.”
Excerpted from Friends of Lili`uokalani Gardens brochure
Well-known garden designers and intense community effort have been the hallmarks of Lili`uokalani Gardens since the beginning in 1917. Some of the designers include Nagao Sakurai (1949 restoration following 1946 tsunami), Kinsaku Nakane (1968 restoration plan following 1960 tsunami), Katsuaki Nobukuni (1972 tea house garden), Kazuo Nakamura (1976 bicentennial garden), David Tamura and Fred Nonaka (1997 tea house garden), and Leonard Bisel (2000).
Now approaching a centennial, Lili`uokalani Gardens joins a select group of Japanese gardens outside Japan – gardens that have sustained public interest and endured the test of time. Of nearly 250 Japanese gardens in the United States, there are a handful that have reached or are about to reach 100 years of age.
Among Japanese gardens outside Japan, Lili`uokalani Gardens is a leader in size and unique in ocean-side location. This jewel of Hilo, the Crescent City, is used daily by scores of residents and visitors. Walkers and runners, tai chi and yoga practitioners, tea ceremony classes, boxing practice, fishing, picnicking, weddings, and high school graduation photos, mingle with busloads of visitors touring the island.
Several annual events are held in the park from fundraising walks for the Heart Association and the Hawai`i Island HIV/AIDS Foundation, 50 years of hula activities related to the annual Merrie Monarch Festival in the spring, and a birthday celebration for Queen Lili`uokalani in early September with family entertainment, activities, hula, taiko, and tea ceremonies.
Preparing now for Centennial 2017
The time is now to prepare for the dual centennial in 2017 to mark the passing of Queen Lili`uokalani and to upgrade care of the cultural landscape so many have given to this island. An inventory of assets – including significant plants as well as artifacts and structures – is planned. Translation of the Japanese character kanji on the lanterns will require the assistance of volunteers proficient in reading older styles. A comprehensive plan for repairs, maintenance and improvements will be needed. Repair or replacement of aging structures such as the torii gates will be considered. Two of the four gates collapsed and were removed in 2013.
Our community is fortunate to have a living work of art adjacent to the ocean in view of majestic Mauna Kea. Let us join together to carry the past 100 years into the next century.
CLOSED occasionally for special park maintenance. Check with the County of Hawaii Department of Parks and Recreation to be sure.
Also see: Friends of Lili`uokalani Gardens: http://www.us-japanesegardens.com