The thread of Japanese culture has been woven tightly into the cultural life and heritage of Hawaii (Honolulu, in particular) since the first generation of Japanese immigrants made their way to the island in the 1800s. Today, thanks to the area’s incredible array of restaurants offering authentic and contemporary Japanese cuisine, Buddhist temples, massive celebratory festivals, and historic villages, not to mention the odd world-class museum and swinging karaoke joint, you don’t have to look far to find Japanese culture in Hawaii.
Art and history
Step back through the years to the mid-19th century when the first Japanese immigrants landed on Hawaii’s lush and tropical shores. Back then, immigrants worked largely on sugar plantations, and at Hawaii’s Plantation Village – an outdoor museum located just half an hour’s drive from Honolulu – you can walk through the past and learn about the different cultures that mingled here, the work that was done, and the lives lived. There’s also a great gift shop offering arts and crafts, should you fancy some shopping.
Art lovers, meanwhile, won’t want to miss the prodigious collection of Japanese art on display at the Honolulu Museum of Art, especially the 10,000-strong collection of Woodblock Prints, which includes the world’s largest collection of prints by Japanese artist Utagawa Hiroshige.
Food and fun
Next, get a taste for Japanese culture in Hawaii by sampling some of Honolulu’s best Japanese restaurants. For sushi, look to the exquisite Morimoto Waikiki and its fresh masterful creations. And for a high-end experience of contemporary Japanese cuisine visit Nobu Waikiki – the Yellowtail Sashimi alone makes a trip here worthwhile.
And don’t forget ramen; the Waikiki area without question has the highest concentration of ramen joints in the entirety of Polynesia, so you can be sure to find some top-notch noodles here. For a local Hawaiian take on authentic ramen, Tenkaippin (617 Kapahulu Ave, +1 808 732 1211) is a great bet. Or head over to Agu Ramen on Isenberg Street to try some of its delicious, playful ramen dishes like the rich Innovative Hot Mess tonkotsu ramen.
For a night on the town Japanese-Hawaiian style, grab the mic and karaoke your heart out. The Karaoke Hut is a mainstay, with a common room and bar area, plus private rooms that small parties can rent. And Wang Chung’s has a speciality cocktail menu that’s sure to help with any lingering inhibitions you might have before you take to the stage.
Festivals and Classes
For a festival that best celebrates Japanese culture in Hawaii, welcome the New Year at January’s family-friendly “˜Ohana Festival, thrown by the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii. Alternatively, the three-day Honolulu Festival in March is a fantastic cultural event honouring the various Pacific Rim cultures that call the area home. But whenever you happen to visit during the year, the Cultural Center hosts a variety of classes – from Kumihimo (Japanese braiding) to ShodÅ/ShÅ«ji (calligraphy) – for those looking to learn more about Japanese culture.
And if you want to experience an authentic tea ceremony, check out the Urasenke Foundation of Hawaii and their Japanese teahouse replica on a side street off Kalakaua Ave.
Temples and Gardens
Of course, any journey in search of Japanese culture in Hawaii should include the Byodo-In Temple. Found just half an hour’s drive from Honolulu, this peaceful temple is modelled on a 950-year-old Buddhist temple from Japan and is now a Hawaii state landmark. With Koi ponds, wild peacocks, and beautiful landscaped grounds to enjoy, this is the ideal way to experience Japanese culture, whether you want to hear the ring of the Bon-sho (the sacred bell), take some time out to meditate, feed the Koi or buy a Kimono to take home.
Header image: The ‘Ohana Festival, run by the Japanese Cultural Center, is an amazing way to celebrate the New Year © Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii
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Have you gone in search of Japanese culture in Honolulu? What were some of your favourite experiences? Tell us in the comments section below.
Written by Brian Berusch