Thursday, December 12, 2002

Among items to be sold to raise funds for the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii are two 5-foot-tall carved wood and lacquer temple guards, Bishmonten (shown) and Jikokuten.

To the rescue

Struck by the desperate financial
straits of Hawaii's Japanese Cultural
Center, the Buntin clan plans a unique
art sale to raise money and awareness

By Nadine Kam

Like many people, Robyn Buntin's family was stunned when news of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii's financial troubles surfaced in spring. Also like most, they felt helpless in thinking they could make any kind of dent in erasing the center's $9 million debt.

Over Thanksgiving dinner the family, longtime purveyors of Asian, Hawaiian and South Pacific antiques and art, decided to do their part for the cause by staging a fund-raising sale of artwork Saturday through Monday at JCCH.

It was, in part, a personal mission because Buntin's son Tusha is active in the Hawaii Kendo Federation, which practices regularly in the center's dojo.

A lacquer and mother-of-pearl jewelry box from the Taisho period, dating from 1912 to 1926.

"I realized it was very important to my son and important to a lot of people in the state," Buntin said. "We can't, by ourselves, save the center, but we can raise a consciousness about it. I'm not sure how much we'll be able to raise, but I think an effort like this can be a focus on the plight of the center and encourage people to step up and help."

THE EVENT promises to be a win-win situation, as the 300 works of art offered will be priced lower than Robyn Buntin Galleries' retail prices. Buntin's aim is only to recoup his costs while donating all profits to JCCH.

"I don't want people to see this as a mercantile effort or a rummage sale. We have some remarkable artwork, but we've discounted the prices to make it reasonable," he said.

Contemporary posters will start at $20; framed woodblock prints dating from the 1840s to the present will run from $100 to $1,500; and there will also be lacquerware, Japanese scrolls and screens, Hawaiiana and European engravings and prints. More images of available work can be found at

A cinnabar incense burner from 19th century Japan.

A highlight of the sale will be two 14th-century Japanese temple guardians of lacquer over wood, priced at $180,000, down from $225,000.

Buntin said the guardians came in fours, intended to keep watch over Buddhist temple doors. The figures of Bishmonten and Jikokuten stand 5 feet tall with intact crystal eyes, painted from behind for an intense lifelike stare that was designed to inspire awe among temple-goers.

"It's remarkable to find even two from the same set," Buntin said.

THE CENTER, at 2454 S. Beretania St., opened in 1987 to help preserve Japanese arts and cultural practices and preserve the legacy of Japanese in Hawaii, with facilities that include a historical gallery, library, martial arts dojo for kendo, karate and aikido practices, 10,000-square-foot banquet facility, the Seikoan (Shining Star) Tea House and a gift shop.

Also offered will be several woodblock prints. This one, depicting a scene from a kabuki play, is from 1855 and signed by the artist Toyokuni. The print is on mulberry paper and is priced at $300 framed.

The building was put up for sale in October, prompting the community to rally in support of the center. To date, residents, businesses and nonprofits have contributed about $2.8 million in donations, according to Fujio Matsuda, a member of the Committee to Save the Center. The deadline for raising funds owed to Bank of Hawaii, First Hawaiian Bank, Central Pacific Bank and City Bank is Dec. 31.

"We hope we can at least get close enough to bring about a postponement or work out something of that type," Buntin said.

Those who simply want to make a donation can make a check out to "Save the Center" and send to Committee to Save the Center, 3660 Waialae Ave. Suite 301, Honolulu, HI 96816.

Save the center

Art sale to benefit the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii:

Where: JCCH, 2454 S. Beretania St.
When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday through Monday
Admission: Free
Call: 545-5572

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