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StarBulletin.com

Guardian of the sea


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POSTED: Saturday, September 19, 2009

Question: On a small overlook just Ewa of Halona Blowhole is a monument, a large rock with an inscription from the Japanese Casting Club. But recently, parts of the retaining wall were taken down and added to the monument. Also, a foot-tall ceramic statue was added behind the large rock with vases, incense, food, water, money, etc., which were not there before. What department will check this out?

Answer: Incense and various offerings of fruit, water and other items have been placed at the Umi Mamori Jizo monument at least since 2007.

And, the rock wall's deterioration appears to be the result of “;normal wear and tear”; and not the result of any intentional removal of rocks, according to Lester Chang, director of the city Department of Parks and Recreation.

The department has jurisdiction over the area, but “;maintenance”; of the monument has been assumed by a group of Vietnamese Buddhists.

Meanwhile, Shingon Shu Hawaii, the Buddhist temple that dedicated the monument nearly 80 years ago, conducts an annual memorial service there on the second Sunday in November.

The story of how the monument came to be placed at the public spot—with the blessings of the then-director of the city Parks Department—dates back to the early 1930s.

It's told in local author John Clark's book “;Guardians of the Sea—Jizo in Hawaii,”; with a photo of the monument pictured on the cover.

In the book, Clark explains how members of the Honolulu Japanese Fishing Club, in the early 1930s, made it a community service project to put up warning signs along the Oahu shoreline where fishermen had drowned. One of only two that survive today is located near the Blowhole (”;Kokua Line,”; July 20, 2003).

In December 1931, members of the casting club were walking along a ledge near Bamboo Ridge to put up warning signs when one man was swept into the ocean and drowned.

The club then ordered a statue of a Buddhist guardian—a Jizo—from Japan to protect the fishermen, placing it on a spot overlooking Bamboo Ridge and Halona Point.

Parks Director Lester McCoy “;personally selected the site,”; Clark said. A Buddhist bishop from Shingon Shu Hawaii dedicated the statue on Sept. 11, 1932. Among those attending were McCoy and Honolulu Mayor Fred Wright.

However, vandals constantly targeted the Jizo. After it was severely damaged in 1939, the club “;replaced it with a monument that stands there today: a large lava boulder with an image of Jizo carved into its west face,”; according to Clark's book.

Clark, former assistant chief with the Honolulu Fire Department and author of several books on the beaches of Hawaii, shared additional information gotten since his book was published.

Clark said he met earlier this year with a small group of devout Vietnamese Buddhists, not associated with any temple, who placed the statue at the monument. They told him that several years ago two women from Vietnam were on an island tour when one, a psychic, asked to stop at the Jizo.

She “;recognized the monument and its grounds as a sacred place”; and said the boulder was identical in size and shape to a boulder with a carved image of the Vietnamese goddess Quan Am Nam Hai in Vietnam, Clark said.

“;The legend of the Quan Am Nam Hai boulder in Bac Lieu is that it floated in from the ocean and set itself up on shore,”; he said. “;People built a shelter over it three times, and each time the shelter was blown away by strong winds, so today it is out in the open where it is also an ocean protector. It is regarded as an important shrine, and many people go there to pray.”;

The psychic suggested a statue of Quan Am Nam Hai be placed where the Umi Mamori Jizo is, because it was “;a special, peaceful place and that the spirit there is very good.”;

Clark said the Vietnamese did not know the story of the Jizo, thinking it was abandoned.

So, on March 29, 2007, they placed a Quan Am Nam Hai statue on the south side of the monument. When it was vandalized, they replaced it with another one from Vietnam.

The Vietnamese “;take care of the entire area, keeping it clean, and come regularly to pray and leave offerings,”; Clark said.

The Rev. Sumitoshi Sakamoto of Shingon Shu Hawaii conducts the annual November memorial service. He said he was surprised when he first saw the statue and various offerings placed at the monument, but added that he had no complaints.

Because the monument has been there so long, Chang said the city's main concern is that it remains basically what it was set up to be: a guardian of the sea. He also was looking to meet with the Vietnamese Buddhists about the care-taking situation to formalize “;an understanding of what can and cannot be done.”;