Sculptor Bumpei Akaji, shown here next to a monument he created honoring AJA veterans in 1998, died Oct. 27 at 81.


Kauai native left large
imprint on local art scene

See also: Obituaries

By Pat Gee

Bumpei Akaji, whose copper sculptures grace the University of Hawaii, Central Union Church, Fort DeRussy and many other public places, died Oct. 27 in Honolulu. He was 81.

Using a hammer, tin snips and a torch, Akaji molded bits of copper into abstract figures of Hawaii's environment and its citizens. He said he liked copper because of the way it looks when it ages.

The native of Lawai, Kauai, served with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II, receiving a discharge in Italy, a country he came to love, said close friend and family attorney James Koshiba.

On a Fulbright Scholarship, he studied art in Italy, receiving his bachelor's degree there. He came home to earn a master's degree in fine arts from the University of Hawaii.

Koshiba said Akaji was loath to sell his work.

"If you were his friend, he'd want to give it to you" or even loan it, Koshiba said.

"His art was so much a part of him, you knew that when you acquired something from Bumpei, you were receiving something of him."

Koshiba said Akaji was the most unpretentious and truly humble person he has known.

Akaji was among a group of prolific artists in Hawaii who began their work in the 1950s. Others included Satoru Abe and Tadashi Sato.

Abe said Akaji devoted himself to his art full time instead of worrying about making a living because "he had a good wife; we all had good wives. It was a little different in those days," Abe said, chuckling.

Akaji was a "very consistent person" in his style of art as well as his production, often choosing Hawaii's water, mountains, ocean and wildlife as his subject matter, Abe said.

Since he and Akaji knew each other for so many years, they could "communicate without saying anything ... or with just one sentence," Abe said.

Asked if he would miss Akaji, Abe replied with sadness, "Yes, yes, yes, yes ... But I believe in reincarnation. He'll come back ... as a human being to create more artwork."

Many of Akaji's works were commissioned by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts and are part of its "Art in Public Places" collection.

Akaji's works are also known throughout the United States and Japan.

One of Akaji's more recent works was a monument to honor Japanese Americans who fought in World War II, erected at Fort DeRussy in Waikiki in 1998.

Akaji is survived by his wife Toyoko; son Maurice; daughters Fiore Fujimoto, Ada, and Esta; brother Steve; sisters Frances Shimamoto and Bernice Osborne; two grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Private services were held.

E-mail to City Desk


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