Kauai home to "healing place of the spirit"
Located on the Kaumaulii Highway near Kalaheo,
the center is open for tours on the second and
fourth Sundays of each month, at 10 a.m.,
noon and 2 p.m. There is no charge for admission,
but donations to support the center are always
welcome. Once a year a Pilgrimage of Compassion
is held in remembrance of 9/11.
"The Lawai Valley has been a place of natural
healing," said Lynn Muramoto, president of the
Lawai International Foundation. "In the earliest
days there was a 'heiau' (temple) where
Hawaiians brought their wounded and sick
to heal, and Queen Emma had her summer
home here because of the healing waters."
In modern times it has been home to both
Taoist and Shinto temples.
A century ago, young Japanese farmers
immigrated to Kauai to work in the sugar
cane fields. Remembering a pilgrimage trail
in their homeland established more than
1,000 years ago that covered some 900 miles,
they built a replica on a 32-acre site in the
Lawai Valley. Beneath each of the 88
dollhouse-sized shrines they reportedly buried
a pinch of sand or dirt taken from the original
ones in Shikoku.
Families lived in the valley and cared for
the site until the pineapple- and sugar-processing
plants closed in the 1960s. Then people
moved away, and vegetation nearly obliterated
In 1990, Muramoto visited the sanctuary
and was so impressed that she resigned
from her job as a teacher and set about
restoring the area. Her foundation is
non-profit, non-denominational and
volunteer-driven. Its goal is to establish
a place for peace and healing.
Volunteers have since cleared the front
of the hillside, re-established the path
and restored the shrines. The concrete
structures held palm-sized statues of
various Buddhas; approximately half of
them had disappeared over the years,
but many of those have been returned.
A tour of the center is quite pleasant.
Visitors are welcomed with a friendly hug
and cup of hot hibiscus tea. Muramoto gives
a short history of the project, followed by a
five-minute documentary narrated by
Richard Chamberlain. It was raining the day
I visited (Kauai, remember), so guests
were provided ponchos and walking sticks
to navigate the steep, winding and slick trail.
The path begins mysteriously through
a tiny cave formed by the roots of a
living tree. In silence visitors climb the trail,
stopping briefly before each shrine to meditate.
Many of the shrines have offerings left by
the pilgrims: stones, coins, seashells,
rosary beads, crosses, green twigs.
Afterwards visitors are provided more
tea and delicious, sweet red bean cakes.
Volunteers are available to answer questions.
There are several hints of miraculous
connections with the Lawai International Center:
- When Muramoto's group expressed
interest in purchasing the property,
the owner asked for $6 million, but
eventually settled for $250,000.
- The money was raised through unexpected
donations and years of fund-raisers selling
beef stew, mango seed and orchids.
- In the 1940s, a local mother collected soil
from beneath the shrines and put it in small
pouches for her sons to wear: they all
returned from World War II combat uninjured.
- Work is progressing on a Pavilion of
Compassion, and recently a stranger
called and offered to donate some roof
tiles that turned out to be the precise
kind called for in the plans.
© 2011 Chuck Flagg