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Ceremony commemorates new plaque installed at Laupahoehoe Point tsunami memorial

For more than 70 years, a memorial at Laupahoehoe Point has stood in tribute to the two dozen community members who lost their lives when a tsunami devastated East Hawaii in 1946.

This week, a new plaque was installed just below the names etched in marble, explaining the purpose and history of the monument.

“This monument, commemorating the victims of the April 1, 1946, tsunami, was erected by the efforts of the Rev. Kakusho Izumi, the presiding minister at the time of the tragedy, of the Papa‘aloa and Honohina Honpa Hongwanji missions, with the donations from families of all the villages in the communities of Honohina, Ninole, Papa‘aloa, Laupahoehoe, Waipunalei and O‘okala.”

Monday, nearly 40 people gathered for a ceremony to commemorate the new marker.

The effort for the new plaque was spearheaded by Izumi’s daughter, Tomo Izumi Mohideen, who was joined by other siblings and nieces, community members and family members of tsunami victims.

“Being April Fool’s Day and the first tsunami to devastate the Hawaiian islands in 100 years, hardly anyone knew what tidal wave was, as it was called then,” Mohideen told the crowd.

The monument has names of 24 victims — including teachers and students at the school formerly located at Laupahoehoe Point. Among those is the only child of Susumu Sakamoto, whose body was never recovered.

“We Buddhists observe Obon, a festival to remember those that have gone to the other shore, Nirvana, during the summer months at the various temples,” Mohideen said. “Mr. Sakamoto came crying to my father, Rev. Kakusho Izumi, as Obon was coming up.

“Hatsu-bon, the first Obon service for a deceased person, is a very important,” she continued. “He lamented that he had no grave to put flower or incense for his son. At that very moment, my father resolved to build a memorial monument for all the victims who died in this tsunami.”

Mohideen said her father went house to house in neighboring communities, regardless of ethnic background or religious beliefs, to collect donations for the memorial.

“This took months, but every home very willingly gave what they could so this monument could become a symbol of commemorating the victims.”

Her father’s friend, a gravestone cutter in Hilo, built the monument out of marble, and Izumi sought permission from then-County Chairman James Kealoha to place the monument on state or county property at the point. The county then offered to build a platform for the memorial.

Mohideen said that more than three decades ago, after a conversation with and promise to a mainland visitor to place a plaque explaining the monument’s history, she began efforts to do so, seeking the help of a local legislator.

Work was “progressing nicely, but without any documentation of the donations, Papa‘aloa Hongwanji board members were asked to confirm that Rev. Kakusho Izumi did indeed have the monument made,” she said. However, men who served on the board said they “saw the county building the platform and said it was the county that built the monument, and the process of placing a plaque died there.”

Last year, wanting to keep her promise, Mohideen wrote to Mayor Harry Kim and received a letter of approval to move forward with the plaque.

Prior to the ceremony, Mohideen said it feels wonderful to have the new plaque in place.

It’s important to document the history now “because nobody will know” years from now, she said.

“Whoever will come here to pray will not know why this is made or who made it … .”

Lucille Chung was born and raised in Laupahoehoe and said after the ceremony that her grandfather was the custodian of the school, but was not at the school when the tidal wave hit.

“This thing happened on a Monday, he retired on Friday,” she said.

During the program, she thanked Mohideen for her work and said the plaque “tells the story to people coming to Laupahoehoe Point what was here. And it is so important that they know that this is a very special place to us who were born and raised here and have the privilege of coming back all the time, and for Mr. Sakamoto, who needed some place to do his worshiping. Your father did a great service to the community, and thank you for persevering and getting that plaque on.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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