At age 29, Reverend Takie Okumura of Japan set sail for Hawaiʻi in 1894. He was initially appointed to serve as minister of the Japanese Christian Church, the predecessor to today’s Nuʻuanu Congregational Church.
Okumura left there and began his work in the section of Honolulu centering about Makiki district in November, 1902. The work commenced in a little shed on Kīnaʻu Street near a Japanese camp and without a single church member. (The Friend, November 1930)
Within a year, the shed became too small and a cottage across the street was rented which would accommodate about eighty people. By his untiring effort, Okumura was able to organize the Makiki Church with 24-members on April 8, 1904. The church continued to grow and was moved to the present building on the corner of King and Pensacola Streets in 1906. (The Friend, November 1930)
In early-1910, the Makiki Japanese Church (later known as the Makiki Christian Church) introduced the custom of one English sermon per month. The Church acquired property near McKinley High School (at the corner of Pensacola and Elm.) Then, in the 1930, a new, enlarged church was contemplated and then constructed. It was modeled after a Japanese Castle.
The “Makiki Castle” was the inspiration of the Reverend Okumura. Okumura asked Hego Fuchino to design the church.
Born and educated in Japan, Fuchino immigrated to Hawaiʻi at age 17 or 18 and worked his way through ʻIolani School and the University of Hawaiʻi. He worked as a land surveyor and engineer in Honolulu while he taught himself architecture, and became one of the first Japanese architects in Hawaiʻi.
One of Fuchino’s earliest works was the Kuakini Hospital, which he designed in 1919. He designed the Izumo Taisha Mission; commercial buildings; movie theaters such as the Haleiwa Theater; residences and apartments; and schools such as the Hawaiian Mission Academy.
Inspired by the early-Edo period Himeji Castle in Japan, the church is the only Christian church in the United States to be modeled after a sixteenth-century Japanese castle.
The Makiki Christian Church is a five-story redwood building whose main tower rises ninety feet above street level. A three- story parish hall and Sunday school, built four years after the tower, extends out from the tower to give the building a T- shaped floor plan.
“The castle-like edifice with its stone wall and high tower is after the style of the castle built by Oda Nobuuaga, famous Shogun, in 1577 at Omi. A number of years before that the feudal lord of Yaniato, Matsunaga, built a castle with a high tower and called his tower “Tenshukaku,” “ten” meaning heaven; “shu” lord; and “kaku,” lower or the place to worship the Lord of Heaven.” (The Friend, November 1930)
Rather than a building associated with war, Okumura indicated that the castle was a place of defense, meant to provide protection and peace, and that the earliest known building erected in Japan for Christian worship was Tamon Castle.
To the pastor, this design symbolized refuge, security and grandeur. Finally convinced it was not warlike, the congregation raised funds to build the tower, lobby and chapel in 1931. (Hibbard)
At the time of construction, China and Japan were at war; however, as a gesture of goodwill to show that animosity between the two nations did not extend to Hawaiʻi, Okumura specified that all building materials were to be purchased from City Mill, owned by KA Chung. (HHF)
Later, the castle became “A Place To Protect The Country” but it is true that the tower originated as “A Place To Worship God.” The Makiki Church erects its new edifice with its tower indicating the thought of the Psalmist who sang “Jehovah is my fortress—my high tower.” (The Friend, November 1930)
In November 1932 the tower was completed and in 1936 the Parish Hall was added to the church.
The churchyard is entered from the Elm Street side through a munekado (a gable-roofed gate supported by two pillars). The building’s entrance is fourteen feet high with a pair of massive solid wooden doors.
A large vestibule, thirty feet in height, runs parallel to the sanctuary and provides access to the church and the parish hall wing. The interior includes acid-stained concrete floors, columns with elbow brackets, and 164 ceiling panels depicting fruits, flowers, and vegetables painted by Yunosuke Ogura.
Before he died in 1951, Okumura also established the Okumura Boys and Girls Home, which provided young men and women affordable housing; he started the first Japanese-language school and the first AJA baseball league.
Makiki Christian Church is listed on the Hawaii Register of Historic Places (No. 80-14-9719, dated September 30, 1988;) it is one of the most photographed churches in the Islands.
The image shows an early look of the Makiki Christian Church. In addition, I have added other images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.