Byodo-In: My Old Stomping Grounds

Byodo-In
Byodo-In, a beautiful temple nestled in the Valley of the Temples.

I was born on the island of Oahu, where I lived for the first 3 years of my life thanks to my father’s stint in the US Marine Corps (thanks dad!). I’ve always had bits and pieces, and general impressions of my time in Hawaii floating around in my memory that’s been augmented by pictures and some home movies. Despite spending only my earliest years in Hawaii, I’ve always identified that more as my home than upstate New York, where I’ve lived most of my life. From a young age, I swore I’d make my way back just as soon as I could – I just never imagined it would take 21 years to make my first trip back.

So, when Kim and I decided to make our way there, I was more excited than I have ever been as we boarded that 12-ish hour flight from JFK to HNL, but exactly how much this meant to me didn’t settle in until I saw Oahu come into view. The weather was perfect as we landed and I could see the island that I was born on in all its beauty for the first time in 21 years. I was thrilled. I felt like I was home.

Kim and I had only lined up one full day for ourselves on Oahu – we tend to travel fast and try to do as much as we possibly can. In all honesty, I think we were there mostly for me – Kim was more excited at the time for our days on Kauai and Maui. Given this small window of time, we had planned out our day on Oahu in quite a bit of detail. I was insistent that we visited Pearl Harbor, even though I had never visited when I lived in Hawaii because of my interest in World War II history. You can read more about that excursion here.

The other big thing on my list may seem strange. I desperately wanted to visit Byodo-In – a Buddhist temple that my mom had taken me to a number of times. We went because it was a beautiful, open space and – well, it was cheap. Basically, it was a nice alternative to the beach (not that you really need one!) for young kids to visit. I had vague memories of a huge bell that I used to ring, the red of the temple and a ton of koi. What I didn’t remember were the mosquitoes.

Still, Byodo-In is beautiful and a great place to visit that doesn’t get too overwhelmed by tourists. It’s quiet and offers a nice change of pace from the crowded beaches of Waikiki and downtown Honolulu. Byodo-In is nestled back in a cemetery known as Valley of the Temples Memorial Park a few minutes away from Kaneohe (my old home town). It’ll run you $3.00 per adult ($1.00 for kids) to get in to the grounds. After a short, slow drive into the valley, you’ll come to a small parking area.

You’ll cross a short bridge and arrive on the main temple grounds. Byodo-In is a smaller replica of a temple of the same name in Uji, Japan, and it is beautiful. Koi ponds surround the temple and they are absolutely jam packed with fish. Black swans, turtles, frogs and peacocks (as well as the aforementioned mosquitoes – bring some good bug spray) can also be found on the grounds. The bell, known as Bon-sho (sacred bell), is near the entrance and is rung to purify the mind and bring you happiness. Be prepared to wait just a few minutes while the small handful of other visiting families ring the bell and get their pictures. Afterwards, you can make your way to the temple or stop by the meditation pavilion.

You’ll need to remove your shoes before entering the temple out of respect. Inside stands a 9-foot tall, golden Buddha, which is remarkable to see. After stopping in to see the Buddha, you can make your way to the small gift shop and purchase a pouch of food for the koi. It sounds silly, but you should absolutely do this. There are so many of the fish in the koi ponds that it is really entertaining to watch them swarm over each other trying to fight it out for the food you toss.

You don’t need long to visit Byodo-In. It’s a half-hour or hour trip at most, but it can be an interesting and beautiful little side trip. If you are big in to visiting places where TV or movies have been shot, apparently the temple has been worked into episodes of Lost, Magnum P.I. and Hawaii Five-O.

Overall, I was surprised at how well I remembered Byodo-In and I’m really glad we visited. Beyond my personal reasons for wanting to go, we got some nice pictures and experienced something a little different. Also, after spending the rest of the day surrounded by other tourists, it was refreshing to go someplace a little calmer to round out our day.

What to know if you go

Admission: $3.00/adult, $2.00/seniors, $1.00/children.

Bring your bug spray!

Places

Byodo-In

47-200 Kahekili Highway
Kaneohe, HI 96744
(808)239-8811

Byodo-In

47-200 Kahekili Highway
Kaneohe, HI 96744
(808)239-8811
http://www.byodo-in.com/

Pearl Harbor: Reflecting on the Past

U.S.S Arizona Memorial
The U.S.S Arizona memorial.

Something you all will learn about me is that beyond travel and video games (and Kim *winks*), I have a passion for history with a particular interest in World War II. I’ve long-since devoured Ambrose’s works (I’m looking at my copy of Citizen Soldiers right now) and made my way through every historical narrative and memoir from the war I can get my hands on. Works by veterans such as E.B. ‘Sledgehammer’ Sledge, Robert ‘Lucky’ Leckie, William ‘Wild Bill’ Guarnere and Edward ‘Babe’ Heffron grace my library as some of my favorite books. I attribute much of this interest and respect for veterans of all wars to my father: a former Marine and a veteran of the Gulf War.

It was due to my father’s military career that I have the extreme honor of having been born on and lived for a time on Oahu. In my youth, my parents never took me over to Pearl Harbor, but as an adult, I could not wait to visit the site with an understanding of the event. Let’s get this out of the way really quick in case you missed it in that last sentence (Beware – the rest of this paragraph may sound a bit preachy or self-righteous. I’d call it cautionary, but you may want to skip ahead just a tiny bit if you have young kids and don’t want to be told how to parent by a kid-less punk).

War memorials demand a certain amount of respect and are not exactly high on the “thrill factor” – this is by design. People go to these places to garner an understanding of our history and to pay respects to those who fought and died to build that history. I don’t want to dig into the politics of any conflict as that goes well beyond what we want to cover here – what I’m trying to get at is that places like this are a somber, often humbling experience meant to prevent us from forgetting our mistakes so that we don’t end up repeating them. Which brings me to this: war memorials are not really a good family oriented outing with respect to young kids. Those of you with kids know your kids much better than I do (I’d hope) so use your best judgement when visiting lest you get scowled at by the likes of me.

That being said, Pearl Harbor is a fantastic place to visit for those looking to gain a bit of perspective on the leading pretense for the United States finally joining WWII. Kim and I visited as part of a whirlwind, daylong tour of Oahu. We had booked a tour with Pearl Harbor Tours. As we were trying to cram a lot of our own activities into one day, we were looking for a short tour and their Pearl Harbor & Historic Honolulu City Tour fit the bill perfectly. They picked us up right from our hotel bright and early in a small tour bus in downtown Honolulu, got us into Pearl Harbor right when it opened and had us back in about 5 hours – we were back by lunch. Our driver was great (his name escapes me) and extremely informative.

The drive along Waikiki to H1 towards Pearl Harbor was nice. Waikiki is full of fun resorts, touristy shops and restaurants and the beach is gorgeous. The real fun for me though, was getting to see the hospital where I was born as we made our way along H1: the just-so-lovely, sprawling monstrosity that is the Triply Army Medical Center. Take a look:

Nice, isn’t it?

Soon enough we had reached Pearl Harbor: a gorgeous, well harbor. Even if some of your party is just interested in some beautiful pictures, bring them along. The worst that happens is that they learn something. One of the first things I said to Kim as we were wandering about was something along the lines of “While Pearl Harbor was a terrible tragedy, at least there is some solace that those who went down with their ships rest in such a beautiful spot.”

When you arrive at Pearl Harbor, the obvious main attraction and focal point for your view is the memorial platform erected over the U.S.S Arizona. This beautiful monument serves to remind you of the lives lost on December 7, 1941. It was recommended to us that we take the early tour so that we could get a good time for the boat that will take you out to this platform. Apparently, on busy days you can miss out if you don’t get there soon enough. We still had almost two hours to wait and we got their right when it opened. That said, there’s a few nice attractions to take in while you wait for your boat. First, there’s the view of the harbor, (as stated – beautiful).

The grounds of the memorial welcome area are well groomed and feature a number of informational plaques and pictures showing how the ships were arranged on that historic day. Quotes from survivors of the attack are engraved on some of the displays, lending some humanity and insight into an event most of us cannot begin to comprehend for ourselves. Additionally, a handful of very detailed and extremely well done exhibits are inside some of the buildings. Highlights include the extended video briefing on Pearl Harbor (you will receive a short version just before boarding the boat to the U.S.S Arizona), newspapers showing the headlines of the attack and other interesting artifacts from the attack. We found that the two exhibits, “Road to War” and “Attack”, while compact, took up a good chunk of the time we had prior to boarding our craft out to the U.S.S Arizona.

It is heartbreaking, but hauntingly beautiful.

The real highlight though is actually reaching the U.S.S Arizona memorial. As you approach, you get a better view of the U.S.S Missouri (the site of surrender of the Empire of Japan – where WWII effectively ended). This ship stands as a reminder that the tragedy surrounding you was not allowed to fade into antiquity and those that fought to defend the harbor were not lost in vain. Surrounding the Arizona memorial are markers indicating where other American ships were damaged or sunk.

The US flag flies above the memorial, fluttering gently in the trade winds. Inside, an air of reverence takes hold of you and your boat mates. At the back is a list of the US Navy and US Marine Corps crew who died aboard the U.S.S Arizona. Small barricades politely remind visitors to stay back and reflect so that everyone can get a good view of this wall of 1177 names. In the center of the platform, a Navy Officer will perform a changing of the colors. The center of the platform has some large viewing cutouts so that you can see the ship below you. Fish glide gently about it and you can still see some slicks of oil and rust floating away in the waves. Some of the taller portions of the ship still poke up from beneath the waves. It is heartbreaking, but hauntingly beautiful.

I have a passion for history and visiting Pearl Harbor proved to be a wonderful, insightful experience. I want to understand history from the point of view of the people who lived it, particularly WWII history because it shaped the world as we know it today. History was made at Pearl Harbor and we are still dealing with the repercussions in many ways today and visiting it in person, no matter how much you’ve read about the events of December 7,1941, will undoubtedly affect you and teach you more than you could ever learn from reading or watching movies. That being said, I feel like visiting Pearl Harbor has provided me with new insights to carry to my other passion: game development.

I personally believe that done well, games offer us a window into things that we don’t understand that is unlike any other media in existence. Games are interactive and experiential and I think that narrative focused games could do a lot to help us understand our history while still proving entertaining. I’m in the camp that thinks WWII games should make a comeback using the best technology we have available. I don’t believe that the “great” WWII game has been made yet. There is no Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers of World War II video games yet. Some have captured moments of the conflict – the D-Day sequence in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, the Pearl Harbor scene in Medal of Honor: Rising Sun and countless other moments of WWII have been portrayed and often done well in games like Call of Duty and Brothers in Arms, but what these games often fail to capture are the extremely human parts of World War II – the parts contained and focused on heavily in most of the memoirs I’ve ever read. Combat was absolutely a huge part of WWII and should be a focus of (almost) any game set in the conflict, but most of these games fail to take on or involve (cut-scenes don’t count) the player in the tragedy, heart-break, triumph, humor and brotherhood/unity that were part of the carnage.

This isn’t a slight to the developers of the titles I mentioned above – I understand budget and technology constraints, but with games like The Last of Us or the poorly titled, but woefully underrated Spec Ops: The Line coming out now, I think we’ve learned a lot over the past decade and that we should take into account. In short, the first “great” WWII game of Saving Private Ryan caliber will be exhaustively researched and all respect will be given to the veterans and politics of the time in order to give the player the most comprehensive experience that you possibly can. (And hey – if you’re hiring to make a World War II game, I’m definitely available *wink*).

What to know if you go

Pearl Harbor Tours

The tour we took was the Pearl Harbor & Historic Honolulu City Tour, but there are plenty of options.

Phone: 808-737-3700

Places

Pearl Harbor

1 Arizona Memorial Place
Honolulu, HI 96818
(808)423-7300

Pearl Harbor

1 Arizona Memorial Place
Honolulu, HI 96818
(808)423-7300
http://www.nps.gov/valr/index.htm

Photo Bytes: Beautiful Landscapes of Hawaii

So many things of beauty in Hawaii!

There are so many gorgeous landscapes in Hawaii. We thought we’d share some of our favorite photos from the three islands we visited: Oahu, Kauai, and Maui.

Waikiki Beach

As seen on Oahu

The Mystique of Kauai

Sunsets and Beaches in Kauai

Maui Marvels

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