Hawaii Travelogue: A Japan away from Japan [Ch.16: Waikiki Notes]

By | July 7, 2017

This article is a part of series of articles about my 2017 trip to Hawaii. Please see the table of contents that contains links to other chapters.

Waikiki Notes

I’ve already written about a few places in Waikiki we visited, but I wanted to spend a little more time discussing Waikiki as a whole.

My experience of Waikiki is mostly limited to a several block radius from our hotel, but I think it is safe to say Waikiki–what I consider a jumble of elements of New York and Miami–is a town that thrives on, and exists for, tourism. This means that the majority of people on the streets are there to enjoy themselves, which isn’t exactly a bad thing. However, it also means that there is a lot of drinking, smoking, and (probably) other drugs being done all over the place–not exactly a great place for children. It may be a function of the liquor laws there, but the convenience stores typically had a very large supply of hard liquor, and such stores were very frequent. As you might imagine, this also includes many varieties of Japanese rice wine(日本酒), one of my preferred drinks.

There is nearly always people on the streets, and we came across a few strange characters while we were there: a middle aged guy who seemed to be homeless babbling to himself, an older lady singing at the top of her lungs in a mysterious language, and a sketchy guy who seemed to hanging out in the same place for several hours at a time, possibly selling some illicit substance.

In just a few blocks you get everything from seedy, tightly packed shops to large, stylish hotels. One of the more run-down plazas within a half mile of our hotel had two or three deserted stores, which may hint at how hard it is maintain a business in a place where surely the rent is off the charts. Matcha Cafe Maiko, which serves delicious green tea-based deserts, is in the same area, which hopefully will stay in business for a very long time.

There was some place called Hawaii Gun Club which I eventually figured out was a shooting range of sorts, and near our hotel a guy seemed to be standing outside practically 24 hours a day holding up a sign advertising it in Japanese/Chinese and English.

Nearly everywhere you go there is a ‘tropical’ atmosphere, created by a combination of things like ferns, flowering plants, and bamboo. Several of the higher end shopping centers have skillfully integrated natural elements like water, rocks, and plants into their design, such as the International Marketplace which has an interesting area that integrates trees into the middle of the mall, like a cross between an Ewok village and something out of Lord of the Rings. There is even a small tree-house style room that has some information on this historic shopping center. It’s unfortunate that several of these places employ fake grass instead of the real thing, but I guess the upkeep and messiness of real grass makes using it difficult in practice.

If you do stay in Waikiki, be sure to explore outside its boundaries (it’s total area is only around 3 square miles) since the atmosphere changes significantly. One area I liked was around the Iolani palace, where there was some refreshing open spaces and historic buildings. The palace itself was built in 1879, though we only saw it from the outside. Some of the architecture around there reminded me of the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami, Florida (a great place to visit if you are happen to be in South Florida).

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3 thoughts on “Hawaii Travelogue: A Japan away from Japan [Ch.16: Waikiki Notes]

  1. Kurt

    I used to work a stone’s throw from Iolani Palace and man how I regret that I took that place for granted. A couple of trips ago I finally went inside for a tour for the first time since I was in grade school, and it was definitely worth it. Like a lot of youngins all those Kings (and Queen!) and overthrow of the monarchy stuff just passed me by or was “boring”, but the Palace is a great place to realize that Hawaii was in fact taken from her people by a bunch of white dude businessmen (who were sons and grandsons of the original missionaries, in large part). That and the building/interior itself is beautiful and well-maintained and some of the docents incredibly knowledgeable. (This is more for other readers’ and potential visitor’s benefit than for yours, I realize).

    Speaking of Waikiki, my mother lived down there for many years (a couple blocks from your hotel, in fact) and it’s much more cleaned up now than it was in the past, although it was never “sketchy” or some other adjective like that. Ladies of the night were a familiar fixture on Kuhio and indeed on some parts of Kalakaua as well.


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