Living Treasures of Hawaii™ recognizes and honors individuals who have demonstrated excellence and high achievement in their particular field of endeavor, and who, through continuous growth, learning, and sharing, have made significant contributions toward enriching our society.
The program was inspired by the Living National Treasures (Ningen Kokuho) of Japan. In 1976, Bishop Yoshiaki Fujitani instituted the program within the Hongwanji at the suggestion of Paul Yamanaka, a local insurance executive. Initially established to honor those involved in the perpetuation of the island’s distinctive cultural and artistic heritage, the recognition has been expanded to include contributions by individuals in all areas of endeavor.
An organization or person may nominate a candidate for this recognition by submitting a nomination form with information on the nominee. You may download a nomination form or pick one up at the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii Headquarters Office (see Contact Us). Completed nominations may be submitted in the following manner:
- By mail.
- By fax – (808) 522-9209.
- By email – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dropped off during office hours.
The completed nomination must be received by the Living Treasures Committee no later than August 1st. Presentation is made in February of the following year. For additional information, please call our office at (808) 522-9200.
Living Treasures Fund
A special fund supports the Living Treasures of Hawai’i™ program. You can easily make a donation online.Donate to the Living Treasures Fund
You may view a complete list of honorees since Living Treasures was established in 1976.
Paul Leland Breese, 93, founded the Honolulu Zoo in 1947 and served as its director for 18 years. Under his leadership, a once-desolate portion of Kapiolani Park was transformed into a world-class facility. Breese recently authored a soon-to-be-published comprehensive history of the Honolulu Zoo and continues to be actively involved with the facility’s success. Among his most significant professional accomplishments is his role in saving the native Hawaiian goose, the nene, from extinction. Through his efforts to establish the nene as the official state bird, the population grew from a perilous 30 to an estimated 2,500 birds.
Sooriya Kumar (Muthukumaru Sooriyakumar) is known for his copper and granite artwork and woodwork that is displayed around the world as well as locally in the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center. For more than 30 years, Sooriyakumar has endeavored to give back to the Waianae community.
When he was 21 his father, a village political official, was assassinated in front of his mother in their home in Sri Lanka. Sooriyakumar escaped to India, joined a group of Hindu holy men and embarked on an eight-year journey through India, Himalaya, Germany and finally Hawaii.
Sooriyakumar established Mouna Farm Arts and Cultural Village, a 4-1/2-acre property that features an organic farm that raises fruits and vegetables to feed the needy.
Puakea M. Nogelmeier is devoted to perpetuating Hawaiian language and culture. He has named countless babies, serves as the voice of TheBus and gives lectures and presentations on Hawaiian culture throughout the nation. Nogelmeier has published numerous work on Hawaiiana and Hawaiian literacy.
Nogelmeier has served as executive director of Awaiaulu, a foundation that has been instrumental in retrieving Hawaiian knowledge through language. Since 2004 Awaiaulu has helped teach students to translate Hawaiian-language newspapers.
Dennis Masaaki Ogawa, an ethnic studies professor at the University of Hawaii, wants his students to develop a deep appreciation of their heritage and recognition of being a part of a broader interethnic community. As an author he does the same through books including “Jan Ken Po: The World of Hawaii’s Japanese Americans” and “Kokomo No Tame Ni: For the Sake of the Children.”
Ogawa created Nippon Golden Network as a means to sharing movies, documentaries and sports programs that can deepen viewer understanding of Japan and foster better relationships and cultural appreciation. He has also sought to preserve the 30,000-photo collection from the Japanese newspaper Nippu Jiji.
Lillian Noda Yajima, 95, is a retired public school teacher who mentors young and old alike through her volunteer work, which ranges from origami craft to manju making. A founding member of both the Japanese Women’s Society Foundation and the Wakaba Kai sorority, Yajima shares her knowledge with students, teachers, Cherry Blossom Festival contestants and visitors to the Byodo-In Temple in Kahaluu.
She is also an active member in other organizations including the United Japanese Society of Hawaii and Japanese American Citizens League.
In addition, Yajima is a singer and dancer who conducts hula classes and performs onstage with her troupe, the Aloha Hula Ladies. Three times a year she leads the JWSF in hosting special “Friendship Tea” parties for seniors at Hale Pulama Mau at Kuakini Medical Center.