I grew up in the Liliha-Puunui section of Nu’uanu Valley, Honolulu, Hawaii. My family was typically working class third generation Japanese American. Our neighborhood was ethnically and economically diverse. I graduated from McKinley High School in the center of the city. My first contact with the study of city development was as a summer intern for the Urban Renewal division of Honolulu’s Planning Department. During my high school senior year, I was also an exchange student living in Hiroshima, Japan.
My architecture degree is from Syracuse University in New York State. I later worked in Boston, Massachusetts and took my first class in historic preservation at Harvard University. After returning to Honolulu, I was part of a team of young professionals selected to develop a Master Plan for the industrial district of Kaka’ako in Honolulu. During subsequent years I progressed to various architectural firms, primarily involved in resort architecture.
Projects were in Hawaii, Indonesia, Guam, Philippines, and Australia.
During my period in Honolulu I was also Hawaii’s Advisor the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a Commissioner on the State Historic Review Board, and Director for Historic Hawaii Foundation, a nonprofit, preservation organization.
What brought you to Fiji?
Australian colleagues recommended me for the Levuka Fiji’s Heritage Advisor position sponsored by the Fiji Pacific Area Travel Association (PATA). I traveled to Fiji, met Mayor George Gibson and others. The assignment was a one year task to assist Levuka in revitalization based on its unique historic resources and potential as a travel destination.
I understand your first day in Fiji you were arrested at the airport. Hardly a glorious entry into the country.
Because of a misunderstanding of my visa entry and the hiring of a non-Fijian for the project, I was detained under house arrest upon my arrival at Nadi International Airport in Fiji. The matter was soon resolved after much fanfare but it was soon clear to me that there would be political and other issues during my stay.
What did you do in Levuka? What was your job description?
My task was to assist the Levuka City Council with the immediate and long range management of its historic buildings and sites. I worked at the Town Council, met with various persons involved in projects affecting existing historic resources, and reported regularly to the Town Council. Back in those days there were no town computer networking and internet access. I used my laptop to record various observations. Luckily there were volunteers and student visitors primarily from Australia, Britain, Ireland, New Zealand, Germany, Japan, Canada and the USA who willingly assisted me at various levels. I also met with many persons involved in the governmental and private sectors in Suva, the capital of Fiji.
You were brought in as a heritage or preservation specialist. What’s the point of Levuka preserving a bunch of old buildings?
PATA (Pacific Asia Travel Association) and the government of Fiji were keen to transform Levuka, the original British capital of Fiji, into a travel destination based on its history and surviving vernacular colonial buildings and other resources. Because of its subsistence economy and poor infrastructure, including the lack of adequate accommodations, Levuka had little except for historical interests to attract outside visitations.
Gerry Takano is the author of PACIFIC FLASH: A Year in FIJI. The book can be purchased by clicking here: http://www.fijiguide.com/page/pacific-flash.