HONOLULU'S CHINATOWN

Honolulu's Chinatown has been described as one of Hawaii's most exciting and mysterious neighborhood. The historic district is located in downtown Honolulu, and has long been a popular gathering place for local residents and visitors. Located between Nuuanu Stream and Nuuanu Avenue, Chinatown at one time was the center of Chinese cultural contact on the island.

It was also once the center of Honolulu commerce. Chinatown is where the city shopped, ate, and played before the neighborhood fell on hard times. Today, with an influx of new residents and an infusion of public and private money, this 15-block downtown district is alive again.

As a gateway to Hawaii for many immigrants, Chinatown is a colorful combination of Southeast Asian cultures. Vietnamese, Laotian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Filipino, Hawaiian, Korean and Caucasian merchants work harmoniously together, selling their wares and perpetuating respective cultural traditions.

A major highlight of Chinatown is the colorful Oahu Market, a shopping complex with hanging pigs' heads, display cases of fresh fish, row after row of exotic fruits and vegetables. Also nearby are Maunakea Marketplace and Kekaulike Market which has the island's widest array of fruits and vegetables and an interesting assortment of small eateries. One will marvel at the amount of fresh produce lined up outside of each market. Bananas hang in rows above boxes of mangos, papayas, oranges, gingerroot and other common and not so common fruits and vegetables.

Inside each market all kinds of greens and root vegetables are stacked side by side in a warehouse kind of setting. Fish counters garner more space than meat counters, and an assortment of whole fishes, eyeballs staring blankly, are stacked on ice in open troughs, waiting for up-close inspection from shoppers.

THE OAHU MARKET & NEARBY SHOPS

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MAUNAKEA MARKETPLACE

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KEKAULIKE MARKET

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THE ASIAN RESTAURANTS OF CHINATOWN

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CHINATOWN'S FLOWER & LEI SHOPS

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THE OTHER LANDMARKS OF CHINATOWN

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The whole area of Chinatown burned just more than a centrury ago, so you will not find any of the original buildings. In 1886, disaster struck. A fire raged out of control for three days and destroyed most of Chinatown—eight blocks in all. An estimated 7,000 Chinese lost their homes. Just 13 years later, the Board of Health announced the presence of the Bubonic Plague in the city, following an autopsy of the first victim. Chinatown, with its 7,000 residents, was placed under quarantine.

Towards the end of 1899, more people had died of the plague and it was decided to use fire as a way to control the health hazard. On January 20, 1900, the Honolulu Fire Department started a fire, intending to burn the wooden buildings on the inland side of Beretania Street between Nuuanu Avenue and Smith Street. The goal was to burn to the ground any building in which someone contracted the disease. All went well as planned for the first hour, but the wind suddenly shifted, and the fire began leaping from building to building, eventually devouring 38 acres and nearly all of Chinatown. Four thousand residents were left homeless and once again devastated the area and its residents.

After these two big fires, Chinatown was rebuilt. But much of the area eventually fell into a state of neglect and disrepair in the years that followed. Crime also became a serious problem. It wasn’t until local merchants injected new life to the area that Chinatown was revitalized. Preservation efforts are helping to retain the character of the mom-and-pop shops, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and funky galleries that make this colorful 140-year-old neighborhood worth a visit.

Chinatown in Honolulu differs from Chinatown in many other mainland cities in that many of the buildings are relatively new. It is more than a wondrous maze of shops, galleries and eateries. Above all, Chinatown represents a colorful and unique slice of local history that makes a tour of its surroundings worthwhile. Today, several walking tours of Chinatown are offered. The Hawaii Heritage Center offers a guided walking tour twice a week. For dates, time, cost, and other information, call 521-2749. The tour includes stops at numerous eateries, gift shops, temples and more. A walk through Chinatown is nevertheless a trip through an area so important in the history of Honolulu.

Click to See Vicinity Map of The Chinatown District (Note: Chinatown extends from Nuuanu Avenue northward to Nuuanu Stream and from Beretania Street westward to Nimitz Highway).



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