Skip to Main Content

CIST Student Sandbox

IST 605: Honolulu and Oahu Travel Guide

An in-depth guide to where to stay, eat, and visit in Honolulu, (and to a lesser extent Oahu moreover) Hawaii.

Wish You Were Here!

Welcome to Chinatown!

Both the history of Chinese immigration to Hawaii as a whole and the history of Honolulu’s Chinatown specifically are fascinating, riddled with strife, and have enduring legacies. Hawaiian-Chinese relations well pre-date the Island’s annexation, and by 1884, some 18,000 Chinese migrants lived and worked in Hawaii on sugar cane plantations (Nordyke & Lee, 1989, p.202). The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the overthrow of the monarchy a year later meant that few, if any new Chinese migrants would be granted work permits; yet the need was still there. This helped usher in a new and equally fascinating story of Japanese migrants to Hawaii – but the entirety of that story is best left for another time.

Chinatown itself is one of the lasting results of Chinese immigration to Hawaii, and has had an equally turbulent history, suffering a major fire and an outbreak of bubonic plague in the late 1800s, another even worse fire in the early 1900s, and severe economic decline after WWII. However, starting in the 1970s, the area has picked up again, and in recent years has seen major rejuvenation and is now home to cultural centers, amazing eateries and local merchants, and is host to major celebrations!

I would be lying if I said things were all hunky dory here, and often (when there are no events that day) you may be one of the only visitors in Chinatown, and feel a bit of unease even in the middle of the day. Still, I at least was never intimidated or felt threatened here, and the ruggedness of the area really gives it an authentic feel – no H Marts, no commercialization, just people trying to live their lives. If that sounds interesting to you, Chinatown is a must see; if you like the safety of a crowd, definitely make sure to stop by during an event, such as Lunar New Year!

For a more history on Cinatown and on Chinses immigration to Hawaii as a whole, make sure to check out Nordyke & Lee’s The Chinese in Hawai'i: A Historical and Demographic Perspective (1989), as well the Chinese Historical Society of America’s special issue The Hawai‘i Chinese (2010). For more on places to visit and things to do in Chinatown, make sure to read this Ligaya Malones article for New York Magazine.


Insider tip: Make sure to check out Izumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii, an awesome Shinto shrine offering numerous religious services and a perfect place to perform a hatsumōde (traditional new year’s visit to a shrine to pray for health and good luck)!

Check It Out!

More Photos!