Bumpei Akaji

Name Bumpei Akaji
Born January 30 1921
Died October 27 2002
Birth Location Lāwa‘i, Kaua‘i
Generational Identifier


Nisei veteran and internationally famous sculptor.

Bumpei Akaji was born in Lāwa'i, Kaua'i, and attended Kaua'i High School. With the outbreak of war, he was drafted into the 100th Infantry Battalion and sent overseas although he never lost his love of art. While in Italy during a military campaign, he traveled to Florence to study the great paintings and sculptures of the city and committed to one day returning and studying art in Italy. Following the war, Akaji was able to get a visa to remain in Italy and survived on his $300 pay and $65 monthly stipend from the G.I. Bill . At that time, Akaji also applied for a Fulbright grant of $200 a month that allowed him to stay in Italy and pursue his passion for art. Akaji studyed at the Academy of Fine Arts in Milan and at the Academia de Belle Arts in Florence and sought out the work of sculptors Giacomo Manzu and Marino Marini. [1] Akaji was also one of the first students to receive a Master in Fine Arts degree from the University of Hawai'i in 1952 and was among a group of artists that included Satoru Abe and Tadashi Sato who began their career during the 1950s.

Akaji initially started with painting but by the 1960s, he began to work with sculpting art from pieces of scrap metal. Akaji began dedicating his life to sculpture and according to Akaji, his work was based on natural elements like air, liquids and solids. As Akaji once explained, "You start with a dream of course . . . Your dream is a reflection of many things that have happened to you." [2] Akaji's sculptures became known for their visual impact on audiences and their strength. One of Akaji's most famous sculptures is titled "VVV" and located at the Student Services Center at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa. Inspired by the Japanese folk story of Momotaro, the peach boy from humble beginnings who overcame great adversity to save his village, the sculpture was Akaji's tribute to the Varsity Victory Volunteers who demonstrated courage and dedication. In 1998, he also created a monument honoring Japanese American veterans who fought during World War II that is erected at Fort DeRussy in Waikīkī. The State Foundation on Culture and the Arts has commissioned many of his works as part of its "Art in Public Places Collection." [3]

Authored by Kelli Y. Nakamura , University of Hawai'i

For Further Information

Gail-White, Victoria. " Akaji Succeeded on His Own Terms ," Honolulu Advertiser , Jan. 26, 2003.

Halstead, Phyllis. "New Concert Hall to Feature Work by Bumpei Akaji." Honolulu Beacon (April 1964): 38-39.


  1. Marcia Morse, Legacy: Facets of Island Modernism (Honolulu: Honolulu Academy of Arts, 2001), 16; Dedication of Sculptures Commemorating the Achievements of the Varsity Victory Volunteers (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, 1995), 2.
  2. Scott C. Stone, Living Treasures of Hawai'i: 25th Anniversary of the Selections of Outstanding Persons as Honored by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai'i (Honolulu: Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai'i, 2000), 66.
  3. Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, accessed on April 11, 2016 at https://sfca.hawaii.gov/ .

Last updated Nov. 30, 2023, 6:18 p.m..