Thursday, September 18, 2008


On US maps, North America is in the center of the world and Hawaii is shown as a small inset. Living in Hawaii, has put Hawaii in the center of our world and the Pacific Ocean in the center of our map.

The cover of a Japanese High school geography book depicts a map of the world from the Japanese perspective. The map centers on Japan and the Pacific Ocean and shows Hawaii as an equal to the continents of Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, and America.
This map got us wondering about the physical size of Hawaii and why the Japanese would see it as so important.

Here are different ways of viewing Hawaii:

Hawaiian Surface Area

The land area (above water) of all the Hawaiian Islands put together is 6400 square miles (16,576 square km) making it the 47th US State in size. If the water within the Hawaiian Islands is included in the calculation, then Hawaii is the 43rd largest US State in size, larger than Massachusetts but smaller than Maryland. If you include the entire Hawaiian Ridge, which consists of the islands of Hawaii and the US Marine reserve that extends northwest to the Kure Atoll, then Hawaii consists of 140,000 square miles (362,598 square km) and would be the 4th largest US State behind California, but ahead of Montana.

Hawaiian Geological Formations

Hawaii is a part of a bigger entity known as the Hawaiian-Emperor seamo
unt chain which includes the Hawaiian Ridge and the Emperor Seamounts, a vast underwater mountain range containing over 80 identifiable volcanoes. It stretches over 3600 miles (5793.6 km) from the Aleutian Trench in the far northwest Pacific Ocean to the youngest volcano in the chain, Lo’ihi seamount which lies about 22 miles (35.4 km) from the Island of Hawaii.

Hawaii consists of a huge mountain range that spans the northern Pacific Ocean with 8 small islands representing the visible portion of the mountains. The Mejii seamount portion of the Emperor mountain range is the oldest in the range with an estimated age of 83 million years and here on the Big Island, at the other side of the chain, formation is still happening from the continuous lava flows.

Hawaii consists of the tallest and most massive mountains in the world. Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain on Earth measured from base to summit with a total height of 33,475 feet (10,203 meters). The base of Mauna Kea on the floor of the Pacific Ocean is 19,678.5 feet (5,998 meters) below sea level and its summit is 13,796 feet (4,205 meters) above sea level. Mauna Loa, only 115 feet (35 meters) lower than Mauna Kea, is the most massive mountain on Earth spanning an area of 2,035 square miles (5,271 km2) with a volume of 19,000 cubic miles (80,000 cubic kilometers).

Hawaiian Global Weather Impact

Though ancient glaciers
no longer cover Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, snow still covers them in the winter. And despite Hawaii looking like tiny specks of land within a vast ocean, it impacts the ocean currents and wind patterns over much of the northern Pacific Ocean. The trade winds blow from the NE t
o the SW, from the Americas toward Asia, but the mountains on Hawaii create a wind block that splits the trade winds creating a zone of weak winds on the leeward side of the islands. This “wind wake” caused by Hawaii extends 1860 miles (3,000 km), the longest identified wind wake on earth. The unique ”wind wake” is considered the cause of an eastward “counter current” that brings warm water 5,000 miles (8,000 km) from the Asian coast to Hawaii. This warm water causes changes in the wind, weather, and marine life extending the Hawaii effect far into the western Pacific regions. In addition, current volcanic activity in Hawaii is affecting the ocean temperature and global weather.

Hawaiian Culture

Hawaii is the only US State not on the continent of North America and it has a different cultural history than the Americas. It is the only US State with its own language, a non-European language that is used widely in the State and its schools, businesses, and government. The language and culture are perpetuated through dance and ceremony and a way of life that is uniquely Hawaiian. Hawaii is the only State with a historic local monarchy and an official royal palace.

To those living on the American continent, these may seem quaint differences, but in the Polynesian and Asian cultures, these things are considered to be of great significance. From an Asian perspective, America is a far distance from Hawaii and people living in Hawaii are not considered to be Americans. The Japanese word for Americans is “Amerikajin”, but those that live in Hawaii, regardless of their race or nationality, are “Hawaiijin”.

The massive area, ancient and active geology, remote location, climatic impact, and culture make Hawaii feel more like a continent than a set of small islands. As newcomers we are just beginning to understand how the world views Hawaii and the people that live here and we have come to discover that it is a view far different than the mainland US.


Anonymous said...

Australians have their own view...

Anonymous said...

"Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain on Earth measured from base to summit" Since no mountains are measured in this manner Mauna Kea is not the tallest mountain on the earth. That is one comment I hear time and again in Hawai'i that is so erroneous, we do not measure mountain heights from their base and therefore Mauna Kea is not the tallest mountain in the world. It's like saying 1+2 is greater than 1+3 if you start counting at -2 when adding 1+2 but you start at 0 when adding 1+3 ...

Katherine said...

Anonymous II,

I've always understood that description of Mauna Kea as a way to share with others how interesting the mountain is--and not really a claim to be the tallest mountain in the world.

That the hot spot erupted long enough to break the ocean surface--and much more--is an impressive feat...part of what makes our islands so special.

Thanks HiloLiving!

Thais said...

Another great perspective, Aussies!
And, hilarious!!

Anonymous said...

hmmm, okay, sorry, but I have to comment on this post having arrived here from a blogroll on

I was born and raised in Hawaii, on Oahu. The Hawaiian language, while with English an official language of the state of Hawaii, is NOT used "widely in the State and its schools, businesses, and government". In fact, I have never, not once, heard it spoken natively (ie, not as part of a song or chant for instance). There are currently people and institutions that are attempting to revive Hawaiian, and I wish them luck, but your assertion is wrong.

As well, I currently live in Japan, having left Hawaii four years ago. My wife is Japanese, and we married in Hawaii, where she lived for eight years. Japanese DO NOT call people in Hawaii Hawaiijin, which means Hawaiian. They might call them Hawaii no Hito, which means person from Hawaii, just as they might say California no Hito, or person from California. And they most certainly do call people from Hawaii Americajin.

I realize you just moved to Hawaii, and am glad that you seem to be loving the islands as not everyone does who moves there from the mainland. However, while Hawaii is wonderfully different from most of mainland culture it very definitely considers itself a part of the US, certain rights groups excluded.

My $.02 reality check.

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