Lighting up the night in paradise
by Donica Kaneshiro | Dec. 17, 2019
For 11 months each year, nights in the Hawaiian Paradise Park subdivision of Puna are pitch black, without even street lights to break up the darkness. Then, at the beginning of December, Stanward Oshiro flips a switch and Christmas arrives. Thousands of lights twinkle to life and the music of the season is broadcast on 106.7 FM.
For the 12th year, the staff engineer in Hawaii Electric Light’s Distribution department is staging an extravagant synchronized light and music display at his home. “Every year I kind of compete with myself and I try to do it better than what it was last year. I’m forever always looking at upgrading. It’s a continuous improvement kind of thing.”
Nearly everyone has seen a video of a house pulsing bright with Christmas lights, but few take that as a challenge to bedeck their own home in similar fashion. But that is exactly what happened with Stanward back in 2008. The relatively humble display attracted a lot of attention and landed Stanward on the front page of the Hawaii Tribune-Herald.
“I had only one 16-channel controller, where there’s 16 independent strings of light that I can control. It grew over the years where it became several hundred channels I have to control and program. It’s a really addictive hobby,” Stanward said.
The 45-minute show starts playing from 7 to 9 p.m. in the first week of December and the Oshiro house, which he shares with his wife and their two daughters, receives about 20 cars a night for the first couple of weeks. “Then as soon as school gets out for winter break, I get 100 cars on up a night. Typically, the peak nights are Dec. 22–25 and I get around 300 cars each night.”
To meet the demand and reduce the traffic backlog, Stanward plays the light show until 10 p.m. once school lets out. And in 2011, he bulldozed the front of his one-acre lot to create 20 parking spaces. “I’ve been blessed with having really good neighbors. They realize what it’s all about and some of my neighbors come out and help me direct traffic,” he said.
This year, the Oshiro family and neighbors who help park cars will be a part of the show, as Stanward has wired their vests with lights that will flash in rhythm to the music. Even with the additional parking, Stanward says wait times can take up to an hour on peak nights as 40–50 cars wait in a queue down Railroad Avenue. Past years have featured a mix of traditional Christmas music, such as “Jingle Bells” and “Carol of the Bells;” local favorites, like Frank De Lima’s “Filipino Christmas;” as well as pop culture phenomena, like “Baby Shark” and “Fortnite Rap Battle.”
It’s all projected using pixel lighting, 12-millimeter bulbs that enclose three tiny lights in red, green and blue, that function much like the pixels in a TV screen or computer monitor, allowing Stanward to control the exact color and brightness of every dot of light. “When you have them laid out in a matrix, then you can scroll text or put images across it,” Stanward said. Last year, he had about 13,000 pixel lights obeying his every command, but he’s still upgrading and adding to this year’s display, as he does all season long.
Setting up the hardware for the display takes about 20 eight-hour days in November. Choreographing the lights to the musical selections is a painstaking process — it takes about 5 hours to program every minute of song. Stanward says his daughters, ages 12 and 14, are his inspiration. “They love it. That’s one of the motivations,” he said. “My younger one was only 1 year old at the time we started the display, so she doesn’t remember a time without it.”
So many people have expressed their appreciation to the Oshiro ohana that in 2011, the family started accepting donations for The Food Basket. Last year, the family raised $1,417 and collected 945.9 pounds of food.
“Some people actually bring out tables and pop up chairs and they have dinner. They come in multiple cars. They open up the back of their minivan and they have a full spread of food,” he said. “They even have parties in my front yard, which I don’t mind. As long as they are having fun.”
Visit Stanward Oshiro’s Punalights show!
Where: 15–2053 18th Ave., Keaau Hawaii Island (just type “punalights” in Google Maps for directions)
When: 7 to 9 p.m. Dec. 7 through Dec. 19 and Dec. 26 to 31, 7 to 10 p.m. Dec. 20 to 25
Follow Punalights on Facebook.
Watch last year’s show on YouTube.
Donica Kaneshiro is a communications consultant at Hawaiian Electric Company.