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3. History of Nichiren Mission
        of Hawaii

            * Part I (When the Nichiren
              Buddhism came to Hawaii)
            * Part II (Before the World War
            * Part III (After the World War
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Part I

I. When Nichiren Buddhism came to Hawaii (Historical Background)

1) Propagation of Nichiren Buddhism Overseas

Most of the Japanese Buddhist Schools have been engaged in missionary activities overseas, but the Nichiren Shu Order regards missionary activities specially important because its Founder, Nichiren Shonin, vowed to "convert all the people in the whole world to the Wonderful Dharma (ittenshikai kaiki myoho)." Nichiren Shonin dedicated himself to the missionary work even at the risk of his life, hoping to bring about true happiness to the people and to establish peace in society.

In 1294, Renge Ajari Nichiji Shonin (1250- ?), one of the Six Senior Disciples of Nichiren Shonin, held the 13th memorial service of Nichiren Shonin and visited the Founder’s mausoleum on Mt. Minobu to report his determination to propagate Nichiren Buddhism abroad. Waiting for the New Year’s Day of the following year, he entrusted the Ren'eiji Temple to his disciple Nikkyo and started on a journey for overseas propagation. He was 46 years of age.

Departing from the Ren'eiji Temple in Suruga Province (present Shizuoka Prefecture) Nichiji Shonin traveled through northeastern section of Honshu to Hokkaido. He is believed to have gone to continental Asia. We know he reached Mongolia in northeastern China. However, how he crossed the sea, how he traveled to the interior of the continent, and what happened to him thereafter was unknown. The Nichiren Shu Order of Japan, therefore, regards the New Year’s Day of 1295 as the memorial day of Nichiji Shonin.

In 1936, 14 relicts which apparently belonged to Nichiji Shonin were found in an old pagoda at the Li-hua-ssu Temple in the town of Hsuan-hua near the Great Wall of China. Nine of them were brought back to Japan by a returnee from China at the end of World War II, and currently, are kept in the Storehouse of Treasures of the Kuonji Temple on Mt. Minobu.

Based on these relics, it is now believed that Nichiji Shonin somehow reached the town of Hsuan-hua, where he ended his eventful life. According to a legend, Nichiji Shonin passed away sitting with his legs crossed, and he stood up in the raging flames while being cremated. It is said that local people who saw it called him Li-hua Founder, and praising him for his high virtue in his lifetime, built a pagoda, and enshrined his statue.

From ancient times, many priests of high virtue went to the continent of Asia, seeking the Buddha’s teachings. However, Nichiji Shonin was the first person from Japan who crossed the sea to continental Asia to propagate Buddhism. He was the pioneer for overseas propagation in the history of, not just the Nichiren Shu Order, but all the Buddhist schools in Japan.

After Nichiji Shonin, during the years of Myoo (1492-1500) in the Ashikaga Period, Daishoin Nichigyo Shonin (1462-1506), 11th Chief Priest of the Honkokuji Temple in Kyoto aspired in vain to spread Nichiren Buddhism in China. Likewise, ambitious precursors of missionaries are presumed to have followed until the Tokugawa Shogunate enforced its national isolation policy. Unfortunately, however, no record is found of their efforts. The hope to achieve the Founder’s goal of converting all the people in the whole world to the Wonderful Dharma, which had been frustrated by the national isolation policy during the Tokugawa Period, was rekindled by the Meiji Restoration.

In the Meiji Period, Nichiren Shu's primary areas of overseas missionary activities were Korea, Taiwan, Sakhalin, continental China including Manchuria and Southeast Asia. Missionary activities in Northeast and Southeast Asia were encouraged by the national policy of Japan of the time, but they were also overwhelmingly influenced by the great work of Nichiji Shonin. Missionary zeal to realize our Founder’s wish to "convert all the people in the whole world to the Wonderful Dharma" was rekindled among the early precursors of the modern Nichiren Shu missionaries overseas although Higashi and Nishi Hongwanji Temples of the True Pure Land School had a headstart. Asahi Nichimyo Shonin (1892-1916) made a special contribution playing a pivotal role in taking the lead in overseas propagation. In the third decade of the Meiji Period, when the Nichiren Shu Order celebrated the 650th Anniversary of its establishment, Nichimyo Shonin and other early precursors gathered together to inaugurate the "Nichiren Shu Overseas Propagation Association" with Nichimyo Shonin as its first President. This association was founded for the purpose of expanding and vitalizing the personal missionary activities of Nichimyo Shonin after 1890, going to Korea personally and establishing temples in several Korean cities (such as Pusan, Inchon, Seoul and Wosan), and the Honkokuji Betsuin in Shanghai, China.

Approving the organization of the Nichiren Shu Overseas Propagation Association, Archbishop Nichigo Imamura of the Nichiren Shu Order in November, 1899, appealed to all the members to support the Association. Also in December, Archbishop Imamura issued an order stating, "According to our Founder’s vow to convert all the people in the whole world to the Wonderful Dharma, let us strive to shower the supreme teaching of the Buddha upon all beings on earth." Moreover, the national convention of all Japan Nichiren Buddhists held in the Kinki Hall in the Kanda district of Tokyo on April 29, 1902, (the 650th Anniversary year), adopted the "promotion of overseas propagation" as one of the 17 resolutions.

Thus, using the opportunity of the 650th Anniversary of Nichiren Buddhism, the entire Nichiren Shu Order began modern overseas missionary activities.



2) Asahi Nichimyo Shonin and Modern Nichiren Shu Overseas Propagation

As Nichiji Shonin is the Father of Overseas Propagation of Japanese Buddhism, Asahi Nichimyo Shonin is the Father of Modern Nichiren Shu Overseas Propagation. The sources are limited to the Nihon bukkyo tobeishi (History of Japanese Buddhism in America), the Shinpen Nichiren Shu nenpyo (Newly Compiled Chronology of the Nichiren Shu Order), the Kindai Nichiren Shu nenpyo (Modern Chronology of the Nichiren Shu Order) or the Nichiren Shu Jiten (Encyclopedia of Nichiren Shu).

Konen Tsunemitsu writes in his Nihon bukkyo tobei-shi:

The life of Nichimyo Asahi is not evident with the information available to the writer. He died at the age of 84 in 1916. Counting backwards, he was born in 1833. His home was a headman’s house in Niko Village, Nishi Kambara County, Niigata Prefecture. I was able to determine that his mother’s name was "Rita" and she died on May 9th in 1874 at the age of 65. His father’s name, however, has not been ascertained. Neither has his last name "Asahi". We do not know whether it was originally his father’s family name or self-professed by Nichimyo. He was thin, but he appeared as elegant as a crane.

This is what is known of his biography. By the way, the year of Nichimyo’s birth, 1833, was when Udanain Nichiki Shonin became the Resident Priest of the Ryuzoji Temple in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, and established a school called Jugoen in the temple compound, according to a chronological table.

Nichimyo Shonin had "Asahi" as his surname, "Eso" as his first name, and was titled "Joshoin". In 1845, he entered the Buddhist priesthood at the age of 13 as a disciple of Priest Nitto of the Myokoji Temple in Echigo Province (Niigata Prefecture). In 1851 he began studying at Nakamura Danrin (Seminary). Thereafter, he was appointed the Resident Priest of the following temples in successive order: Renzoji Temple in Fukui Prefecture, Hon'enji Temple in Kyoto, and Honzan Koshoji Temple in Saga Prefecture before being installed as the 65th Abbot of the Myokakuji Temple in Kyoto on December 12, 1886. According to the "Record of Successive Resident Priests" of the Myoezan Zenshoji Temple of Kyoto, Nichimyo Shonin also served as the 538th Principal (genno) of the Higashiyama Danrin Seminary established by the Zenshoji Temple. We can conjecture that he was then about 30 years old because the Higashiyama Danrin (Seminary) was discontinued in 1873. On October 8, 1902, he was installed as the 48th Abbot of the Dai-Honzan Honkokuji in Kyoto.

Nichimyo Shonin was one of the great preachers of the time, and he enthusiastically canvassed many places. Limited to what is recorded in the Modern Chronology of the Nichiren Shu Order, "Nichimyo Asahi of the Myokakuji Temple in Kyoto propagated in the Chugoku Region (western Honshu) in 1888;" "On June 12th of the same year, Nichimyo Asahi of the Myokakuji Temple in Kyoto started a missionary journey in the Hokuriku Region (northwestern Honshu)." In 1892, Nichimyo Shonin, who had spent 9 years trying to establish Nichiren Buddhism in Korea, organized the Overseas Propagation Association in order to expand and consolidate the missionary activities in Seoul, Inchon, Wosan, and other areas in Korea. On June 15, 1892, "Nichimyo Asahi departed to canvass around Hokkaido." It was the time when transportation and communication systems in Japan had not been fully developed, so it is assumed that his journey was a difficult one in terms of time and physical endurance. It is said that whenever Nichimyo Shonin traveled, he did it alone and light, using a third-class ticket for trains and ships. When he visited the Honkyoji Temple in Kokura City as a lecturer, it is said that the Resident Priest of the temple waited for him in vain at the exit for the second-class coach, only to find that Asahi Shonin had gotten off the third-class coach and headed for the temple alone. He spent 2-3 months each in the Hokuriku and Chugoku regions, and 6 months in Hokkaido on a propagation tour. On November 25th of the same year, the dedication ceremony for the opening of the Myokakuji Betsuin Temple was held in Pusan, Korea, so it is conceivable that he went over to Korea while touring Hokkaido for propagation. He was 62 years old then. He was such an energetic activist. In addition, in October 1893, he established the Myokakuji Betsuin Temple in Inchon, Korea, and set up the headquarters of the Overseas Propagation Association at the Myokakuji Betsuin Temple in Pusan, Korea, and its office at the Myokakuji Temple in Kyoto. In 1894, when the Sino-Japanese War broke out, "Nichimyo Asahi headed for Vladivostok to observe the state of affairs in Siberia."

In January 1897, it is written: "Nichimyo Asahi was made the President of the Nichiren Shu Overseas Propagation Association." It is believed that he resigned from the leadership of the Myokakuji Temple in Kyoto at this time to concentrate on the task of overseas propagation. In 1899, he went to Shanghai and built the Hall of Lotus Teaching. It was in July of the same year that Rev. Gyoun Takagi headed out for Hawaii.

In 1900, Nichimyo Shonin went to India and paid homage to the Buddhist ruins at Buddhagaya, the record of which was preserved in Rokuyaonji Temple at the Deer Park, where Sakyamuni Buddha delivered His first sermon.

Rev. Shoichi Takamori writes in his Busseki o Megurite (Visiting Around the Buddhist Remains):

The Buddha’s cremated bones are preserved in the pedestal at the Rokuyaonji Temple, are opened to the public in the evening of the full moon in November. Around the inner sanctuary, various Buddhas and heavenly beings are enshrined, which appear to have been donated by various countries. An epigraph written in gold on a black lacquered plate, "Namu Myo Ho Renge Kyo. Nichimyo, a priest of Nichiren Buddhism, made a pilgrimage to Buddhagaya on April 8, 1900, dedicated his nails and hair to the pagoda", impressed me deeply…. I wonder how the bones which had been placed in Buddhagaya ended up here in the Rokuyaonji Temple.

On May 18, 1902, Rev. Gyoun Takagi built a Nichiren Shu temple in Kapapala on the island of Hawaii. The year was the memorable 650th Anniversary of the establishment of the Nichiren Shu Order, and commemorative conventions were held not only throughout Japan but also at various overseas missions such as the one in southern Taiwan, and the Nichiren Buddhist Association in Seoul and the Myokakuji Temple in Inchon in Korea. So it must have been a busy year for Nichimyo Shonin as well. On October 8th, after these commemorative activities were almost over, Nichimyo Shonin entered the Dai-Honzan Honkokuji in Kyoto as its 48th Chief Priest. Even thereafter he continued to travel to various places for propagation.

In March of 1908 Nichimyo Shonin engaged in propagation in the Hokuriku Region of Japan in March and held the opening ceremony of the missionary office in Wonsan, Korea, in July. "Nichimyo Asahi visits China again for propagation" in August. In the following year, 1909, he sent his disciple Rev. Kanjo Asahi to Masan, Korea, to launch Nichiren Buddhism there. Five years later, in 1914, Rev. Kanjo Asahi established the Los Angeles Church in California which is the present U.S. Nichiren Shu Minobusan Betsuin Temple.

On September 6, 1910, Asahi Nichimyo Shonin was elected as the 18th Archbishop of Nichiren Shu Order. In 1913, he retired from the position after serving a full tenure, and in 1915, he went to the U.S. to attend the World Buddhist Convention held in San Francisco from August 2nd to 7th. On July 19th on his way to San Francisco, he stopped by and stayed overnight in Honolulu, and was enthusiastically welcomed by local followers. On August 27th on his return trip, he visited Honolulu again and, while his schedule was tight with sermons, lecture meetings, welcome parties and so on, he went all the way to the island of Hawaii for propagation. On September 10th he left Honolulu arriving in Japan on September 20th.

Nichimyo Shonin's actions were energetic on the mainland U.S. as well. Arriving in San Francisco on July 26th, he headed for Los Angeles by train on the 28th after attending a welcome party. On the 30th, he spoke in the Great Lecture Meeting of the Buddhist Federation held in the L.A. City Hall. Although he forgot to take his dentures from San Francisco, he opened his speech by saying: "I have heard that everything in the U.S. was just the opposite of Japan. I found it quite true. Although we are in the evening right now, asahi (morning sun) has appeared." Thus, it is said, an 83-year-old senior priest captivated the 1,000 in audience with him and gave a great lecture for about an hour. Then, he visited Seattle, Washington, to participate in a lecture meeting. After the meeting, he promised to establish a temple in response to an earnest request by the Nichiren Shu devotees. In the following year, 1916, he sent Reverend Ryucho Oka as the first Resident Priest of the Seattle temple.

There is another vignette of Asahi Nichimyo Shonin. This was when he crossed the Pacific Ocean aboard the Ten'yomaru to attend the World Buddhist Convention held in San Francisco in 1913. Although he was the former Archbishop representing the Japanese Buddhist world, he traveled alone, without an attendant in a third-class cabin. Always thinking of propagation, it is said that he even tried to lecture on Buddhism aboard the ship. It so happened that Reverend Mokusen Hioki, the Dean of the Soto Zen School and one of the representatives of Japan to the World Buddhist Convention in San Francisco, was aboard the same ship. He was 69 years old then and was duly accompanied by an attendant. When he asked Nichimyo Shonin, "Are you alone despite your advanced age?" Nichimyo Shonin is said to have answered, "Yes, since I am old, I need to prepare to go to the other world by myself."

When the Ten'yomaru called at the Port of Honolulu on the way to San Francisco, Revs. Takagi and Nunome as well as several others were waiting for the former Archbishop. To their surprise, Nichimyo Shonin came out not from the first-class cabin but the third-class with the people at-large. He is quoted to have impassively said, "Whether first-class or third-class, there is no difference in arriving at a port." Years later, Rev. Nunome remembered this unforgettable incident. On the way back to Japan, Nichimyo Shonin revisited Hawaii. This time he made a trip to the Kapapala Nichiren Temple on the island of Hawaii and granted a Gohonzon to Rev. Nunome dated September 5, 1915, which is still treasured in the Hilo Nichiren Mission today. He is also said to have given away his personal belongings to his friends in Hawaii as the "articles left behind by the deceased" when he departed for Japan, saying he was too old to expect to see them again.

The Modern Chronology of the Nichiren Shu Order states: "In 1916 Nichimyo Asahi passed away in the Bujian Monastery at the age of 84; he was the 18th Archbishop, who worked hard for propagation abroad."

Upon commemorating the 650th Anniversary of the birth of Nichiren Buddhism, the whole of Nichiren Shu Order thus grew enthusiastic about propagation abroad. It was against this background that Rev. Gyoun Takagi (1872 - 1946) arrived in Hawaii alone in 1899 under the direction by the Order to set forth missionary work.



3) Propagation of Nichiren Buddhism by Reverend Gyoun Takagi

The propagation of Nichiren Buddhism in Hawaii was begun by Reverend Gyoun Takagi, who came to Hawaii in October, 1899. Although A History of Nichiren Buddhism in Hawaii by Reverend Senchu Murano (Honolulu, Hawaii, Nichiren Mission of Hawaii, 1982) states that it was in October, 1900, when Reverend Takagi arrived in Hawaii, it is stated in the Modern Chronology of the Nichiren Shu Order: "(He) departs for Hawaii in July, 1899;" and in the Newly Compiled Chronology of the Nichiren Shu Order: "1899, Gyoun Takagi begins missionary activity in Hawaii." Since the source of these statements is Rev. Takagi's letter of resignation, their credibility is quite high. Thus we believe that Gyoun Takagi came to Hawaii in October, 1899. At any rate, having been dispatched by the Nichiren Shu Order, he landed in Honolulu and took off his traveling clothes at the residence of Mr. Masanobu Chiya on Kukui Street in Honolulu. For more than a year, he visited many places not only on Oahu but other islands looking for a suitable site to build a Nichiren temple. Finally, he found it at the Kapapala Plantation on the island of Hawaii, where he found many Nichiren followers and decided to build there the first Nichiren temple in Hawaii.

Kapapala is located in a remote corner 60 miles away from the city of Hilo, the second largest city in Hawaii. Without any modern transportation system of trains or automobile, those who lived in Hilo in those days had to take a coach for a part of the way, and then they continued to travel on horseback or on foot to reach Kapapala after staying overnight somewhere. We may naturally wonder why Reverend Takagi did not try to establish the temple in Honolulu, the capital city of Hawaii, from the beginning. Available documents are completely silent about this question.

As described above, Reverend Takagi arrived in Honolulu in 1899. In December of that year, a bubonic plague epidemic broke out. According to the Hawaii Nikkei-jin Imin-shi (History of the Japanese Immigrants in Hawaii), it spread all over Honolulu by the following year. To make matters worse, on January 20, 1900, while government officials were trying to contain the epidemic by burning the houses suspected to be contaminated, the fire spread out of control. It destroyed a wide area of the city including sections that were densely inhabited by the Japanese immigrants. This catastrophe disrupted the normal operation of the transportation system and business activities. It is reported that altogether 3,589 Japanese homes were burned and many Japanese lost their businesses: a church, a theater, a newspaper company, 5 factories, 3 clinics, 23 barbershops, 9 public baths, 11 restaurants, and 81 shops. In total, 176 buildings were burned to ashes, causing utter confusion all over Honolulu. We can conjecture that under such circumstances, Reverend Takagi decided to leave the city for a while to work on concrete results elsewhere before returning to start propagation in Honolulu.

On the island of Hawaii, Reverend Takagi visited each camp day and night to raise funds for a building. It is said that a lay devotee, Yukichi Noguchi, accompanied Reverend Takagi, carrying a statue of Nichiren Shonin on his back. The Modern Chronology of the Nichiren Shu Order states that in August, 1901, a provisional church was set up. Probably, Reverend Takagi used his temporary house for a church to gather the people for propagation. Also it is written in the Chronology, "Reverend Gyoun Takagi opens the Kapapala Japanese Elementary School in Hawaii." Probably he opened something like a "temple school" of the Tokugawa Period in one of the rooms of his temporary church to gather children and taught Japanese to them.

The construction of the Kapapala Nichiren Mission started on March 15, 1902, and was completed on May 18. Two hundred followers are said to have gathered for its dedication ceremony. We consider this date to be the birthdate of Nichiren Shu Order in Hawaii. The munafuda (plate attached to the ridge pole with vital records of the building) of this church building, which is preserved in the Hilo Nichiren Mission today, states, "Pahala Nichiren Shu Church, Kau District, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii" to the right of the Gohonzon; and "Framework-raising and Enshrining the Buddha Ceremony, May 18, 1902, 650th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Nichiren Shu Order" to the left.

The Kapapala Church building still exists today. It is now, however, a Tibetan Buddhist temple, and no longer a Nichiren Shu temple. The circumstances of this changeover will be explained later.


Worship of Seishoko

The worship of Seishoko (Lord Kato Kiyomasa) is seen nationwide in Japan, especially in Kumamoto Prefecture, with the Honmyoji Temple as its focus. It is also seen in the islands of Hawaii since there are many people of Kumamoto origin. The construction of the Hall for Seishoko on the island of Maui, which will be described later, is an example of Seishoko worship. Also the Seishoko Festival has been one of the annual events of the Nichiren Mission of Hawaii since its founding. The miniature shrine for the statue of Lord Kato Kiyomasa enshrined at the Mission states that the statue’s eye-opening-ceremony was conducted by Ippon'in Nitchu, the 34th Chief Priest of the Honmyoji Temple in Higo Province (Kumamoto) on September 1, 1912.


Conditions in Kau

In Looking Back 50 Years in Hawaii by Keiho Soga refers to Rev. Gyoun Takagi:

Kona in 1903 looked like the countryside of Japan. Walking down the street, we met some Japanese and native Hawaiians, but hardly any Caucasians. Laundry hanging here and there was mostly of Japanese women or children, and Japanese geta (wooden clogs) were scattered on the roadside. During our stay in Kona, we were guided to the Captain Cook Monument and were surprised to see a sign written in Japanese with thick strokes: "Village Hall of Akitsushima (Japan) Village" hanging somewhere in Kealakekua, Southern Kona. In those days, we did not have the modern convenience of automobiles, so we had to make the trip around the island on horseback or in the horse driven coach. Our party started at Kealakekua for Kau at dawn (3:00 a.m.). We passed through the vast lava plain; night fell on the way and two huge cows blocked our way like an immovable rock before we finally reached Nalehu after 8:00 in the evening. We all were dead tired. We found lodging upstairs of a Chinese store (Shirakaba Hotel today) and stayed there for a few days. There was the Nichiren Shu Place for Expounding the Dharma, with a man called Gyoun Takagi as its minister. It was inconveniently situated as its neighbors were 10 miles away.