NICHIREN MISSION OF HAWAII

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3. History of Nichiren Mission
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            * Part I (When the Nichiren
              Buddhism came to Hawaii)
            * Part II (Before the World War
              II)
            * Part III (After the World War
              II)
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7. Kito (Blessing) Service
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HISTORY OF NICHIREN MISSION OF HAWAII

Part II

2, Before the World War II (First half of the History of the Nichiren Mission of Hawaii)

1) Temporary Temple in Honolulu

Thanks to the meticulously recorded diary of Gyoun Takagi, recorded ever since he moved to Honolulu, we are able to trace the early history of the Nichiren Mission of Hawaii in detail.

Reverend Takagi, who had spent 10 years in Kapapala, received a letter from a Shinto priest named Takeshita of the Kato Shrine in Honolulu (enshrining Lord Kato Kiyomasa; and no longer existing today) in January, 1912. Takeshita said that he wished to be introduced to a Buddhist priest because he was planning to establish a Shinto-Buddhist temple in Honolulu.

Gyoun Takagi traveled to Honolulu to meet with Reverend Takeshita on February 20, but declined the invitation because he "foresaw the trouble lying ahead of the proposed plan, concluding that it would be better for him to establish the Nichiren Shu Place for Expounding the Dharma alone." He related his idea to Umekichi Asahina, Umata Togawa, and others, whom he had been acquainted with. They agreed with Takagi and decided to hold a meeting for consultation on February 28 in the Palama Hot Spa, which was attended by seven men: Umekichi Asahina, Ichijiro Nagamori, Umata Togawa, Shuji Miyake, Daikichi Sakata, Kiyomatsu Takahashi, and Shichiro Tanaka.

On Monday of the following week the second meeting for consultation was held at the residence of the Nagamoris. It was attended by Umekichi Asahina, Daikichi Sakata, Chuzo Miyamoto, Shichizo Mamiya, Shuji Miyake, Heizaburo Inukai, Umata Togawa, and Mr. Tomioka. They decided to hold a Nichiren Buddhist Convention in Hawaii and wrote, printed and distributed the manifesto of the Nichiren Buddhist Convention among prospective Nichiren Buddhists:

"Hawaii is located at the crossroad between the United States and Japan, and Honolulu is her capital city. Therefore, many Buddhist sects vie with one another in establishing temples and temple edifices in this city, so that their devotees strengthen their faith and gain solace day and night, work hard happily, and manage the way to establish permanent homes with ease. How about the followers of the Nichiren Shu Order? The number of Japanese residents today in Honolulu is over 20,000. We believe that they include many Nichiren Buddhists, who have no place to practice their faith and are totally lost in the path to enlightenment. We have lamented this for years. Now Rev. Takagi came to Honolulu and revealed his plan to spread Nichiren Buddhism in this city. How wonderful his plan is! Sakyamuni Buddha preaches in the Lotus Sutra that this is the correct time to expound the Dharma. Our Founder states that the True Dharma will be revealed after the expedient teachings are expounded. How true it is that the existing conditions of the city of Honolulu exactly fit the holy words! Let us promptly hoist the banner of the Myoho Renge Kyo in the sky of the city of Honolulu, resoundingly beating the drum of the destroying the evil dharma and establishing the True Dharma, quickly meeting the auspicious spring when all the people in the entire world are converted to the Wonderful Dharma, and we together with others to be with the Eternal Sakyamuni Buddha. Now is the time for all Nichiren Buddhists to rise. We will hold a Nichiren Buddhist Convention to discuss the preliminary arrangements at the Nihonjin Club at 1:00 p.m. on March 10. We urge you, Nichiren Buddhists, all to be with us."

March, 1912

Advocators: Umekichi Asahina, Taisaburo Hashimoto, Ikutaro Imanaka, Heizaburo Inukai, Kinzaburo Kanemitsu, Shichizo Mamiya, Shuji Miyake, Chuzo Miyamoto, Ichijiro Nagamori,Benzaburo Nerima, Usuke Ohashi, Saiji Sakano, Daikichi Sakata, Seiji Takahashi, Shichiro Tanaka, Umata Togawa. (alphabetical order)

The Nichiren Buddhist Convention was held on March 10, 1912, at the Nihonjin Club, which was attended by Umekichi Asashina, Taizaburo Hashimoto, Heizaburo Inukai, Shichizo Mamiya, Shuji Miyake, Umata Togawa, Seiji Sakano, Shichiro Tanaka, Chuzo Miyamoto, Daikichi Sakata, Toji Inukai; and Messrs. Ieda, Suzuki, Sakata, Murayama, Mitooka, and Katayama.

They decided to rent a house on Liliha Street to be used as the Temporary Temple (kari Fukyojo). It was located behind the present Times Supermarket. Gyoun Takagi returned to Kau, Hawaii, on March 13, but returned to Honolulu together with his family on April 2 arriving at 10:00 a.m. Welcomed by Messrs. Togawa and Katayama, the Takagi family entered the Temporary Temple. Accordingly, the birthday of the Nichiren Mission of Hawaii is April 2, 1912.

 

Incorporated Religious Organization

On September 28, 1914, the Honolulu Nichiren Shu Church was granted to be a religious corporation. Actually, the term used is not a religious corporation but "a corporation with religious, charitable, and educational purposes". In those days, Hawaii was still an American territory, the so-called Hawaii-ken in Japanese, and this religious corporation law seems to have been taken from the ones on the mainland U.S. It was revised when the Territory of Hawaii became the State of Hawaii. Gaining the status of a religious corporation, Honolulu Nichiren Shu Church (officially Nichiren Sect Mission of Hawaii) obtained the privilege of exemption from real property tax. Recently, religious corporations have been subjected to taxation, but the rate is as low as $100 per year per corporation.

The Corporation Charter for the Nichiren Sect Mission of Hawaii was signed by five gentlemen: G. Takagi, M. Asahina, T. Hashimoto, Y. Yoshikawa, and S. Sakano. It is obvious that they are Gyoun Takagi, Umekichi Asahina, Taizaburo Hashimoto, Yoshitaro Yoshikawa, and Saiji Sakano respectively. Although Umekichi Asahina’s initial should have been "U", according to Mr. Noboru Asahina, son of Umekichi, his father said that he used "M" for his initial because the Chinese character for "Ume" used to be written "Mume" in kana and also there was a neighbor whose surname and initial were the same as his own, causing confusion in mail delivery. As Umekichi Asahina said, the Chinese characters for "ume" and "uma" were written as "mume" and "muma" in kana respectively during the Edo Period.

 

Former Archbishop Asahi Visits Hawaii

As mentioned earlier, on July 19, 1915, Reverend Nichimyo Asahi, former Archbishop of the Nichiren Shu Order, stopped in Honolulu on the way to the World Buddhist Convention in San Francisco. He was then 84 years old. According to the records in Hawaii, Reverend Takagi together with a few members welcomed the Archbishop at the wharf on that day. "He arrived at 9:00 a.m. We took him to our temple by car," Gyoun Takagi wrote in his diary, indicating that a car was still a precious existence at the time. Reverend Takagi guided Nichimyo Shonin on a sightseeing tour of Honolulu, visiting a museum and an aquarium. In the evening Nichimyo Shonin, together with Reverend Mokusen Hioki of the Zen Sect, attended a welcome party held at the Mochizuki Tea House and stayed there overnight.

After the meeting in San Francisco, Archbishop Asahi revisited Hawaii on August 29, when Nichiren Buddhists all surrounded him and took a commemorative picture. A copy of this picture still exists today in the hands of Mrs. Kisayo Osawa. On the following day, 28th, he visited the Punaho School, and delivered a sermon on the 29th. On August 31, he made a speech at the Asahi Theater in front of a huge crowd of 500 listeners. On September 1, he visited the Taiheiyo Gakuin Academy; two days later, he went sightseeing to Nuuanu Pali and Punchbowl; departed for propagation journey to the island of Hawaii on the following day (September 4); returned to Honolulu on September 7; and departed for Japan on September 10.

As it is customary today, Asahi Shonin went to the Nuuanu Pali and Punchbowl for sightseeing, but unlike today, he had to spend one whole day seeing them. Four years later, on September 20, 1919, Reverend Chosei Nunome went to the Nuuanu Pali on an excursion together with his temple members and children. His record reads:

Departed at 6:00 a.m. Takaichi and seven others led by Nunome. The Pali is the grandest sight in the country. Seven miles to the top. Looking down the precipitous cliff, it looked as though we were looking at a relief map. Large scale streets and roads looked so small compared to the greatness of nature, deeply impressing us with the insignificance of human works. Making leis of ohia and ginger flowers to put around the neck or hat, and appraising the Western-style residences of Caucasians on both sides of Nuuanu, we returned to the temple shortly after 2:00 p.m. Everybody was cheerful, gaining a great deal both physically and spiritually.

The Nuuanu Pali, which is about 15 minutes drive by automobile today, was a destination for a one-day excursion in those days. It should be mentioned that one of those Western-style residences of Caucasians which the group appraised is the one where the Nichiren Mission of Hawaii later moved to. Punchbowl was not yet the permanent resting place for the military. People must have visited it to enjoy its splendid views.

 

Move to School Street

Immediately after moving into the Temporary Temple on Liliha Street in 1912, Gyoun Takagi began working for the construction of a new temple. Two years later, August 24, 1914, he purchased about half an acre piece of land on Barron Lane off School Street. The project to build the new temple building was pressed forward rapidly, reaching its goal on October 14, 1917, when they were able to hold the dedication and enshrining the Buddha ceremony. It was only five years after Reverend Takagi moved from the island of Hawaii to Honolulu. The accomplishment of this great task in merely five years was due, not only the ceaseless efforts of Reverend Takagi, but to the whole-hearted cooperation on the part of the Nichiren Buddhists of the time. According to the records of the time, some temple members accompanied Reverend Takagi to visit members and friends of the temple almost every day and night, seeking financial help not only on the island of Oahu but also other islands of Maui and Kauai. When they visited the other islands they spent two or three months on each island spreading Nichiren Buddhism and seeking donations. They went to the island of Maui on April 15, 1916, for example, and did not return until June 5. Meanwhile, Mrs. Takagi gave birth to a baby girl while her husband was away. He indeed risked his life in spreading the Dharma, and his efforts later bore fruit: establishment of a Nichiren Shu temple on the island of Maui.

The new temple building in Barron Lane off School Street does not exist today, but its picture shows its close resemblance to the Kapapala Nichiren Shu Church. Perhaps it is because they both were built under the leadership of Reverend Gyoun Takagi.

Gyoun Takagi went back to Japan on March 14, 1919, after staying in Hawaii 19 years. He was the Resident Minister of the Hokkeji Temple in Gifu City, Gifu Prefecture, when he passed away on February 10, 1946, at the age of 75. His Buddhist name is Ryuoin Nichiko Shonin.

 

2) The Second Bishop Reverend Chosei Nunome

Reverend Chosei Nunome came to Hawaii on September 22, 1913. Born in Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture, in 1887, he entered the priesthood as a disciple of his uncle, Reverend Nittsu Asai, who was the 64th Abbot of the Myodenji Temple in Kyoto. After the Abbot Asai passed away, the enthusiasm for overseas propagation among Nichiren Shu priests centering around Reverend Nichimyo Asahi encouraged Chosei Nunome to come to Hawaii.

On January 16, of the following year, Chosei Nunome took up his new post in Kapapala. He was the first Chief Priest (tannin) of the Kapapala temple in nine months. (The term tannin means "a priest in charge", which in reality is the same as "a chief priest".) Five years later, on January 24, 1919, he presented himself in Honolulu, replacing Gyoun Takagi as the Chief Priest of Hawaii Nichiren Mission.

Taking over the church from its founder, Reverend Nunome made every effort to develop it. He also took great pain to educate the youth, for which he planned and carried out such programs as excursions as stated earlier.

There are several reasons why overseas missionaries have to go back to Japan: obeying the order of one’s priest-master or succeeding the priest-master’s temple upon the death of one’s master; financial instability; and education for children. The last one was the reason for Reverend Nunome to return to his homeland.

Handing over the headship of the temple to Reverend Kinuya, Chosei Nunome returned to Japan in 1921, after spending eight years in Hawaii. He was invited to be the Resident Priest of the Chodenji Temple in Nagoya City, the temple of the Nunome family. He exerted himself for the development of the temple and the Nichiren Shu Order until 1963, when he retired. He passed away on January 18, 1977, at the age of 91. His Buddhist name is On'yoin Nichijo Shonin.

 

Reverend Shun'o Kawamura

The first assistant minister in the Honolulu Nichiren Shu Temple was Reverend Shunno Kawamura who arrived at the temple on October 9, 1914. He stayed in Honolulu for nine months and returned to Japan on July 23, 1915. He returned to Honolulu on February 15, 1916, but went home on June 13 of the same year. Thereafter, Reverend Gen'yu Oba arrived at the Honolulu Temple as the assistant minister on July 25, 1917, but he left Honolulu for the island of Maui on January 30, 1918, for the purpose of spreading Nichiren Buddhism there.

 

3) The Third Bishop Kenpo Kinuya

Reverend Kenpo Kinuya arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii, replacing Chosei Nunome as the Chief Priest of the Nichiren Mission of Hawaii.

Some devotees such as Ikutaro Imanaka dedicated the Monument for the Repose of All the Souls in the Dharma World, which is also called the Daimoku Stupa, erected at the entrance of the Nichiren Mission in Barron Lane. This monument was later moved together with the temple itself to the present site in the Nuuanu Valley.

Having served the Mission for four years, Reverend Kinuya handed over the leadership of the Mission to Reverend Benko Sueto from Japan and returned to his home country in June, 1925. He passed away on January 22, 1927, at the youthful age of 34. His Buddhist name is Kyochuin Nikkan Shonin.

 

4) The Fourth Bishop Benko Sueto

Reverend Benko Sueto was born in February, 1897, in Takeo City, Saga Prefecture, Japan. He entered the priesthood as a disciple of Reverend Benga Matsuo of the Jokoin Temple in Nagasaki City, Nagasaki Prefecture. Therefore, as a priest he was a "younger brother (junior disciple of the same priest-master)" of Bishop Junkyo Ikeda, the fifth Chief Priest of the Beikoku Betsuin in Los Angeles and the Founder of the Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church. His wife Toshiko was a Japanese American born in Hawaii.

Benko Sueto tried to establish a Japanese language school as soon as he arrived in Honolulu. Regretting that it was only Nichiren Shu of all Buddhist sects in Hawaii that did not have a Japanese language school building, he tirelessly appealed to the temple members and friends for several years to help him realize his dream. Finally he was able to build the school building in the compound of the Temple in Barron Lane on September 1, 1929. On this language school building he also hung up the sign for "Rissho Young Buddhist Association Social Hall" and encouraged the activities of the Rissho YBA. This building has since been converted to an apartment complex today to help finance the missionary activities of the Temple.

A year or so after the completion of the Rissho Japanese Language School building, on May 22, 1930, Lady Toshiko Matsudaira paid homage to the Betsuin Temple. She was a daughter of Marquis Nabeshima and the wife of Count Matsudaira, and was an ardent Nichiren Buddhist. She was 40 years old when she visited Hawaii. After World War II, she was made the president of women’s college called Nihon Joshi Semmon Gakko, later renamed Showa Joshi Daigaku.

As mentioned earlier, the name of the Temple has already been changed from Nichiren Shu Fukyoin (Center for Spreading the Dharma) to Nichiren Shu Betsuin (Nichiren Sect Mission or Nichiren Mission) by this time.

A grand service commemorating the 650th memorial day was held on October 11, 1931, at the Nichiren Mission. A commemorative photograph treasured by the late Mrs. Tsuruyo Higuchi shows the grandiosity of the service.

In June, 1932, Reverend Sueto gave his job to Reverend Koin Watanabe and went to Sacramento, California, to become the first Chief Priest of the Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church founded by Bishop Junkyo Ikeda. He was in Hawaii for seven years. Thereafter he went back to Japan in 1936 to work for the Nichiren Shu Headquarters. In the following year, however, he was sent to the Honkokuji Betsuin Temple in Shanghai as the Bishop of the Central China Propagation District. He passed away on May 12, 1943, in the midst of World War II, in Shanghai at the age of 46. His Buddhist name is Honjoin Nichikyo Shonin.

 

Reverend Jimyo Yanagishita

Mr. Jimyo Yanagishita came to Hawaii on January 23, 1930, as a teacher for the Rissho Japanese Language School. When members of the Puunene Nichiren Mission on the island of Maui requested that Mr. Yanagishita be sent to them as the Chief Priest of their mission, he entered the priesthood as a disciple of Reverend Sueto and went to the Puunene Temple on March 15 of the same year.

 

Reverend Joei Oi

When Reverend Jimyo Yanagishita went to Puunene, Bishop Sueto invited Rev. Oi from Japan to fill the vacancy in the Rissho Japanese Language School. As Joei Oi was a priest of the Honmon Shu Order, not of the Nichiren Shu, Nichiren Shu Headquarters did not appoint him as a Nichiren Shu overseas minister. Thus he came to Hawaii as a Japanese teacher. He engaged in various occupations besides teaching the Japanese language. Not forgetting his duty as a Buddhist priest, he put up a plate with the name of the Nichirenzan Honmonji Temple on the door of his house. In 1941, when the Honmon Shu Order merged with the Nichiren Shu, Reverend Oi automatically became a Nichiren Shu priest. Since then, he was willing to participate in the annual events of the Nichiren Mission. In the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Nichiren Buddhism in Hawaii in 1953, he played an active role. He passed away in Honolulu on January 26, 1964, at the age of 68. His Buddhist name is Joeiin Joju Shonin.

The Honmon Shu Order is a school of Nikko Shonin, one of the Six Elder Disciples of Nichiren Shonin. It consisted of eight head temples such as the Taisekiji Temple and 300 or so temples until 1900, when the Taisekiji Temple group branched off and called themselves the Nichiren Shu Fuji School. In 1912, this school changed its name to Nichiren Shoshu, while Honmon Shu merged with the Nichiren Shu in 1941.

 

5) The Fifth Bishop Koin Watanabe

Born on January 12, 1905, Koin Watanabe entered the priesthood as a disciple of his father, Reverend Nichi’in Watanabe of the Honmyoji Temple in Songjin (Kim Chaek today) in North Korea. Influenced by his father-master, an active propagator in Korea, he too wanted to be a missionary abroad. He chose Hawaii because of the large number of Japanese immigrants from Hiroshima. Toward the end of November 1931, he came to Hawaii as a possible candidate to replace Shoei Tateishi of the Kapapala Nichiren Mission. It was decided, however, that he should be an assistant to Bishop Sueto for a while. When Bishop Sueto decided to move to Sacramento, Koin Watanabe became the Chief Priest of the Honolulu Betsuin and the Bishop of Nichiren temples in Hawaii.

Mrs. Watanabe taught members beating the drum, etiquette and Japanese customs. As a result, beating the drum has become an uninterrupted tradition to this day.

In 1934, after staying in Hawaii for three years, Bishop Watanabe returned to Japan due to the death of his mentor and to succeed the Myofuji Temple in Hiroshima City, Hiroshima Prefecture. Later, he filled the positions of the Chief Administrator of the Nichiren Shu Headquarters and the Abbot of the Dai-Honzan Nakayama Hokekyoji. On February 21, 1987, Reverend Koin Watanabe, whose Buddhist name is Honshoin Nikko Shonin, passed away at the age of 82.

 

On September 21, 1939, Mr. Ihei Nagai, who had worked for the Mission as a caretaker ever since its beginning, passed away.

 

6) The Sixth Bishop Ejun Ikoma

Reverend Ejun Ikoma came to Hawaii in March 1933, as an Assistant Priest of Nichiren Mission of Hawaii. When Bishop Watanabe returned to Japan in the following year, Reverend Ikoma was promoted to be the Chief Priest and Bishop. According to Ms. Hatsue Fuji, the statue of Kishimojin enshrined in the Nichiren Mission today was brought from Japan by Bishop Ikoma. Shortly before the outbreak of the Pacific War, in November 1941, Bishop Ikoma went back to Japan aboard the last repatriation ship after living in Hawaii for eight years. He passed away in Manchuria on March 10, 1947, at the age of 39. His Buddhist name is Honshoin Nichiko Shonin.

 

7) The Seventh Bishop Kanryu Mochizuki

In June of 1932, Reverend Kanryu Mochizuki came to Hawaii as the Chief Priest of the Kapapala temple, replacing the incumbent Reverend Shoei Tateishi. As Bishop Ikoma expressed his desire to resign, Reverend Mochizuki often visited the Honolulu Mission to discuss the matter of transition. Reverend Mochizuki was duly recommended and approved by the Nichiren Shu Headquarters. It was agreed that he would move to Honolulu from Kapapala on the 14th of December. While busy preparing for the house moving in Kapapala, the war began on the 7th of the month and Reverend Mochizuki and his family were sent to a relocation camp as internees. Reverend Mochizuki and his family were sent to internment camps in Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas, and finally to Tule Lake, California.

During the war, the Main Hall of the Nichiren Mission of Hawaii was closed by military order, but it was permitted to use the back door to enter the hall for worship. Unlike the Japanese and Japanese Americans on the West Coast of the mainland, U.S.A., those in Hawaii were not removed from Hawaii, so the temple was maintained by members, though not sufficiently. Mrs. Hisako Sakamoto, a temple member, stayed at the temple, offering cups of tea on the altar every day. It is said that Hisako Sakamoto shouted at an American soldier to deter his attempt of taking out the statue of Kishimojin. Another version of the episode states that the statue was immovable when a soldier tried to carry it out. We should forever remember her virtuous work of guarding our temple during these critical years.

 

Aftermath of the Pacific War

To the Japanese and Japanese Americans in the U.S., who did not have to seriously think about the relationship between America and Japan, an attack on Pearl Harbor by the country of their origin was a shock beyond expression. They never dreamed of Japan attacking Hawaii, where so many Japanese and their descendants lived. More than 40% of the population of Hawaii at the time consisted of the Japanese and Japanese Americans. It was not unreasonable for them to think that no country would attack the land where so many fellow countrymen made a living. The Pearl Harbor Incident thus effectively cut off the nostalgic bond which the Japanese immigrants and their children and grandchildren held toward Japan. At the same time it caused them to be discriminated against in society and locked up in relocation camps as dangerous elements although their counterparts originated from Germany and Italy were not subjected to the same treatment. It was only the Japanese and their descendants who were treated as criminals or prisoners of war. Their relationship cut from the motherland, both native and adopted, they were pressed against the wall of hopelessness.

Many Japanese Americans came to realize that they were Americans and contemplated what they could do to improve the status of Japanese Americans in the American society. They decided that the best way under the circumstances was to join the military and fight the war for the country at the cost of life in order to gain the recognition of being 100 % American. The 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team composed of Americans of Japanese ancestry were sent to the European front, where they suffered the most casualty and won the honor of being the most decorated. We may say, however, that the actual enemy they fought against was the discrimination in the American society.

Thanks to the great sacrifice of Americans of the Japanese ancestry, the Japanese Society in Hawaii restored its former standing and regained its honor. On the other hand, it expedited the trend of Americanization among Japanese and Japanese Americans. As they tended to stay away from things Japanese, the trend naturally affected the well-being of the temples of Japanese Buddhism.