The Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii recognized six individuals as “Living Treasures of Hawai‘i” at a sold-out luncheon banquet at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Coral Ballroom on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14.

The lunchtime program opened with an oli (chant) by Keola Kalani, followed by welcome remarks from Bishop Eric Matsumoto. He thanked the honorees for their contributions to making Hawai‘i a better place.

The “Living Treasures of Hawai‘i” banquet also marked the conclusion of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii’s 103rd Giseikai (legislative assembly). The Hawaii Kyodan (statewide organization of Honpa Hongwanji temples) also recognized the Rev. Mary David, who served 10 years as a Jodo Shinshu minister, most recently at the Mililani Hongwanji Mission. Her retirement opened the door to a new career as a full-time clinical psychologist.

The Hawaii Kyodan also recognized the Rev. Tatsuo Muneto and his wife Edna for their 50 years of service to Honpa Hongwanji. Rev. Muneto is currently the rimban, or head minister, at the Hawaii Betsuin. He has served at numerous temples in Hawai‘i and as director of the Buddhist Study Center. “Fifty years seems very long, but it was very short,” Muneto told the audience.
The Rev. Shinkai Murakami offered words of thanksgiving before lunch.

The “Living Treasures of Hawai‘i” program was established in 1976 during the Rev. Yoshiaki Fujitani’s tenure as bishop. Only one person was recognized that year — Hawaiian cultural expert Charles Kenn. The program was inspired by Japan’s Ningen Kokuho, or Living National Treasures program, and suggested by local insurance executive Paul Yamanaka. Since that first presentation in 1976, the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii has recognized over 190 men and women as “Living Treasures of Hawai‘i” for their sustained contributions to enriching our society.
Honored in this 40th year of the program were:

  • S. Haunani Apoliona. Apoliona has dedicated her life to the Native Hawaiian community, initially working as a social worker with Alu Like. She is currently a trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and served several years as its chair. In her spare time, Apoliona perpetuates Hawaiian culture through music, as a composer and performer.
  • Dr. Bernice Hirai. A retired professor in the University of Hawai‘i College of Education, Hirai now spends her days teaching Japanese koto and sharing her knowledge of genealogy with those interested in tracing their ancestry. Hirai is also actively involved in a number of community organizations.
  • Paulette Kahalepuna. The late Kahalepuna learned the art of feather lei-making from her mother and then shared her knowledge and expertise in the craft with others, including her daughter and granddaughter.
  • Laura Ruby. Ruby sees and acts. The University of Hawai‘i art teacher and author of two books, including one on the life of the Mö‘ili‘ili community she lives in, was one of the driving forces behind the restoration and rejuvenation of the Mö‘ili‘ili Japanese Cemetery.
  • Barry Taniguchi. The Hilo-born sansei is the model businessman, community leader and family man. Taniguchi is president and CEO of KTA Superstores, a family-owned chain of supermarkets on Hawai‘i Island. The business was established by his grandparents, Koichi and Taniyo Taniguchi. He is guided by several philosophies, among them: “Management is not the same as leadership.” “Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.” “I’m just an ordinary guy trying to do ordinary things to help ordinary people.”
  • Blossom Puanani Alama Tom. A hula teacher and dancer, Tom has taught hula for 75 years. She has served as a judge for many hula events, including the annual Merrie Monarch Festival, of which she is the only surviving judge of the first festival.


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