Higashi Hongwanji members from Japan and throughout Hawai‘i gathered in Honolulu on Nov. 5 and 6 to celebrate Higashi Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii’s 100th anniversary in Hawai‘i. The milestone observance was centered around the theme, “Awakening to Your Deepest Wish.” Events included a panel discussion, an anniversary banquet and a special Shinran Shonin 750th anniversary memorial service in which ministers from both Hawai‘i and Japan participated.
The Nov. 5 panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Michael Conway, a lecturer in the Department of Shin Buddhist Studies at Otani University in Kyöto. All of the panelists had interesting life experiences to share: Glen Kila spoke on compassion for homeless families; Masago Asai, a native of Nagasaki, Japan, and the daughter of atomic bomb survivors, spoke of finding peace within herself and in her community; and Roberta Fontes, currently a student at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, spoke of rebuilding her life after a troubled life of crime and drug abuse.
The banquet, which was held at the Ala Moana Hotel on Nov. 5, was a festive occasion that featured ‘ukulele talents Honoka and Azita and hula by Asai and her daughters Maya and Mika, much to the delight of the guests from Japan.
Bishop Kenjun Kawamata, who is headquartered at the Higashi Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, also referred to as the Betsuin, welcomed the approximately 150 guests. He reflected on Higashi Hongwanji’s rich history in Hawai‘i, which began as a lay mission organized by Issei on Kaua‘i. The Waimea Higashi Hongwanji Mission was formally established in 1899 by the Rev. Kenyu Yamada, becoming the first Higashi Hongwanji temple outside of Japan.
Kawamata said the Higashi Hongwanji temples have been handed down from generation to generation and are now in their sixth generation of serving their communities. He paid special tribute to the Issei generation. “They overcame many difficulties that we cannot imagine today,” Kawamata said. “Higashi Hongwanji temples were the foundation of their lives and the center of their communities.”
Higashi Hongwanji is today an ‘ohana of five temples, with Faye Shigemura serving as president of the Betsuin’s board of directors. There are three temples on O‘ahu: Higashi Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii (Betsuin) on Alaneo Street in lower Liliha, Palolo Hongwanji and Kaneohe Higashi Hongwanji Mission. The neighbor island temples are Hilo Higashi Hongwanji Mission and Waimea Higashi Hongwanji Mission on Kaua‘i. The Waimea temple was destroyed by Hurricane ‘Iniki in 1992, but rebuilt thanks to the efforts of its members and the community.
“Today we take our first step to ensuring that we continue for the next 100 years,” Bishop Kawamata said.
The banquet program also featured remarks by Overseas District Abbot Choyu Otani and Bishop Koi Sato’o, chief administrator of Shinshu Otani-ha.
Looking around the banquet room at the happy faces, emcee Mary Matsuda commented, “This is a moment in time of true sangha (church community).”