The 2019 “Living Treasures of Hawai‘i.” Seated from left are Earl Kawa‘a, Gertrude Tsutsumi, John Hara and Jimmy Yagi. Standing behind them are Bishop Eric Matsumoto of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii and its president, Pieper Toyama.
The 2019 “Living Treasures of Hawai‘i.” Seated from left are Earl Kawa‘a, Gertrude Tsutsumi, John Hara and Jimmy Yagi. Standing behind them are Bishop Eric Matsumoto of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii and its president, Pieper Toyama.

The Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii held its 44th annual Living Treasures of Hawai‘i program on Feb. 9 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. The program recognizes individuals for their sustained contributions to enriching our society.

Honored were former University of Hawai‘i at Hilo men’s basketball coach James “Jimmy” Yagi, architect and environmental design pioneer John M. Hara, master dance instructor Gertrude Tsutsumi of the Kikunobu Dance Company and Hawaiian resource specialist Earl Kawa‘a of Kamehameha Schools.

Honpa Hongwanji’s Living Treasures program was inspired by Japan’s Living National Treasures (Ningen Kokuho) program. Since its inception in 1976, 228 individuals have been recognized as “Living Treasures of Hawai‘i.” The program is traditionally the closing event of the mission’s annual Giseikai, or Legislative Assembly, where the business affairs of the statewide mission are discussed and decided.

The program opened with an oli (chant) by Hailama Farden, who was recognized as a Living Treasure of Hawai‘i last year. Bishop Eric Matsumoto welcomed everyone to the event. Among the guests were Gov. David Ige and first lady Dawn Amano Ige, Consul General of Japan in Honolulu Koichi Ito and his wife Masako. Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii president Pieper Toyama and United Japanese Society of Hawaii president Faye Shigemura.

Toyama announced that the delegates to the 107th Giseikai unanimously elected Matsumoto to an unprecedented third term as bishop. Matsumoto, a Kona native, is the 16th bishop of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii. When he completes his third term, he will have served a total of 12 years as bishop.

Rev. Richard Tennes from Kahului Hongwanji Mission offered the invocation before lunch. Keauhou, a young Hawaiian music trio made up of Kahanuola Solatorio and brothers Nicholas and Zachary Lum, provided the lunchtime entertainment. Singer Robert Cazimero, their longtime mentor, joined the group on stage for an impromptu performance and a little humor.

A video produced by Mark Nitta highlighted the achievements of the four honorees. They were also profiled in the program booklet.

• James “Jimmy” Yagi was the longtime head coach of the UH Hilo Vulcans basketball team. He holds the UH-Hilo record for most wins as a men’s basketball coach. Yagi also coached basketball for over forty years in Hawai‘i, the U.S. mainland and abroad.

The coach also participated in the annual Vulcan Basketball camp (also known as the Jimmy Yagi Summer Hoops Camp) which attracted thousands of kids statewide from ages 8 to 18 to learn basketball fundamentals and important life skills and lessons.

The Coach Jimmy Yagi Basketball Scholarship was also established to benefit high-achieving student-athletes at UH Hilo.

• John Hara founded the architectural firm of John Hara Associates Inc. Hara is known for promoting and redefining Hawaiian architecture by balancing traditional motifs with contemporary designs. One of his notable projects is Punahou School’s Case Middle School, which is comprised of nine separate buildings. It was the first major certified “green” project in Hawai‘i and attained LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Hara is active in many organizations that promote culture, community and the arts.

• Gertrude Y. Tsutsumi is the founder and director of the Kikunobu Dance Company. She teaches beginner through experienced classes in traditional Japanese dance forms, always stressing the beauty of the dance and the importance of developing self-discipline and self-confidence.

Tsutsumi trained under the late Bando Mikayoshi from the age of 8 until she graduated from the University of Hawai‘i. She also received extra training from visiting artists from Japan.

Upon earning her shihan (master certification), she received her professional dance name, Onoe Kikunobu. It allowed her to open her own school and bestow professional names onto others. Since opening the Kikunobu Dance Company, 13 of her students have been recognized as master dancers.

Tsutsumi previously lectured in the UH-Mänoa Department of Theatre and Dance. After retiring, she passed on her lectureship to her senior master student, Howard Asao, who continues her legacy.

In 2015, Tsutsumi was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship in Japanese classical dance from the National Endowment for the Arts.

• Earl Kawa‘a is one of 28 living manaleo — Hawaiians whose native, or first language, was the original Hawaiian language. Kawa‘a is a cultural specialist at Kamehameha Schools, where he advises and teaches sustainability, water rights, education and spirituality with a Hawaiian perspective.

Kawa‘a advocates for solving community and social issues through a Hawaiian approach that focuses on truth and consensus. He also delivers sermons and teaches Hawaiian language Sunday school at Kawaiaha‘o Church.

Kawa‘a was previously an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer who worked in Arizona with Native American tribes, and thus applied what he learned there toward perpetuating Hawaiian culture in Hawai‘i’s communities, organizations and families.

Of the honorees, Gov. David Ige said, “Hawai‘i has a lot to offer [the world]. The passion and dedication that these ‘Living Treasures’ have is a gift to the community and the world.”


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