The Japanese Community Association of Hawaii will hold the 80th Ireisai Hoyo Memorial Service at ‘Alae Cemetery in Hilo on Sunday, Aug. 25, at 2 p.m. The annual observance was initiated by the late territorial Sen. Sanji Abe, who had the 14-foot, 7-and-one-half-inch marble monument cast in Japan in August of 1938. The memorial was dedicated in Hawai‘i a year later, on Aug. 20, 1939. The Kona-born Abe served with the Hawai‘i County Police Department for 20 years and became the first senator of Japanese ancestry elected to Hawai‘i’s territorial Legislature.
Abe believed that in spite of the important role they had played in Hawai‘i’s history, many Issei died poor and alone, never seeing their sacrifices and contributions come to fruition. Through the monument, Abe aimed to honor deceased Japanese immigrants, express his gratitude for their accomplishments, comfort their spirits, and show his appreciation for those who made Hawai‘i a better place for their descendants to live and flourish.
The Ireito symbolizes the Issei pioneers’ courage, fortitude, patience, humility, their trust in people and their belief in democracy. The inscription on the spire reads: “Hawaii Nippon-jin Ireito (Memorial for the Deceased Japanese in Hawai‘i).” The sphere on top of the monument symbolizes the universal faith of all. The word “Ireito” is inscribed at the base of the monument along with the characters for kansha (gratitude) and Ho-on (repayment of kindness).
The descendants of the Japanese immigrants who settled in Hawai‘i and started families form the core of today’s AJA community. Other less fortunate Issei died alone with no one to tend to their grave or remember them. The Ireisai Hoyo ceremony pays tribute to those pioneers with no known descendants who are interred in a common grave known to local people as the Imin Yosebaka at ‘Alae Cemetery.
“Should someone visit the grave of a relative nearby and kindly offer a single stick of incense or a single flower at the yosebaka, that is enough to honor all,” requested former JCAH president Ivan Nakano. “This little gesture would say that these immigrants are not forgotten.”
“This monument pays tribute to persons of Japanese ancestry, honors those who have gone before us, and gives those who remain a sense of closeness and belonging,” explained current JCAH president Michael Miyahira, adding that the ceremony will also honor two Japanese sailors who died at sea and are buried in ‘Alae Cemetery.
The Big Island Buddhist Federation is assisting with the memorial service with Hilo Meishoin serving as the lead temple, or töban. Rev. Junshin Miyazaki of Hilo Meishoin will conduct the ceremony, with ministers from the BIBF and their temples participating in offering prayers, floral arrangements and incense. The memorial service is open to the public.