The Pivotal Role the UH Professor Played in the Recovery of the Ehime Maru

Melvin Inamasu and Violet Harada
Courtesy Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i

George Joji Tanabe Jr. likens himself to a salmon that traveled from a river to the open ocean and then returned home to spawn.

Tanabe grew up in Waialua on O‘ahu’s north shore, where his family ran the town’s only furniture and hardware store. He attended Willamette University in Oregon, where he earned a history degree, and then studied Christian theology at the Union Theological Seminary in New York. He then earned his doctorate in medieval Japanese Buddhism at Columbia University.

Returning to Hawai‘i was always Tanabe’s goal. In 1977, he landed a teaching position in UH-Mänoa’s Religion Department. His wife, Willa, was hired to teach in the Asian Studies Department. Over the next 30 years, Tanabe carved out an illustrious career as a scholar and professor of Japanese Buddhism. Despite the long commute, he and Willa chose to make their home in Waialua.

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