After being sidelined for three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Journeys to Wellness yearly gathering resumed in person at the Toho No Hikari campus in Nu‘uanu on Saturday, Nov. 5, and the organizers of the event spared no effort in making the day a comeback to remember.

“It is good to be back after a three-year hiatus,” said Rev. Wally Fukunaga, president of the board of directors of the Sunrise Foundation, which partnered with Toho No Hikari Hawaii to present the event.

Fukunaga established the Sunrise Foundation in 2011 after much personal discernment following his own health challenges stemming from a diagnosis of prostate cancer. The diagnosis, treatment and adjustments in lifestyle caused him to become more aware of the importance of diet, exercise and meditation. In fact, on the morning before the Journeys to Wellness event, he said he went for a swim at Ala Moana Beach and reflected on the splendor of the awakening day as the sun began to rise. A morning swim and reflection time have been part of his daily routine for years.

This year’s Journeys to Wellness was the tenth since the event first began, and like the ones before it, the program continued the tradition of inviting a variety of speakers to share their perspectives about pathways to achieving well-being in a holistic sense. Fukunaga does not forego western medical treatment but has been an open-minded learner about alternatives that can complement conventional Western medicine.

This year’s speakers included Katie Kamelamela, a community forest advocate on the Big Island; Mark Hamamoto, founder and executive director of Mohala Farms, a six-acre organic farm and non-profit organization in Waialua; Phyllis Look, the first certified forest therapy guide in Hawai‘i who gives guided tours at Lyon Arboretum in Mänoa and elsewhere; Adam Laeha, owner of Kipuka Land Management, a consulting firm that works with large private landowners to implement management strategies to restore native habitat and protect natural resources; and Norman Oshiro, the executive director of MOA Hawai‘i, a statewide organization that promotes the teachings of Mokichi Okada. Okada is a Japanese spiritual leader whose followers practice a healing art called Jōrei (purifying the spirit) and aspire to a diet based on natural foods as well as an appreciation of natural beauty and various forms of cultural art such as flower arranging and tea ceremony, which are meant to help achieve inner peace and happiness.

If you notice a theme underlying the day’s topics, this is no accident. Board member David Laeha explained that the foundation’s mission has always been to help people nurture the body, mind and spirit. This year, “we expanded that to the wellness of the ‘äina,” he said.

  ‘Äina is a word deeply rooted in Hawaiian culture that is often translated as “land” but actually has a broader and more profound meaning – more along the lines of “that which feeds and sustains us.” In Hawai‘i and other places in the world, including Japan, the health of the ‘äina runs parallel with the well-being of those who live off the ‘äina. The two are interconnected and inseparable. In short, the ‘äina is life-giving. In a sentence, this year’s event focused on the role that nature can play in healing, restoration and peace.

Minister Jody Kanemaru observed how appropriate the Toho No Hikari campus was for such an event. “We’re surrounded by mountains and lush greenery,” he told attendees in his welcoming remarks. He pointed out a nearby stream, the presence of chickens and other birds, and even revealed recent visitations from wild pigs. “We’re completely surrounded by nature.” The campus also includes a prolific wellness garden filled with a variety of plants that can be eaten, made into tea or used in other ways to promote health. The garden is tended by Oshiro and volunteers. Last year a single potted kalo plant – which is a symbol used by the Sunrise Foundation – was planted on the Toho No Hikari grounds. It flourished in these fertile grounds and today has grown into a strong, healthy plant that has sprouted large, heart-shaped leaves in every direction.

Dancers from Halau Hula O Kawaiaha`o perform a hula to commence the start of the Journeys to Wellness event. (Photo by Kevin Kawamoto)

In this remarkably serene setting, the resumption of Journeys to Wellness began with an oli (Hawaiian chant) and hula performance by Halau Hula O Kawaiaha’o, dancing to the mele (song) called, “O Waipa Ke Malama Mau Ai.”

Music by two other extraordinarily talented musicians – flutist Hari Bayani and ukulele virtuoso Kapono Wong – captivated the attendees at various points. Bayani’s beautifully meditative “Air” by Johann Sebastian Bach was dedicated to board member and attorney Clay Kimoto who died on Tuesday, Nov. 1, only days before the gathering. Also on a number of people’s minds was Catholic Maryknoll Sister Joan Chatfield who died at the age of 86 in March 2019 and was a longtime Sunrise Foundation board member and pioneering leader of inter-faith relations in Hawai‘i for decades, helping pave the way for friendship and inclusivity among the state’s diverse belief systems. The sociable and joyful “Sister Joan,” a supporter and personal friend of Fukunaga even though the two belonged to different Christian denominations, would have undoubtedly enjoyed Wong’s spirited ukulele playing as much as the audience did.

In 2014, Journeys to Wellness featured the first Puaka‘ana o ka lä  (Rise Up!) award given to “persons who gave a lifetime of significant service in furthering the wellness of our people and community.” That first year, Project Dana’s Rose Nakamura (who passed away in July 2020) was one of the inaugural recipients. The next year Frances Kakugawa, former Hawai‘i Herald columnist, was one of the honorees. This year the honorees were David D. Derauf, an innovative physician with Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services for more than three decades; Tin Myaing Thein, executive director of Pacific Gateway Center from 1988 to 2020, when she retired, and the first Asian woman appointed to the U.S. Committee for Women by President Jimmy Carter; and Jan Edward Hanohano Dill, founder of Partners in Development Foundation, which provides a wide range of free programs in education, social services and environmental sustainability.

Members of the MOA Wellness Center were also on hand to give attendees an opportunity to experience “Purifying Therapy,” miniature flower arranging, and an abbreviated but meaningful tea ceremony, three activities – among others – that are part of the MOA wellness philosophy. MOA stands for Mokichi Okada (1882-1955), the Japanese founder of Toho No Hikari, who strived to eliminate illness, poverty and conflict in the world. The Nu‘uanu campus sits between the fork in the road created by Pali Highway and Nu‘uanu-Pali Drive. Many people who live on the Windward side probably see the architecturally striking white building and sprawling campus but are not familiar with the organization itself. Its partnership with the Sunrise Foundation to present the Journeys to Wellness event has resulted in a win-win relationship for both organizations as they welcome greater community engagement.

In his remarks earlier in the day, Takemasa (“Take”) Kawai, president of Toho No Hikari’s board of directors, nicely and succinctly summed up the significance of the number ten in Japanese, since this was Journeys to Wellness X (or Roman numeral ten). Ten written in the Japanese kanji system is depicted as two lines: a vertical line intersecting with a horizontal line (). He said the symbol has special meaning, indicating a combination of power between the physical and spiritual as well as between east and west.

Fukunaga readily admitted that “we got out of practice” during the several years that Journeys to Wellness was not held in person, but far from being exhausted at the end of the day’s program, which featured a delicious Chinese dim sum-themed bento lunch prepared by Sarah Loui Lum and multicultural entertainment by Hari Bayani. Fukunaga looked exhilarated and reenergized, sharing smiles and salutations with many of those in attendance. After all, he is a living embodiment of someone who has traveled on his own personal journey to wellness as a cancer survivor – and has gathered around him over the past 12 years others who share an appreciation for “spiritually grounded practices aimed at achieving a healthy and harmonious body, mind, spirit, ‘äina and community.”

When congratulated on a successful return to an in-person event, he was quick to acknowledge the team effort of so many different players who made it all come together, wanting to deflect attention away from himself. But the foundation that made it all happen through ten different gatherings since 2011 is his brainchild, supported by a growing number of board members, co-sponsors, partners, volunteers and community members.

And so the journey to wellness continues with a look to the future – and a renewed sense of optimism, determination and purpose.

-Written by Kevin Kawamoto


Governor George R. Ariyoshi, late U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye, and late NASA astronaut Colonel Ellison S. Onizuka were memorialized with bronze tributes in their respective Fukuoka Prefecture ancestral hometowns of Buzen City, Yame City and Ukiha City on Monday, Oct. 24 and Tuesday, Oct. 25.

Fukuoka descendants and Japanese American pioneers from Hawai‘i honored in Japan. (Photos courtesy of Rep. Bertrand Kobayashi)

All three men were historic pioneers in the Japanese American community with the following achievements:

Governor George R. Ariyoshi 

  • First state governor of Japanese ancestry (1973-1986)
  • Longest serving governor in Hawai‘i history

U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye

  • First U.S. senator of Japanese ancestry (1963-2012)
  • Highest ranking American of Asian ancestry in the U.S. government as U.S. senate president pro tempore, third in order of presidential succession

Colonel Ellison S. Onizuka

  • First astronaut of Japanese ancestry (1985 and 1986)
  • Only American of Asian ancestry featured in all U.S. passports since 2007

Family members of these three men, along with representatives from the Hawaii Fukuoka Kenjin Kai, visited their Fukuoka ancestral hometowns for ceremonial unveilings of the bronze tributes. The honorees’ family members included Mrs. Jean Ariyoshi and son Ryozo Ariyoshi, son Ken, Jessica, and 12-year-old Maggie Inouye, and brother Claude Onizuka. The group met with the mayors of the respective cities, Fukuoka Governor Seitaro Hattori and members of the Fukuoka Prefectural Assembly. The honorees’ family members also met their relatives from their ancestral hometowns.   

Hawai‘i family members also visited places of special importance in their respective ancestral hometowns. The Ariyoshis visited their family gravestone to offer flowers and incense. The Inouyes visited the ancestral family home that was rebuilt on the remains of the former house, which was lost in a fire. Claude Onizuka visited the Ellison Onizuka bridge, which has portraits and biographical information about his brother Ellison.

Gov. George Ariyoshi’s bronze plaque.

Ariyoshi’s bronze plaque is temporarily displayed in the front lobby of the Buzen City Hall. It will be relocated to a newly constructed annex of a local middle school, and will be dedicated and named after the former governor.  

Inouye’s larger-than-life bronze bust is in a city park close to his ancestral village of Yokoyama. In 1899, Inouye’s grandfather and his father left the village for Hawai‘i to earn money to repay neighbors for the fire that started in their home. A museum honoring the life and legacy of the late senator is currently being built near the park. 

Ellison Onizuka’s bronze plaque.

Onizuka’s bronze plaque will be placed at a heavily frequented michi-no-eki, or roadside station, as part of a larger display honoring the late astronaut. The plaque includes a colored bronze etched portrait, a historical timeline and his words “Every generation has the obligation to free men’s minds for a look at new worlds… to look out from a higher plateau than the last generation,” which are on the last page of every US passport issued since 2007.

The delegation and bronze tributes were sponsored in part by the Hawaii Fukuoka Kenjin Kai, the Hawaii Global Education Foundation, and the state of Hawai‘i to recognize and strengthen the Hawai’i-Fukuoka sister-state relationship. The three-year project, delayed due to COVID-19, sought to thank Fukuoka for giving the Ariyoshi, Inouye and Onizuka families the character and strength, which helped produce three great Americans of Japanese ancestry. It is hoped that the children of Hawai‘i and Fukuoka will be inspired by their accomplishments.

-Written by Rep. Bertrand Kobayashi and Keith Sakuda

Sen. Daniel Inouye’s bronze bust, located in a city park close to his ancestral village of Yokoyama.

Rep. Bertrand Kobayashi and Keith Sakuda are both multi-year former presidents of the Hawaii Fukuoka Kenjin Kai and current officers of the United Japanese Society of Hawaii (UJSH).  Kobayashi is a councilor of UJSH. Sakuda is president-elect of UJSH and also a UH-West O‘ahu professor of management and international relations.


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