Hämäkuapoko Temple Bell Rededicated at Makawao Hongwanji

Melissa Tanji
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

After more than 30 years of silence, a temple bell cast in Japan in the 1920s sounded once again last month in Upcountry Maui. It was rung in memory of five young men who died tragically nearly a century ago while on a Good Friday weekend hike to the summit of Haleakalä with friends.

As the bell sounded at the special remembrance ceremony on March 4 at the Makawao Hongwanji Mission, the names of the five who died were read out loud: Yoichi Arai, Toshio Higuchi, Kazuyuki Kawauye, Tokuichi Matsumoto and Yoriyoshi Tagawa.

Arai, age 21, was the oldest of the five and a husband and father. Tagawa, 18, worked at the Haiku Fruit and Packing Company. Higuchi and Matsumoto, both 17, were sophomores at the old Maui High School campus in Hämäkuapoko, where Kawauye, the youngest in the group at age 16, was a freshman. All five were the sons of immigrants from the plantation community of Hämäkuapoko in East Maui. They died in the opening days of April 1923.

In the months following their deaths, Hamakuapoko Hongwanji members sought to remember them by special-ordering a temple bell from Japan. Inscribed on the bell were their names in Japanese characters along with the Buddhist names that had been given them. The temple members took up a collection totaling $25. In 1923, that was a huge amount of money.

Also inscribed on the bell were the following words:

“On April 1, 1923 (Taisho 12), the following five men perished on the way to the summit of Mount Haleakala on Maui, Hawaii, U.S.A. With deepest regret, the Hamakuapoko Hongwanji Young Buddhist Association held their memorial service which was also supported by those who came from same prefecture and others from the community. A small temple bell was purchased in memory of these five people in order to remember this tragedy forever.”

After being stored away for more than three decades, the memorial bell now hangs near another bell on the lanai of the Makawao Hongwanji Mission. Inscribed on a bronze plaque secured to a pillar nearby are the names of the five men — a reminder of a loss the small East Maui community bore together.

“I’m glad to see the bell hung where it can be seen and heard after so many years in storage,” said Amy (Tagawa) Blue, whose uncle, Yoriyoshi Tagawa, died in the tragedy. “The bell meant so much to the generation of my father, to help them heal from the tragedy.”

Blue said her late father, Tetsuji “Kelly” Tagawa, never said much about Yoriyoshi, who was four years older than her father. Kelly Tagawa died in 1997 at the age of 89.

Amy Blue learned about the bell’s history and the story behind it when it was found recently in the storeroom of the Makawao temple, along with a Jan. 1, 1991, Hawai‘i Herald feature story by current editor Karleen Chinen about the tragedy and the bell. Plans were made to hang the bell once again.

The discovery of the bell helped Amy Blue to connect personally with the tragedy, the uncle she never knew and to finally understand the loss her father felt, but rarely spoke of.

She remembers visiting the graves of the five young men at the Mantokuji Mission cemetery in lower Pä‘ia with her father. “We used to go during Obon time,” she said. “We didn’t understand much.”

But she understands now, and because she does, she believes “the bell has come home.”

Amy Blue’s husband, Richard, crafted a special mallet fashioned from milo wood and black bamboo to ring the bell.

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Melissa Tanji has been a reporter for The Maui News since 2000. The Maui native earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa.

Tetsuji “Kelly” Tagawa held a portrait of his brother Yoriyoshi for this photo taken in 1990. (Photo by Karleen Chinen)
Tetsuji “Kelly” Tagawa held a portrait of his brother Yoriyoshi for this photo taken in 1990. (Photo by Karleen Chinen)


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