The Queen’s May 1901 Visit to Hongwanji Temple is Remembered and Celebrated
Kristen Nemoto Jay
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
This past Nov. 11 marked 100 years since the passing of Hawai‘i’s last reigning monarch, the beloved Queen Lili‘uokalani. The anniversary of her passing and the legacy she left in stories, her music, and in her acts of generosity and acceptance were commemorated on Oct. 29 at the Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin Buddhist temple, where hundreds with mostly Japanese faces and surnames turned out to honor the queen.
Many were hearing for the first time the details of her majesty’s visit to Honpa Hongwanji’s early temple on Fort Lane on May 19, 1901, to attend a birthday service for Shinran Shonin, the founder of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. Her majesty had been invited by Mary Foster, a Buddhist with ties to Foster Botanical Gardens. The queen’s attendance highlighted her acceptance and understanding of the Buddhist community, quickly blurring the lines of racial and religious segregation in Hawai‘i.
In honor of the queen’s life and her historic gesture to the Buddhist community, Friends of Lili‘uokalani Gardens from Hilo, Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin, community members and other leaders planned a special service that included a re-enactment piece by Jackie Pualani Johnson, newly retired drama professor from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.
Kahu (The Rev.) Sherman Thompson began the service with an expression of gratitude to all in attendance for celebrating the life of “her majesty . . . with this special service of appreciation.”
Brightening the temple were flowers shared by members of the Hawaii Betsuin, Moiliili Hongwanji, Kailua Hongwanji and Jikoen Hongwanji. The congregation rose to sing the Buddhist gatha, or song, “Nori no Miyama,” (“Deep in the Woods of Dharma”) which is believed to have been sung at the May 1901 service that the queen attended.
The Rev. Kevin Kuniyuki, director of Honpa Hongwanji’s Buddhist Studies Center, and Dr. Puakea Nogelmeier, professor of Hawaiian language at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, then led a chant of the “Sanbujo,” (“The Three Respectful Callings”) that had been specially composed as “Mele Kähea Buda,” a traditional oli (chant) style based on the English translation of “Sanbujo.” As the sutra “Sanbutsuge” was chanted, incense was offered by Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii officials and members of the Kailua, Moiliili and Jikoen temples. They were joined by members of the Royal Societies; trustees Claire L. Asam and Thomas K. Kaulukukui Jr. of the Queen Lili‘uokalani Trust; and the Fujimoto family, whose Issei ancestors worked for the queen at Washington Place.
The Rev. Eric Matsumoto, bishop of Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, presented the dharma message. His words expressed humility, respect and appreciation for the queen as he tried to fathom what the climate of racial and religious prejudices must have been like in the Islands and the world to notice the supreme gesture that the queen made to the local Buddhist temple. Despite the early stages of the annexation, Matsumoto said the queen’s selfless presence had resulted in tremendous publicity and acceptance for religious freedom and practice. He commended her majesty’s quest for peace and harmony despite her own hardships at the time.
Kristen Nemoto Jay was born and raised in Waimänalo. She recently left her job as editor for Morris Media Network’s Where Hawaii to pursue a freelance writing career. She also tutors part-time at her alma mater, Kailua High School, and is a yoga instructor at CorePower Yoga. Kristen earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Chapman University and her master’s in journalism from DePaul University.
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