Shingon mission marks 100 years

by Dennis Fujimoto, The Garden Island, May 5, 2008

WAIMEA, Hawaii (USA) -- There were only 30 families in the area when the first shovels of dirt were turned. A hundred years later, families turned out to celebrate the centennial of the Waimea Shingon Mission situated at the base of a cliff in Waimea Valley.

“Little hands made the difference,” said Bishop Dean Okimura of the Shingon Mission Hawai‘i yesterday during the Waimea church’s centennial service. “Whether they moved one stone, one rock, or made sushi for the other workers, little hands made a difference, and I am grateful.”

Okimura said people today must take care of the new generation of Buddhism.

“Today marks a century from the start of this temple,” Okimura said. “One hundred years of hardships of the ministers and members.”

The current Waimea Shingon Mission is the third building for its followers.

“The original building was a small building where people are parked today,” said Leonard Abeshima, the current resident minister. “This small building was where Bishop Okimura’s grandfather held services when he became the minister in February 1922.”

Following the departure of Rev. Kakuo Okimura, the Bishop’s grandfather, for further studies in Japan, Rev. Yujin Kobayashi became the third resident minister, and under his tenure, land for the current temple was purchased from Gay & Robinson.

With no modern equipment, church members and the community literally cut down the mountain to create the site where the church stands, Abeshima said. Additionally, the workers built the road which was known as the “Shingon Mission Road” until the county switched to

Hawaiian names, Abeshima said.

Today, the only remnant of that name is the sign posted at the intersection at Menehune Road. That sign bore a special “Centennial” marker adorned with red and white crepe paper as an indicator for motorists looking for the celebration.

With the task of funding the purchase 75 years ago, Abeshima said, “There was no huli huli chicken, no sushi in those times. Instead, Kobayashi brought in a movie from Japan, and over a period of a week, made the trip from plantation camp to plantation camp from Mana to Hanalei, showing the movie.”

He stayed with friends along the way, and the group all traveled in one car, Abeshima said.

Less than a year following the land purchase, a new temple and living quarters was dedicated on Jan. 31, 1926 and the original name of Waimea Daishido was changed to its current name.

Following World War II, the church members, in conjunction with Gold Star Mothers began efforts to build a replica of the Shikoku Hachiju-hachi kasho, or the Shikoku 88 Buddha Monuments, and a memorial tower.

“It was after the war, and there was no material, but a lot of manpower,” Abeshima said. “For the centennial, because the original Shikoku Hachiju-hachi kasho was deteriorating because of the poor materials when it was built, the church rebuilt the replica.”

An integral part of the centennial service was the Enshrinement of the 88 Buddha Monuments officiated by the bishop.

Okimura, in his remarks, pulled people back 100 years to the days when there were no chairs and shoes were left outside the door.

“We must pull the weeds to stay strong as we start a new beginning. We have lost gratitude and compassion because we have too many good things,” Okimura said. “As we made our way here, we stopped at the Hanapepe Valley lookout, and out west, there was a rainbow that was shining its power of energy to Waimea.”

Abeshima said he was grateful that even if the church members are getting older, there is always someone at the church for special events.

“I am grateful for that,” he said. “I am grateful for the people who didn’t come, and cannot hear what is happening today. For those who came, thank you. And for those who didn’t come, I send blessings.”