Learning imbued with Buddhist values

By Johnny Brannon, Advertiser Education Writer, Feb 3, 2005

Honolulu, Hawaii (USA) -- Hongwanji Mission School is a small school with a big world-view, where students learn in an environment that stresses traditional Buddhist values, such as community service and respect for others.

<< From left, Jenn Cabbat, Ryan Yamamoto and Josh Uehara, all 13 years old, learn the art of taiko, the Japanese drum. The Japanese language is taught to all students at Hongwanji Mission School. Jeff Widener ? The Honolulu Advertiser

The school, tucked away on the 'ewa side of Pali Highway at the end 'Iliahi Street, welcomes students from all religious and ethnic backgrounds, from preschool age to eighth grade.

HMS began as a Japanese Buddhist school, but now most of its students follow other religions, though many have grandparents or great-grandparents who are Buddhists, principal Lois Yasui said.

"We're not here to indoctrinate or convert anyone to the religion," she said. "We teach universal values, and stress acts of kindness, things that happen on a day-to-day basis. We want our students to think of compassion, and to help other people."

The school is academically strong, but its goal is not to develop elite students, Yasui said.

"We work to develop the whole child," she said.

That means encouraging artistic talents, understanding other cultures, and building strong ethical and moral values.

The school wants to let families know that it's not limited to students from Japanese families, said vice principal Theodora "Teddi" Yagi. But HMS also values Japanese culture, and teaches the language to all students, beginning with 3-year-olds.

The school has a diverse faculty, and language teachers are native Japanese speakers, Yagi said.

HMS is proud of its off-island study tours. The fourth grade goes on a four-day, three-night tour to the Big Island to learn about Hawaiian history and culture. Fifth-graders travel to the East Coast while learning American history, and visit Jamestown and Williamsburg, Pa., Washington, D.C., New York City, and Boston and Salem, Mass. The eighth grade visits a sister school in Fukuoka, Japan, and also visits the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and Park, Kyoto and Tokyo.

? What are you most proud of? Our students are not just academically capable, but also know and understand values.

"When our fourth-grade students go to the Big Island for their study tour, they are often praised for their behavior."

? Best-kept secret? Parents who visit our campus for the first time often comment, "Wow! I see your campus every day when I drive by but I didn't realize how big your campus is."

The school includes a full-size gym, heated swimming pool, computer lab, art class, music lab, band room and library.

? Everybody at our school knows: Mr. Kimura, our P.E. teacher and athletic director.

? Our biggest challenge: How to continue to offer quality education and maintain an affordable tuition schedule.

? What we need: Endowment for scholarships.

? Special events: Matsuri. "Every three years, instead of a May Day program, we do a Matsuri (cultural festival) to celebrate cultural diversity."