If you ask anyone to describe Hamakua Jodo Mission, the words breathtaking and serene are usually two words that come to mind. Not many would say historical, however a grass roots effort is underway to change this.
Hamakua Jodo Mission was built in 1896, under the direction of Reverend Gakuo Okabe, making it the first sanctioned Buddhist temple in Hawai’i. In 1918, the temple was converted into a kitchen and dining hall and a new temple was erected. This new temple (also known as “konpondo”) was built by Umekichi Tanaka, a Japanese immigrant who was a miya daiku, a carpenter trained in building temples and shrines along with the help of many Japanese immigrant volunteers. This creation is an architectural marvel on many levels – from its design, construction (no nails) and intricately carved koa wood transoms and altar, it is a sight to behold.
There is a cemetery located behind the temple which is also the final resting place of Katsu Goto, a staunch leader of the Japanese community who lost his life fighting for the rights of immigrant laborers.
Hamakua Jodo Mission played an important role for the Issei on the Hamakua Coast and at one point boasted over 600 members. Unfortunately, like many Buddhist temples in Hawai’i, membership has been dwindling over the years. A lot of the members have passed on and the handful left are in their mid 80’s and 90’s. Many children and grandchildren of members who are no longer alive either have moved away, have different religious beliefs or have little interest in the temple.
Since Hamakua Jodo Mission’s livelihood is based on donations, the decline in membership is greatly impacting our temple. When we were approached to do collaboration projects with the NHERC Heritage Center in Honoka’a, it was an opportunity we seized. With the help of Nicole Garcia, an assistant at the Heritage Center and a University of Hawaii at Hilo masters student, Hamakua Jodo Mission has been added as part of the center’s permanent Historic Honoka’a Town exhibit. In addition, the temple is now featured on the Historypin website, which can be accessed at: http://Bit.ly/HamakuaJodoMission or by scanning the QR code below:
There is a lot of detailed information about our history on our Historypin website, so take a look and learn a new fact or two!
The goal of these projects is to get the community and younger generation familiar with the temple’s historical value and reinvigorate interest, which will hopefully translate into new members, volunteers and donors.
To learn more about Hamakua Jodo Mission, point your cursor on the “ABOUT HJM” tab above. Click on which topic you would like to learn more about and you will be directed to its page.