Influential People

Umekichi Tanaka (1859-1936)

Umekichi Tanaka was a Japanese immigrant who had been trained by his father, the skill of miya-daiku. Miya-daiku is a carpenter who only builds shrines and temples.

Upon his arrival to Hawaii, he worked as a carpenter for the Paauhau Sugar Plantation Co. He was the person who was in charge of the construction of the Hamakua Jodo Mission temple along with the help of the community and church members after their work hours and on weekends. Mr. Tanaka also helped carve the koa wood carvings of the transoms and altar in the temple.

Mr. Tanaka passed away on March 6, 1936. Little know that his final resting place is at our cemetery. His grave is located in Section D, plot number #282. Please stop by his gravesite and honor the man who played an integral part behind Hamakua Jodo Mission.

Eizuchi Higaki (1887-1954)

Eizuchi Higaki immigrated to Hawaii in 1907. After living in Hilo for a few years, he relocated to Pa’auhau and worked as a machinist for the Paauhau Sugar Plantation Co.

Mr. Higaki was also a very skilled artisan. Together with Umekichi Tanaka and an unknown laborer, the three of them carved the one of a kind, detailed koa wood transoms and altar inside that is one of the unique features of Hamakua Jodo Mission.

Mr. Higaki passed away suddenly in 1954 while on a trip to Japan. His legacy of hard work, dedication and talent forever lives on through his craftsmanship displayed within our temple.

His family are active members of Hamakua Jodo Mission and continue the tradition of volunteering that Mr. Higaki started many years ago. His youngest son, George served on the Board of Directors and is always there to lend a helping hand.

Photo courtesy of George Higaki

Tanikichi Fujitani

Tanikichi Fujitani arrived in Hawai’i in 1885 on the second ship of government sponsored laborers known as “Kanyaku Imin”.

After his three year contract ended with the sugar plantation, he worked for a Honoka’a store. In 1893 he opened his own store and also contracted almost all of the road construction in the Honokaa area.

Mr. Fujitani worked very hard in the community and was one of the founding members of Hamakua Jodo Mission. He, along with Rev. Gakuo Okabe visited house to house to ask for donations to build the original temple in 1896. He and another founding member, Shoichi Hino were instrumental in securing the $300 donation from the Japanese Consulate to build the temple.

After he closed his businesses in Honokaa, Mr. Fujitani relocated to Ahualoa and then to Hawi. He was the committee chairman for the establishment of the Hawi Japanese School and also donated two acres of land for the Ahualoa Japanese School in 1928.

Toyozo Doi (1869-1968)

Toyozo Doi was born in Japan on Jan. 7, 1869 and immigrated to Hawai’i on the steamship Omi Maru on March 3, 1889.  Mr. Doi worked at the Paauhau Sugar Plantation Co. until his retirement in 1939.

Mr. Doi and his wife Tose, were among the earliest members of Hamakua Jodo Mission. He was a very active member and served as treasurer during the time our konpondo was built and for many years after. Mr. Doi was also a brilliant craftsman and responsible for making the many hand made lanterns, water buckets and metal ladles you see at our cemetery.

Mr. Doi’s son, Yutaka, affectionately known as “Doc” (1914-2016) carried on his father’s legacy as a dedicated volunteer at Hamakua Jodo Mission and also served as treasurer. This family tradition continued through Yutaka’s son, Roland (1950-2018), who eventually took over treasurer duties years later up until his unexpected death on December 8, 2018.

Photo courtesy of Sidney Doi

Kiichiro Okamoto (1879-1958)

Kiichiro Okamoto was from Chikuyama Village, Tamana County, Kamamoto Prefecture in Japan. He was a veteran who served in the Russo-Japanese War (1903-1905) before immigrating to Hawaii on August 26, 1906 on the America Maru ship.

Interested in education, Mr. Okamoto was known as an honest man and a person of influence. He was also one of the men who served as a construction superintendent during the building of our current temple in 1918.

Mr. Okamoto passed away at the age of 79. His final resting place is located at our cemetery, in Section C, plot number #181.

Generations later, his family continues to have deep ties within the Honokaa community and our historic temple, always willing to lend a helping hand!

Photo courtesy of The Okamoto-Moon Family

Tome Oda (1889-1959)

We’ve heard a lot about the men who played important roles in the history of the temple, but many do not know that an incredibly resilient woman was responsible for keeping Hamakua Jodo Mission afloat during World War II.

Tragedy struck Reverend Kogan Ekuan’s family in 1941 when his wife, Kimie died following childbirth of twin daughters, one of which did not survive. His mother in law, Tome Oda arrived in Paauhau to help care for Reverend Ekuan’s children – his newborn daughter and two very young sons.

Later that year, Reverend Ekuan’s mother fell critically ill in Japan. He left Hawaii to see his mother but while he was there, World War II broke out. He was unable to return to Hawai’i due to the war.

Buddhist temples were shut down, but Ms. Oda managed to take care of the temple and cemetery in addition to raising three young children. She had help from members of the congregation, however she was undoubtedly a one woman warrior – persevering through adversity.

Ms. Oda played a significant part in perpetuating Hamakua Jodo Mission’s existence. She held things together during the war torn years not only for her family, but also for the Japanese community who came to rely on the temple and the teachings of Buddhism.

When Reverend Ekuan returned after the war with his new wife, Tane, his family was reunited and he resumed his minister duties.

Ms. Oda passed away on January, 28, 1959. She will always be an important part of Hamakua Jodo Mission’s history.

Photo courtesy of Yoshiko Dacanay

Sanji Nishikawa 1905-1973

During World War II, a lot of church members helped out Ms. Tome Oda at Hamakua Jodo Mission, however one person stood out. His name was Sanji Nishikawa, a resident of Pa’auhau.

Mr. Nishikawa assisted Ms. Oda with groundskeeping duties and running errands for the temple. He would also drive her and her grandchildren to places they needed to go to when it was too far to walk.

Mr. Nishikawa passed away in 1973. We owe a lot to him for his unselfishness and kokua when times were tough for us.

Reverend & Mrs. Kogan Ekuan

Reverend Kogan Ekuan served as the minister of the Hamakua Jodo Mission from 1937-1977, which is longer than any other in the history of the temple – 40 years. Ask anyone who grew up attending services at the temple to name a minister past or present and you will likely hear his name.

He and his wife, Tane were very beloved and respected by the community. They did not hesitate to help people whether they were members of the congregation or not.

They are remembered fondly for their devotion serving others through religion and goodwill, making their names forever synonymous with the temple.

Katsu Kobayakawa Goto (1862-1889)

Katsu Goto immigrated to the Big Island of Hawaii in 1885. He was part of the first ship of out twenty six shiploads of Japanese contract immigrants that arrived in Hawai’i.

Mr. Goto had a three year contract to work at the O’okala Sugar Plantation for a meager $9 per month. After his three year contract ended, Mr. Goto opened a general store in Honoka’a town and became very successful. The success of his business brought jealousy and hostile feelings towards him from competitor, Joseph Mills. The Japanese immigrant laborers would patronize Mr. Goto’s store and Mr. Mills was very dismayed about it.

Unlike many Japanese immigrant laborers, Mr. Goto was proficient in the English language and became a liaison between the laborers and the plantation’s management acting as a mediator and translator. He was also an activist who fought for better working conditions and their rights.

As Mr. Goto continued to champion the Japanese immigrant laborers rights, he was viewed as a person causing unrest among the laborers and a trouble maker by plantation owner Robert Overend. Mr. Goto was subsequently banned from the plantation grounds and threatened with his life if he disobeyed.

On October 19, 1889, a fire broke out on Mr. Overend’s cane fields and blamed several laborers along with Mr. Goto who he felt was the mastermind behind it. After an investigation, the suspected Japanese laborers were convicted of breach of contract and were fined. These laborers called upon Mr. Goto for help to resolve this matter.

Mr. Goto, on horseback, went to the plantation camp at night to meet these laborers. He told them that he would contact an immigration inspector in the morning for assistance. Upon leaving the camp, Mr. Goto was ambushed and pulled from his horse, breaking his neck. Still alive, Mr. Mills along with three others (who had ties to Mr. Mills & Mr. Overend) later known as the “Honokaa Four”, lynched Mr. Goto and hung him on a telephone pole in Honoka’a town. His body remained hung on the telephone pole for the community to see and to send a stern message to the immigrant laborers : do not defy us “or else”.

Mr. Goto’s body was buried at the grounds that would later become known as the Hamakua Jodo Mission Cemetery. The men who murdered Mr. Goto were convicted of this crime after a lengthy investigation and trial.

Throughout the years, members of the congregation have maintained his final resting place. In the 1960’s a replacement headstone was made for his grave. Commemorative services remembering the anniversary of his death also have been held at the temple.

On December 10, 1994, a permanent memorial in honor of Mr. Goto was erected in Honokaa town near the public library and across the Hilo side of Honokaa High School. It is at the site where the lynching occurred. Community members and tourists often frequent this memorial and fresh flowers are left there in his memory. What many of them are unaware of is that his remains are buried at the Hamakua Jodo Mission’s cemetery, just a few minutes drive from the memorial.

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