Reverend Gakuo Okabe was sent to Oahu, Hawaii in 1894 as an officially selected Jodo Shu priest.
Approximately two months later, he left for Maui and then headed to the Big Island of Hawaii. Upon his arrival to the County of Hāmākua, Reverend Okabe gained a strong following among the Japanese immigrants who lived in the plantations. They felt he was a sincere and honorable priest. Trusting him completely, they rented a house for him and placed a sign in front that read “Sacred Altar of Amida Buddha from Japan”.
Reverend Okabe continued to tirelessly spread his mission work of the teachings of Buddhism by visiting many locations, giving sermons and performing special memorial services for unknown deceased people. The Japanese community felt it was time to have a home temple built with Reverend Okabe as their sensei.
The Imperial Consulate General of Japan to Hawai’i, Hisashi Shimamura soon paid a visit. Members of the Japanese immigrant community mentioned the idea of building a home temple in Hāmākua to him. He was so pleased with the idea that he pledged $300 to get construction underway.
Led by Reverend Okabe, the Japanese immigrant community worked extra hard to raise additional funds. As a result of their effort, in 1896 the first sanctioned Buddhist temple in Hawai’i named the “Hamakua Bukkyo Kaido” (which would later be renamed as the Hamakua Jodo Mission) was built in the current location in Pa’auhau Mauka, which was the geographic center of the five sugar plantations. The total cost to build the temple was $3,000.
In 1918, under the direction of Reverend Ryoyu Yoshida, the fourth minister to serve at Hamakua Jodo Mission, a new temple (“konpondo”) was built next to the original one.
The design and construction was executed by Umekichi Tanaka, a Japanese immigrant who was trained as a miya daiku, a carpenter who only builds shrines and temples. Members and volunteers of the community helped Mr. Tanaka build the current konpondo, without the use of nails in the entire construction.
After receiving permission from the Pa’auhau Sugar Plantation Manager, several koa wood trees were removed from the forest behind the temple. Mr. Tanaka, along with Eizuchi Higaki and an unknown laborer painstakingly carved an intricate altar and transoms for the temple, highlighting their skilled craftsmanship.
A dedication ceremony was held after the completion of the temple. The original temple was then converted into a small kitchen and dining hall, which to this day remains on the property.
Years after the current temple was constructed, a neighboring parsonage was built next to it in 1936.
In 2018, the Historic Hawaii Foundation obtained a generous grant from the Freeman Foundation to replace the temple’s weathered roofing.
Curb Appeal Hawaii LLC undertook this massive project. They removed and disposed the existing metal roof on the main building and installed a new one. The finished installation helped to restore the beauty of our historic temple.