Members of Lahaina Hongwanji Mission gather to help to build a new temple in 1933. The mission is celebrating its centennial today.

Historic church turns 100

Members celebrate the institution's
contributions to social and spiritual life

LAHAINA » Robert Kawaguchi had to go to school twice a day in the 1930s -- from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays at an elementary school in West Maui and then from 3 to 4 p.m. at Japanese school at Lahaina Hongwanji Mission.

"I'm glad my father disciplined us. What we learned was perseverance, and as a result, I feel I have a little command of the Japanese language," said Kawaguchi, 74, a retired public school teacher.

Kawaguchi and 160 other members of the Lahaina Hongwanji Mission are celebrating the centennial of the founding of the church established in 1904 by immigrant Japanese, most of whom worked in the sugar industry.

A parade is scheduled at 8:45 a.m. today starting at a park near the Lahaina Banyan Tree, followed by a service at the mission at 10 a.m. and a luncheon at the Westin Maui at 12:30 p.m.

The Lahaina mission served as the center of social and spiritual life for hundreds of Japanese immigrants who struggled financially to establish a foothold to a new life in the United States.

While many were barely able to raise their large families, together they built their own Buddhist temple and school.

What they lacked in money, they made up in work and a wisdom that came from living with little.

To augment their meager family income, some women went into the mountains to pick guava to make jellies and preserves.

"They tended to have large families," said Kawaguchi, one of 10 children.

Robert Kawaguchi and Henry Ariyoshi recalled plantation days yesterday on Maui.

"Everybody just struggled to put food on the table. Kids were expected to do household chores. Many also raised pigs ... maybe also chickens for food. We'd pick mangoes and coconuts and sell them."

Henry "Bruno" Ariyoshi, 70, a retired principal at Lahainaluna High School, said plantation immigrant children did not have much and were "humble."

"If you had a McDonald's (restaurant) back then, I don't think it would have survived," Ariyoshi said.

The mission established itself in 1904, with members eventually building the first temple along Front Street leading to Mala Wharf.

Members, many of whom worked at Pioneer Mill Co. Ltd. as laborers, later moved the mission and constructed a larger temple in 1933 along Wainee Street near the historic Waiola Church.

Nobumi Tokunaga, a supervisor at Pioneer Mill, built and installed the unique spires at the top of the Wainee building after studying architectural designs of Indian Buddhist temples, church members said.

Kawaguchi said in the early 1900s, the church provided social activities for youths, including lessons in judo and sumo.

Violet Nishijima, 80, said young girls had the opportunity to learn sewing, Japanese etiquette and ikebana, or the art of flower arrangement.

"All of this gave us an appreciation for Japanese culture," Nishijima said.

The congregation is smaller and older than in the 1930s when there were at least 300 members, but members have continued a number of activities at the temple, including the religious celebration of obon and mochi-pounding for New Year's Day.

Kawaguchi said the centennial celebration gives thanks not only to the congregation, but also to people such as his parents who helped to establish the Lahaina Hongwanji Mission and contributed to the development of a community.

"When you see their blood-and-sweat lifestyle, you appreciate life," he said.



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