A BRIEF HISTORY OF SHINSHU KYOKAI MISSION
by Rev. Roland K. Tatsuguchi
Shinshu Kyokai Mission of Hawaii was founded on April 14, 1914 in Pawaa as a fledgling independent group of Jodoshinshu faithful. Twenty-five founding members met at SeisukeYamashita’s home in Liliha to form a charter and by-laws. They determined that their group would be called ‘Shinshiyu Kiyokai.’ Its membership was comprised of issei immigrants primarily from Hiroshima who were deeply devoted to the life and teachings of Shinran Shonin who taught the life of “gratitude” and “reverence” based on the Truth of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vows and Sacred Name that is the basis of Universal Salvation for all sentient beings, not only man.
This humble group of immigrant alien Japanese came mainly from the Aki regions of Hiroshima known for their devout faith and religious piety. They had a special camaraderie and understanding of each other’s habits, traits, customs, dialect, and common faith in Amida Buddha’s Timeless Wisdom and Unconditional Compassion, especially for the “unsavable person” full of spiritual blindness and moral confusions. They were tokoro no mono because they came from the same regions of Hiroshima. They were deeply devoted to the life of nembutsu gratitude and reflection. Because of their unwavering faith and piety, and because they were mainly from the Aki areas, they were known as Aki monto, or “the faithful of Aki!”
Thus, Shinshu Kyokai was founded and established as an independent Jodoshinshu temple in the midst of Honpa Hongwanji Mission’s network of religious meeting halls [fukyoo-jo] in Honolulu proper. The Honpa Hongwanji itself was established in 1899 and incorporated in 1907. The reason for Shinshu Kyokai’s independent beginnings can be explained by the following factors. In the early stages of immigration, the issei lived in tightly knit neighborhoods enclaved from other ethnic groups due to racial, linguistic, cultural, and provincial affiliations. Pawaa area was such a self-circumscribed neighborhood of immigrant Japanese families closely bound together by common tastes, beliefs, dialect, and customs. The issei did not speak English and this fact, out of all other factors, was perhaps the key reason that kept them “culturally,” “linguistically,” and “politically” enclaved from the then mainstream society. For language is the conduit that “socially” and “culturally” communicates the hopes, sentiments, customs, traditions, institutions, family, and religion of a given people. And it is undeniable fact that the color of one’s skin and physiognomic features serve to justify prejudice and discrimination in the social political arena.
The issei came as immigrants hoping to make their fortunes and quickly return to their places of birth [Furusato]. As of consequence, many lived in plantation camps as contract laborers isolated from mainstream society. Others grouped together in enclaved neighborhoods basically because of their common language, customs, and racial visibility. Current concerns such as imminent World War I or the coming Great Depression of the 1930’s were not their main concerns. Besides, the islands were still a Trust Territory under the United States. And the issei were seen as unwelcomed aliens. For the Japanese Exclusion Act was passed by Congress in 1924. The Great Depression began in 1919 and lasted until December 7, 1941. For some thirty years the issei in the Pawaa area suffered from racial, economic, religious, and political discrimination. The Pawaa community of issei immigrant families was demographically and geographically delineated by Kalakaua Avenue to the east, Young Street to the north, Keeaumoku Street to the west, and Kapiolani Boulevard to the south. Today, all vestiges of this neighborhood community with its ‘mama-san papa-san’ family run stores are gone, replaced by impersonal hollow tile buildings and high rise structures.
To this enclaved group of Aki monto faithful came two Jodoshinshu ministers from Hiroshima for a visit. Reverends Untai Toshima and Jyakujo Takeda came to proselytize as well. Reverend Toshima was noted for his skillful religious oratory. The Reverend Takeda was a scholar-educator of the Jodoshinshu faith. He was one of the cofounders of a private Buddhist school in Japan. Together, they came in 1914, the year in which Shinshu Kyokai was later formally founded and established as a bona fide nebulous religious institution. It was a time when the issei were seen as aliens and had no votes. It was when sugar and pineapple were the key agricultural industries dominated by the so called “Big Five.”
The then community of issei families were situated mainly in the “lower” Aloha Lane area [now Kaheka Street]. They were mainly from Hiroshima prefecture. Consequently, the Hiroshima dialect [Hiroshima ben] was mainly spoken besides a mixed usage of Pidgin English when speaking to non-Japanese. The two Reverends were also from Hiroshima. They were warmly welcomed with “Aloha” by the Aki monto faithful in the Pawaa neighborhood. They were just a mere handful of Aki faithful. To celebrate the visit by the two Reverends, these devout faithful made a special request to the local Honpa Hongwanji Betsuin Headquarters for permission to use their fukyoo-jo near Aloha Lane so the two Reverends could hold a service for them. Unfortunately [or fortunately], this simple request was flatly denied by the then Bishop of Honpa Hongwanji, the Reverend Emyo Imamura.
The formal reason given was that both Reverends Toshima and Takeda were not officially dispatched nor authorized to proselytize by the Nishi Hongwanji Headquarters or do any missionary work here in the Islands. Both were not formally dispatched to officiate services or deliver sermons in behalf of the Honpa Hongwanji, not withstanding the fact that they were both fully ordained Nishi Hongwanji ministers. The refusal was based on the fact that they did not come to Hawaii through official channels.
This refusal was most probably the inadvertent catalyst for this handful of Aki monto [devout Aki faithful] in the Pawaa area to form their own worship group. Since the use of the fukyoo-jo was denied, these handful of faithful held their first outdoor worship service where both Reverends Toshima and Takeda officiated and spoke. This outdoor service took place under the shade of a lichee tree in the yard of a Mr. Wakamatsu Dote in Ahana Lane, an offshoot of Aloha Lane. These handful of Aki faithful sat on rough outdoor mats as they “listened” to both Reverends speak on the teachings and faith of Jodoshinshu.
The issei living in the Pawaa area then realized the need to preserve their language, arts, music, traditions, culture, family institutions, and their Jodoshinshu heritage. This was now seen as crucial for them as they raised their issei progeny in a “foreign land” where they were essentially seen as “inferior” oriental aliens, idol worshipers, heathens, and mainly “outsiders” to the then mainstream society dominated by the “Big Five” interests and Puritan missionary values and morality. There was also a shortage of Buddhist ministers serving the growing educational, moral, and cultural needs of their children, the first generation of Japanese Americans, the nisei who were being assimilated and westernized through the territorial public schools.
As a consequence, these handful of Jodoshinshu faithful living in the “Aloha Lane” area prevailed on both Reverends to remain and serve the spiritual needs of their fellow tokoro no mono who came mainly from the same prefectural areas they did. Thus began the nebulous pattern of “Shinshiyu Kiyokai Mission of Hawaii” autonomous independent beginnings, which in the months to follow was to become a fully incorporated religious entity. Because the need for various types or religious services and cultural activities was seen, both Reverends stayed on. Reverend Toshima stayed and served until 1921. Reverend Takeda served until 1923.
The first make-shift temple constructed was a simple sanctuary built as a simple annex to a judo-ba at the lowest end of Aloha Lane on the makai side. Beyond the dead end of the lane was Pake patch, one of the three tracts of truck farms cultivated by Chinese immigrant bachelors. After the formal founding in April of 1914, the annex was constructed and built by November of 1914. This annex facility stood approximately where the Pagoda Restaurant parking lot stands today. A hanging temple bell [kan’sho] was purchased and installed in the rooftop belfry. An Amida statue, gohon’zon, was purchased and a celebration to commemorate the occasion was held. A sanctification ceremony was most likely also held in the sanctuary proper to solemnly enshrine the gohon’zon. This simple sanctuary served the Pawaa community briefly to center the Pawaa neighborhood’s religious, social, cultural, and prefectural associational needs.
In 1915, the Reverend Chijyo Fuji arrived to assist Reverends Toshima and Takeda. The three not only served the fledgling membership but also reached out into the outlying areas of Pawaa. And on occasion, even went to the other islands to spread the Onembutsu teachings. At the temple annex, they even taught kanbun, the cumbersome Japanese method of reading and writing classical Chinese characters. Through the Buddhist scriptures and Confucian Analects they instilled religious and moral values in their promising youthful members. They also held religious discussions, visited homes, and held some night classes. They served also as invaluable personal counselors, cultural consultants, and as intermediaries in reading and writing personal letters, documents, etc. For quite a few issei could not negotiate the more involved complexities of reading and writing in the classical Japanese style.
The building of a permanent temple was accomplished in three stages at 1014-1020 Kaheka Lane beginning on June 9, 1916. By this time, “Aloha Lane” had been changed to “Kaheka Lane,” which today is Kaheka Street. A home and property was purchased renovated into a sanctuary with tatami floored seating areas. A congregating hall, a small work area, a bathroom, and a kitchen made up the temple. The members celebrated the occasion with a special installation-dedication-sanctification ceremony. Children in chigo ceremonial garments participated in a procession from the judo-ba annex at the lower end to the new site at the upper end of the lane at 1014 Kaheka Lane between Young and King streets. People then still referred to the lane as “upper” or “lower” Aloha Lane. The hotoke-sama [Amida statue] was carried in a special portable shrine. A formal celebration was held on October 15, 1916. The Reverends formally led the chigo procession and solemnly placed the Amida image finally into its new shrine in the year 1918.
The Reverend Fuji served until 1918 and returned to Japan. Reverend Takeda served for five years and returned to Japan in 1921. Reverend Toshima served for seven years and returned to Japan in 1923. Sometime in 1921, a Reverend Josui Takeda of Koloa Hongwanji, son-in-law of Reverend Toshima but not related to Reverend Jyakujo Takeda, came to serve as a minister. Reverend Josui Takeda also returned to Japan in 1926. With the coming and going of these ministers, the temple programs began expanding with cultural and temple activities. Shinshu Kyokai then was not only a social gathering place, but became a center for reaffirming prefectural ties. Japanese customs and traditions, arts, literature, Buddhist religious observances, etc. solidified the issei and their nisei children with a common faith and ethnic identity.
Then, in 1925, the Reverend Zenkai Tatsuguchi was called to serve as a minister. The Great Depression and other political world events were taking place. The temple was for the first time fully incorporated as required then by the revised Territorial Laws, a year after he arrived in April of 1926. This was an important “turning point.” For the legal corporate status of Shinshu Kyokai was legally established for the first time since its formal inception. Then in 1917 Zenkai’s younger brother, Reverend Goki Tatsuguchi, was called to serve as an assistant minister. In 1919, Reverend Goki returned to bring his wife, Yoshiko, who he had left behind after being married a year and a half to her. Because of the Japanese Exclusion Act of 1914, it took nine months before Reverend Tatsuguchi could bring his wife to Hawaii.
When Reverend Goki Tatsuguchi returned with wifeYoshiko, they became the first husband and wife ministerial team for Shinshu Kyokai. On November 30, 1928, the Mission purchased the mauka adjacent property to the temple and refurbished the home into a parsonage. On November 1, 1930, son Roland Kanami Tatsuguchi was born. There were others to follow, four daughters and another son.
After some five or so years of undergraduate and graduate studies, Reverend Roland Tatsuguchi returned from his seminary studies at Ryukoku University in Kyoto, Japan. After graduating from Ryukoku University, he was fully ordained in 1956 at Nishi Hongwanji in Kyoto, Japan. He also received his Kyoshi certification and became a Jodoshinshu minister authorized to proselytize and spread the Jodoshinshu teachings. Reverend Roland is the seventh minister to serve Shinshu Kyokai since Reverend Toshima.
Eleven years after Roland was born to the Tatsuguchi's, World War II unexpectedly erupted. The senior Tatsuguchi was, like other Buddhist Reverends, arrested as an enemy alien and incarcerated as a POW for the duration of the war. But the years before 1941 (1930-1941] were also turbulent years for the Mission. For a schism had occurred and the temple was split into two opposing factions. Without any formal authorization, former vice-president Mankichi Goto suddenly notified the temple officials that Reverends Untai Toshima and his son Jisai were already on their way to Shinshu Kyokai to assume duties as head resident-ministers. There was no prior communication or knowledge of Mr. Goto’s action authorizing the Toshimas to come on the part of the other temple officials. Strangely, the elder Toshima died even before he reached Yokohama before he could depart for Honolulu by ship. Unfortunately, however, frictions and disagreements over temple leadership and operations began escalating with the unauthorized arrival of Reverend Jisai Toshima.
Reverend Goki’s brother, Reverend Zenkai, moved out and joined the opposing faction led by Goto and Toshima’s son. The ensuing court battles which followed sapped the resources and spirit of the members. Because of the protracted hearings and prolonged proceedings, no official temple business or programs could be conducted. Reverend Goki Tatsuguchi was forced to teach at McCully Nihongo Gakko in order to support his growing family of six children. Mrs. Tatsuguchi taught Japanese Tea Ceremony and Flower Arrangement to supplement the family income. By November of 1941, oldest son Roland had just reached eleven years of age. The youngest was merely six months old.
Then unexpectedly, World War II erupted. Buddhists ministers, for some odd reason, were considered to be enemy aliens and immediately arrested as POWs. After Reverend Goki Tatsuguchi’s arrest the very evening of December 7, 1941, Shinshu Kyokai suddenly became a ghost temple for the duration of the war. Up till then the courts were deciding who were the rightful authorities and “head priest” of Shinshu Kyokai Mission. Ironically, Mankichi Goto himself was also arrested as an enemy alien. Thus, before the legal issues of rightful authority could be settled, World War II itself suddenly threatened the very existence and survival of Shinshu Kyokai Mission. All things Japanese came under the same ominous uncertainty of dissolution and eventual confiscation by the Federal authorities.
When World War II finally ended, a long difficult struggle ensued to relocate and reestablish Shinshu Kyokai as a viable religious organization. When Reverend Goki returned on November 23, 1945, he was promptly elected President of the Board at a special meeting held on December 20, 1945. Under the leadership of Reverend Tátsuguchi and his supportive wife with but a handful of loyal members, the long struggle began to relocate and rebuild Shinshu Kyokai. After several difficult years, a new site was finally found and the long awaited temple was finally built. After the relocation and completion of the rebuilding project, a two-day long celebration and dedication was held to commemorate the occasion.
On February 9, 1952, a day before the celebrative procession, a commemorative thanksgiving service was held before the stone memorial Hyo-Chu-Hi dedicated to the war dead. Then on the following day, February 10, 1952, the Amida statue in a special sacred palanquin was accompanied by a procession of marchers from 1014 Kaheka Lane to 1631 South Beretania Street. A procession of chigo and proud members were led by Rev. Goki Tatsuguchi and accompanied by twenty-three priests from various Buddhist denominations. A religious installation-sanctification-dedication ceremony then was held and followed by festivities.
In addition to rebuilding a new temple, the Shinshu Kyokai Dormitory adjacent to the present temple was completed on August 10, 1961. The property adjacent to the dormitory on the Diamond Head side was also purchased. After her husband’s death, the late Yoshiko Tatsuguchi, continued with the work of the Mission. She was instrumental in installing shrines for the Shinran and Rennyo hanging scrolls as well as purchasing and erecting the long awaited temple spire. Mrs. Tatsuguchi then, with daughter, Lois Suzuki, published the 70th anniversary publication, SHINSHU KYOKAI MISSION OF HAWAII; 1914-1985. She then set out on a final project, the rear addition to the present temple housing our columbarium and multi-purpose meeting room.
Shinshu Kyokai is now in a critical stage. We are now about to enter the twenty-first century, another millennium in which the future survival of man, his cultures, and planet earth itself is at stake. It is hoped that the leadership and members of other religions and faiths in our multi-ethnic multi-faith community will avail themselves to the insights afforded by Jodoshinshu teachings in order to arrive at a common ecumenical solution of problems facing us all. We need the best of the world religions to forge the basis of a common faith that unites all mankind. Buddhism as one of the major world religions and Jodoshinshu as a lens of keen insights into human nature and the actual human condition can and should contribute towards this common but universal goal of world peace and understanding between man, environment, and the universe.