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The Hidden Jewels of Maui

July 5, 2013 - Ray Tsuchiyama

See: Japanese Buddhist Temples in Hawaii: An Illustrated Guide by co-authors George J. Tanabe and Willa Jane Tanabe (UH Press: 2013)

Among 90 Buddhist temples in the State, from Kauai to the Island of Hawai'i, 14 are on Maui (the only inhabited Hawaiian island without a Japanese Buddhist temple is Niihau).

Reflecting pre-World War II Japanese immigrant demographics, the four Maui areas where the temples are located are: Lahaina (3 temples, including the Lahaina Jodo Mission), Wailuku (3), Kahului/Pu’unene (3), Pai’a (2), and Up-Country (2). Easternmost Hana village has one temple (sadly, with only two families barely left in its congregation), the same Hongwanji sect as my father’s side of the family (Wailuku Hongwanji, with Maui’s largest congregation of about 160 families – in contrast, larger Maui Christian evangelical churches have ten times that number) and interestingly, again reflecting historical demographics – the same sect as the one Japanese Buddhist temple still active on the island of Lana’i.

Although I live in thriving, crowded Kihei, no Buddhist temple exists anywhere along the southern Maui coastline from Maalaea to Kihei to Wailea to Makena. This new population center developed after Nikkei created neighborhoods on Maui and no post-War War II Japanese immigrants arrived on Maui. (Although it would have been interesting to see a temple off Kamaole Beach III, incongruous with the Kihei water paddle-board and Fred’s tequila crowd).

In Maui’s current population of 160,000, there must be many, especially in new population centers like Kihei or Napili or even in utterly-transformed Pai’a (with two temples near-by), who have never entered one of the 14 Buddhist temples on Maui. Of course, the Japanese Buddhist temples are not tourist places and seem rather quiet and of a different Maui historical period, not the Maui of 2013.

The new book’s two authors – George J. Tanabe and Willa Jane Tanabe – cover exhaustively all the Japanese Buddhist temples in Hawai'i, and give insights to the design and construction of each one. There are great differences between the towering and powerful twin Indian-style “stupa” at the Lahaina Hongwanji Mission (on a smaller scale compared to the sprawling Hongwanji temple on the Pali Highway in Honolulu) and the graceful Japanese traditional design of the Pai’a Mantokuji Soto Zen Mission temple.

An example of contemporary design is the Kahului Hongwanji Mission, established in 1911 and re-constructed in the late 1960si. During the pre-War decades many Japanese Buddhist missionaries came to Maui to do what we would call now to “minister” to Japanese immigrants in Hawai'i plantation camps (domestic violence, alcoholism, stress – incidents that called for third-party intervention and what we now call “counseling” appeared at many camps). They established temples that became community centers, and often cemeteries (the book mentions one Lahaina graveyard that has grave markers pointed northwestwards toward Japan, to link through metaphysical space and time with lost family and friends).

The Amazon site has the book’s summary:

Upon entering a Japanese Buddhist temple in Hawai`i, most people whether first-time visitors or lifelong members are overwhelmed by the elaborate and complex display of golden ornaments, intricately carved altar tables and incense burners, and images of venerable masters and bodhisattvas. These objects, as well as the architectural elements of the temple itself, have meanings that are often hidden in ancient symbolisms. This book, written by two authorities on Japanese art and religion, provides a thorough yet accessible overview of Buddhism in Hawai`i, followed by a temple-by-temple guide to the remaining structures across the state.

Introductory chapters cover the basic history, teachings, and practices of various denominations and the meanings of objects commonly found in temples. Taken together, they form a short primer on Buddhism in Japan and Hawai`i. The heart of the book is a narrative description of the ninety temples still extant in Hawai`i. Augmented by over 350 color photographs, each entry begins with historical background information and continues with descriptions of architecture, sanctuaries, statuary and ritual implements, columbariums, and grounds. Appended at the end is a chart listing each temple's denomination, membership number, and architectural type.

Although the book may be a bit esoteric for some readers (even Protestant Christians are challenged by the different church teachings of Methodism versus Presbyterianism versus Unitarian – let alone know that Wailuku Hongwanji and Wailuku Jodo Mission are different Buddhist sects), the photographs and often poignant historical backgrounds of the 14 distinct Japanese Buddhist temples on Maui give valuable insights to Maui’s architectural “jewels” and history among Maui’s ordinary streets and neighborhoods, and perhaps, just perhaps, encourage Mauians* to investigate further these beautiful links to the plantation past and support these temples thrive into 21st century Maui.

*Interestingly, one of the most active Buddhist “evangelists” in Hawai'i of the pre-War period was Ernest Hunt, an Englishman who was ordained by the Hongwanji sect, and expanded English-language Buddhist teachings to non-Japanese in Hawai'i. He was later active in the Soto Zen Mission.


Article Comments



Jul-05-13 3:42 PM

Beautiful treasures in plain sight!


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Blog Photos

Inside a Wailuku temple.