Congratulations to Daifukuji on its 100th Anniversary!

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Here is an early 20th century photo of Daifukuji Soto Mission, Kona’s Soto Zen Buddhist temple which was completed in 1921.  Our unknown photographer chose his spot beneath the shade of a leafy Pride of India tree and aimed his camera directly at the main hall, flanked at the time by two smaller buildings: the resident minister’s quarters on the right and a little room on the left.  There is no doubt in my mind that he longed for color film, knowing black and white could not convey the rich contrast of deep red and silver paint against the verdant hillside.

This building was not Kona’s first Daifukuji temple.  That original structure was built in 1915 and no longer exists.  When Rev. Kaiseki Kodama first arrived in Kona in 1914, he was befriended by Goichi and Kiku Hanato, parents of Shizuko (Mary) Teshima (the late proprietress of Teshima’s Restaurant). An energetic and determined young monk, he walked around the island of Hawaii not once, but twice, collecting small donations along the way. He was known to have carried a large black umbrella to ward off sunshine and raindrops during his long journey. When he returned to Honalo with sufficient funds to proceed with his plans, Rev. Kodama built a small house-like structure on leased land just north of the current temple’s present site. By doing so, he clearly earned his place in history as founder of Daifukuji Soto Mission.  The name Daifukuji means White Mountain, referring to Mauna Loa’s snow capped dome.  [There is also a Daifukuji in Hilo, but it is named for Mauna Kea!]

Before Rev. Kodama returned to Japan in 1918, he met his successor, Rev. Myodo Kakiura, who succeeded in purchasing a piece of fee simple land from a Hawaiian family.  With a suitable location now legally secured, the design skills of Yoshisuke Sasaki, proprietor of nearby Keauhou Store, were called into action.  He laid out a much larger temple, blending Japanese and western architectural elements to suit Kona’s warm climate and frequent rains. (Arched window openings are not usually found in Japanese temples!) Praise is due to head carpenter, Teruyoshi Ikenouchi, who transformed Sasaki’s vision into reality using his skilled crew of Kona carpenters. Construction began in 1920, and the temple was dedicated in 1921.  That festive event included the popular Japanese custom of tossing hundreds of little paper wrapped packets of mochi (pounded rice cake), some with money inside,  from the top of the temple roof down into the crowd gathered below.  Children especially loved the excitement of discovering a shiny nickel or dime enclosed with their mochi!

Over the years, as the temple grew in size and in scope, each minister or sensei added his particular stamp during his years of service.  More land was purchased to plant coffee and macadamia nut trees, a creative way to raise funds for the temple. New buildings were constructed to house a temple kitchen, a room for Boy Scout meetings and Judo classes.  The main temple was enlarged to twice its original size in 1950. In 1964, the Kona Community Crematorium was opened behind the main temple, serving a pressing need in Kona for many years. However, not every sensei experienced the success of Rev. Kodama.  Rev. Nakayama was arrested as an enemy alien on the night of December 7, 1941, and sent to Santa Fe Internment Camp in New Mexico for the duration of World War II.  During those years, the mission was occupied by the U.S. Army and used as a communications center.  In the early 1980s, Daifukuji was without a resident minister for two years, relying on the services of Rev. Keido Osada of Hilo. Fortunately, those difficult times are past and the temple is thriving under the guidance of Reverend Jiko Nakade, twelfth resident minister and the first female to hold this position. 

As a Kona resident, I enjoy watching the months unfold at Daifukuji.  On January 1st, the parking lot is crammed with cars as mochi pounding marks the start of the new year.  Sometimes Girl’s Day is celebrated by a display of dolls, followed by Boy’s Day when red and blue paper carp stream from the flag pole.  In July, pink lanterns hang gaily across the parking lot to announce the arrival of Bon Season and the upcoming Bon Dance (with Bon dance classes offered beforehand). Colorful signs posted at the front gate invite one and all to attend Daifukuji Orchid Club’s annual orchid show and the popular manju and sushi sales orchestrated by the Fujinkai Women’s Association.  Samu temple cleaning volunteers meet every Friday to clean railings and incense pots, weed gardens and sweep lanai. When my car vibrates to shock waves of sound pulsing throughout Honalo, I know drummers have gathered in the cultural hall to practice their taiko routines.  Few people are immune to the excitement of taiko, and Daifukuji’s drummers have delighted audiences with their fantastic drum beats and twirling sticks for years. 

Quietly overseeing all this activity is Rev. Jiko, a young girl I knew growing up as Mary Beth Oshima.  In what seems a perfect turn of events, Mary Beth was raised in nearby Kainaliu town and attended the temple with her parents, Noboru and Mildred Oshima, members of the well known family associated with Oshima Store. In 1999, Rev. Jiko began her ministerial training under the mentorship of Rev. Ryuji Tamiya and in 2004, assumed full responsibility of Daifukuji.  Her husband Michael Nakade and their two children, Amy and Ryan, have taken an active part in temple activities as well.  And, there are a lot of activities, everything from Baikako Plum Blossom Choir practice to meditation sessions; tai chi for the coordinated to bingo games for Project Dana senior citizens; yoga classes for centering to the Happy Strummers Ukulele Group for singing and dancing.  Daifukuji provides a place for Family Sangha Sunday School and the Bare Bones Writers group, while maintaining a gift shop and lending library run by volunteers.  Rev. Jiko somehow manages to participate in practically all of these gatherings, her gentle presence and ready smile much in demand.

Thanks to my neighbor and lifetime friend, Miyeko Miyose, I was invited to attend Daifukuji’s centennial celebration planned for the weekend of October 18th and 19th. The two-day affair would begin at the temple itself, freshly repainted and re-carpeted for this historic occasion.  Treasured “Then and Now” photos had been chosen, enlarged on canvas and hung in the Social Hall for everyone’s enjoyment.  The kitchen was stocked with supplies, every pot and counter top gleaming in readiness to prepare Saturday’s banquet.  Special sound systems and enormous TV screens had been arranged to make sure no one would miss the action, because a large crowd was expected to attend.

As the big weekend drew closer, temple members gathered to make mochi.  They carefully wrapped up hundreds, probably thousands, of tiny bundles of this pounded rice cake in waxed paper, many with coins enclosed, to toss into the audience as a reminder of the original 1921 dedication of the temple building.  That nostalgic treat would be part of Sunday’s celebration, planned to take place at the Sheraton Convention Center in Keauhou. The oldest members of the temple were given hotel rooms at the Sheraton for Saturday night as a gift, enabling them to enjoy a special “night out” and be on the spot early for another festive day.

If the date October 18th rings a little bell in your mind, you have a good memory!  That was the day Hurricane Ana was scheduled to slam into our island, packing high winds and lethal rains that threatened to flood streets, knock out power, topple trees and cause widespread headaches.  With weather forecasters predicting doom and gloom for days in advance, Rev. Jiko and her Centennial Celebration Committee felt the wisest choice would be to move the entire event into the Sheraton’s Convention Center for both days.  Although months of work had prepared the temple grounds for a gala event, picturing Daifukuji’s front lawn transformed into an impassable quagmire of mud and stuck vehicles gave them little choice.  Fortunately, the Sheraton was available for Saturday’s events.

The spirit that filled Daifukuji’s Centennial Celebration was one of gratitude and joy (plus the excitement of an immense family reunion!).  While wind and rain buffeted Kona outside, the atmosphere inside the convention center was delightfully snug and cozy.  One of the many highlights of the centennial celebration was the ordination of Amy Jikai Nakade as Deacon by Bishop Shugen Komagata, formerly Daifukuji’s eigth minister!  When newly ordained Amy changed out of her black temple robes and into her jazzy Taiko hapi coat outfit to perform an original taiko routine that she had composed for the centennial, the convention center went wild with applause and cheers.

In 1921, Daifukuji Soto Mission may have looked a little out of place in Kona.  Since the arrival of American missionaries in 1820, residents had grown accustomed to Christian churches with walls of stone and mortar, pointed wooden steeples, and graveyards filled with stone crosses.  However, for Kona’s fast growing Japanese immigrant population, Daifukuji was a welcome glimpse of home.  How comforting it must have been to see that high peaked roof and an altar gleaming with golden lotus blossoms, to hear the notes of the temple gong ringing in the air and to breathe the familiar scent of incense once more.  Today, the gorgeous crimson and white temple complex has become a familiar and much admired landmark.  With its beautifully ornate entrance and gracefully curved beams, Daifukuji’s inspired architecture and vivid color brighten up our district’s orchards and coffee lands like nothing else in Kona.
Aloha no, Daifukuji Soto Mission.  Long you may grace Honalo’s green hillside.

by Maile Melrose