‘A story of people and families’

It’s been 110 years since the Rev. Ryoun Kan arrived to start the Zenshuji temple on Kauai.

A celebration of those years, and a tribute to the temple’s history here, is scheduled Nov. 2.

The Zenshuji temple led by The Bishop Shugen Komagata of the Soto temples in Hawaii, will honor deceased members of Zenshuji and its deceased ministers with a memorial service.

The service starts at 10 a.m. at the Zenshuji temple grounds in Hanapepe at the stoplight, with the Rev. Ryokai Otogawa from Niigata, Japan offering a presentation.

Gerald Hirata, president of the Hanapepe Soto Zen Temple board, said the 110 years of history has ensured Zenshuji’s place as part of Kauai’s noble heritage and past.

Mrs. Haruko Sakai will be honored as the temple’s outstanding member.

“It is a story of people and families, and Haruko Takayiasu Sakai best exemplifies this,” Hirata said. “Born on Jan. 23, 1922, in Kapaa, her father Kira worked for McBryde Sugar Plantation. This moved the family to the Lawai Stables, Camp 11 where the field horses and donkeys were stabled.”

As a young girl, Sakai attended the Kalaheo Elementary School, walking to school each day from the Lawai Stables, Camp 11, nestled in the sugar cane fields just south of the current Waha Park at the end of Waha Road in Kalaheo.

Following her marriage to Tatsuo Sakai, Haruko moved to Wahiawa, Camp 3 where the main Zenshuji temple was built in 1918.

This brings Sakai’s life to parallel the growth of the temple, which served the needs of a growing community during the post-World War II years.

Sakai was part of a core group of Fujinkai ladies who worked tirelessly for the church, eventually rising to president of the group.

She also enjoyed singing with the Goeika group while laboring in the sugar cane fields until her retirement.

As the Zenshuji temple grew, so did Takai’s family. She has six grandchildren, 13 great grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.

“At 91 years young, Mrs. Sakai has been the matriarch of the Zenshuji family, providing guidance and stability at a crucial time in the temple’s history,” Hirata said. “Her long-standing presence and diligent service to the Zenshuji community has been noted with much gratitude and appreciation.”

Rev. Ryoun Kan arrived in 1903 to start the Zenshuji temple on Kauai at a time the McBryde Sugar Co. was expanding and many camps were established to house the imported plantation workers.

Prior to Kan’s arrival, a group of Japanese workers assigned to McBryde Sugar settled at Wahiawa, Camp 3. Kan’s arrival initiated a change in people’s outlook of settling in a new place and forming a new community, Kan preaching in Tsuneo Takai’s home.

In 1904, Kan spearheaded the building of a combination church-language school before the main temple and a minister’s residence was built in 1918.

Since then, the Zenshuji temple has had 13 resident ministers serve the church.

Following decades when the sugar industry thrived, the Wahiawa plantation community was the center of social, cultural and religious activity for the camp’s Japanese Americans.

But when the sugar industry declined, many left the camp, and in 1978, a new temple, social hall, and minister’s residence was built in Hanapepe town, a site the Hanapepe Soto Zen temple sits on today.

The old bell tower of 1934 was moved and restored on the grounds of the Hanapepe temple in 1979.

During the centennial of Japanese immigration to Hawaii in 1985, more than 700 attended the reunion for the Wahiawa, Camp 3 residents where a final tribute was held at the original temple before it was demolished.

The event made national news, Maria Shiver of the CBS News arrived with a camera crew, and the event headlined a page in the Los Angeles Times.

The temple still stands along the main highway through Hanapepe town, known for its beautiful authentic roofline, detailed, ornamental motifs on its pillars and beams and temple walls of shoji doors. A World Kannon Peace statue, dedicated in 1991, stands besides the temple.

The temple, hosting one of the largest Bon festivals on the island, is managed by a board of directors.

“Today, with other social, cultural and demographic changes in the community, and with no temple minister, the church is facing many challenges,” Hirata said. “We are looking for an active membership base which will help us grow this temple.”

Hirata said to ensure everyone’s enjoyment, a head count needs to be turned in by Oct. 26 for the anniversary luncheon, which is $10 and $5 for children under 12 years old.

People planning on attending the celebration should submit their names.

For registration to the 110th anniversary luncheon, call Evelyn Masaki at 335-3829, or Hirata at 245-2841.

• Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.

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