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[graphic text] Hawaii Shingon Mission

[Photo] Hawaii Shingon Mission
Photo from National Register collection, courtesy of Hawaii Shingon Mission. Photo taken by Reyn Tsuru
The Hawaii Shingon Mission is one of seven missions remaining of this type of Japanese Design Style of architecture in Hawaii. As the mother church for the Shingon sect in Hawaii, the Hawaii Shingon Mission on Sheridan Street in Honolulu is one of the most elaborately decorated Buddhist temples in Hawaii. Although it was altered in 1978 and a major addition was built in 1992, the roof and its original carvings form the framework of its character and the interior furnishings brought from Japan maintain a major part of its significance. The most visible portion of the Hawaii Shingon Mission is its irimoya or steeply sloped-hipped gable roof with elaborate carvings adorning each gable end. At the very top of the roof is a depiction of the tomoe, which suggests the yin-yang symbol of China, but represents the circle of life in Japan. The karahafu-kohai or cusped gable entrance roof with a carving of the Hozo, a phoenix on top of the cusp and within the eyebrow, mark a well-defined entry. The phoenix is widely considered to represent the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. There is also a dragon, representing wisdom, good fortune and power, resting in the clouds. Beneath the dramatic irimoya is a one-half story structure of concrete masonry with a stucco finish. This building remains highly reflective of the Japanese presence in Hawaii.

[Photo] Irimoya of the Shingon Mission, a steeply sloped-hipped gable roof with elaborate carvings adorning each gable end
Photo from National Register collection, courtesy of Hawaii Shingon Mission. Photo taken by Franco Salmoirraghi

Termed "Japanese Design Style" by Lorraine Minatoishi Palumbo in her dissertation on Japanese architecture in Hawaii, the missions built in Hawaii possessed unique differences from a strict Japanese style, incorporating western influences and taking into account the local climate. The granite and marble obelisk at the very front of the temple was made to commemorate the first ever pilgrimage to Japan by immigrant workers in Hawaii in 1929. The interior possesses an alter, which depicts in the central pieces Kobo Daishi or Odaishisama (774-835 AD), the founder of Shingon Buddhism, and the Daito, or Great Tower that is the centerpiece of the temples on Mount Koya in Wakayama, Japan. Culturally the social history of the Japanese is intertwined in the Buddhist philosophy (which originated in northern India by Prince Siddhartha Gautama, known as Buddha, in 528 BC), and is therefore difficult to segregate the religious aspects from the cultural aspects. Kobo Daishi brought back the Buddhist Shingon teachings from China and convinced the Japanese Emperor to provide land for a temple complex on Mount Koya, which became the most hallowed center of the Shingon sect.

Nakagawa Katutaro, well versed in temple construction, built the Hawaii Shingon Mission in 1917-18. Hego Fuchino, who did the 1929 renovation, was one of the best known and most prolific Japanese temple architects in Hawaii. Fuchino was one of the first Japanese draftsmen in the islands who went on to pass the architectural exam without the benefit of an architectural education, and was also the first person of Japanese ancestry to become a licensed engineer in Hawaii. He has built many of the Japanese temples still seen in Hawaii and many other buildings in a style influenced by Japanese architecture, including the Makiki Christian Church and Kuakini Hospital complex. Robert Katsuyoshi, who did the 1977-78 renovation, was Fuchino's partner from 1947 until 1957. Later, with his son Thomas, he designed the Palolo Higashi Hongwanji, the pagoda and pavilion at Honolulu Memorial Park, Honolulu Myohiji Mission in Honolulu and Koganji in Manoa. Robert Katsuyoshi passed away in 1990. The Shingon mission not only represents the religious beliefs of this sect, but the culture of a group of people that immigrated to Hawaii from Japan.

Hawaii Shingon Mission | Stedman--Thomas Historic District | Kaloko-Honokohau NHP
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Images for top banner from NPS Historic Photograph Collection (Rainbow over Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, by Thomas C. Gray, [HPC-001345]) and the Palau Historic Preservation Office.

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