Monday, February 13, 2017

Hawaii / Japan Connection

My old friend Hawaiian-Japanese Richard Miyao sent me the latest Hawaiian Newspapers reporting how Izumo Taisha in Honolulu celebrated its 110th Anniversary in October and November. Richard is a Korean War veteran who studied law and commenced practice first in San Diego. He deals with issues regarding immigration and offers other legal counseling. He also helped Japanese expatriates to charter San Diego Minato Gakuen, a Saturday school for our children.

He relocated to Hawaii when his father, Shigemaru Miyao, the Bishop of the Izumo Taisha was at an advanced age. I was amazed and surprised to read about the history of Izumo Taisha in Hawaii - the bishop performed marriages of 6,900 couples, during the early days - girls landed ashore from Japan were all picture brides! Shigemaru’s brother was the first Bishop. Sjhigemaru succeeded him after his brother's death. Izumo Taisha certainly was responsible for a lot of family beginnings.

Hawaii, the U.S. stopover for the Japanese, had ceased its function a long time ago when trans-Pacific flights refueling became no longer necessary. I’m not alone in grieving for opportunities lost to visit. Hawaii used to be the place for a businessman’s breather, particularly on our return trip to Japan, even for an overnight stay.

Today visiting Hawaii is regarded with envy. 
I had more than a dozen visits to Hawaii; my latest one  was 20 years ago.  Before my retirement and return to Japan, (my wife and) I took our last one-week vacation in Hawaii to meet and chauffeur my wife’s sister and her friends. We circled around the Big Island of Hawaii and drove to Lahaina in Maui. The Big Island is half  the size of Shikoku (where I was born). We departed Kailua Kona in the morning, then south to Captain Cook and circled round the southern end of Mauna Loa in a counter-clockwise circle.   We drove to Volcano National Park for an hour's stop and then to Hilo.  After lunch in Hilo,  we headed north to the Kohala mountains, via Honomu, Honokaa and Waipio Valley. It was close to sunset when we rounded the north point to Kohala Coast where the sacred open-air Puukohola Heiau is located. Finally, we  hurried back to our hotel in Kailua Kona before it got dark. 

Yes, “sacred” Puukohola Heiau! The name I almost forgot came back to me when, a month ago, I visited Izumo Taisha, the oldest shrine in Japan.  Annually in October, Izumo Taisha celebrates reunions of thousands of gods from all over Japan as the God Okuninushi (Great Land Master) acts as the presiding god. October, therefore, has been called the month of no gods in Japan, as all gods are congregated in Izumo.  Okuninushi secured this presiding privilege in lieu of his land transfer to Yamato Kingdom as per the “Kojiki”, one of the oldest chronicles of Japan. 

Thousands of gods arrive at Inasa Sacred Beach lit under bonfires and travel to the shrine Izumo Taisha.  I remembered Hawaiian gods gathered at sacred beach venues called “Heiau”.  Gods, either Hawaiian or Japanese, gather to create/renew the connections among them, thus to induce humans to bond together and love one another. Okuninushi is revered as the deity of happiness, good fortune and matchmaking. Izumo Taisha was adopted in Honolulu during the Japanese migration in the early 1900s, and despite WWII hardships, has long been dedicated to Japanese Hawaiian parishioners.  This is their 110th anniversary. 

I visited Izumo Taisha Honolulu perhaps about 30 years ago. It is located on Kukui Street close to the Foster Botanical Garden, and China Town across from  Nuuanu Stream.  Kukui is a Hawaiian word meaning “tree of light” and has a spiritual meaning. It was designated as the Hawaiian State Tree in 1959.  First and foremost, kukui was a canoe plant, whose seeds, roots and cuttings arrived with Polynesian immigrants.  They knew how valuable the tree was as it turned  the kukui into a virtual botanical factory; roast, bake, grind the kukui nut for medicine, dye, food, per the wisdom of their culture.  But, nothing beat the use as  a “torch” or “light”, when an oil-rich kernel of the kukui nut provided them with their primary source of night-time light. Kukui nuts were threaded onto the stiff midribs of coconut leaflets and burned as candles, hence their English name “candlenut”.  Today the main use is for making lie, necklaces, bracelets for Hawaiian custom and ceremonies, and occasionally for children’s spinning tops; also votive offerings of “kukui” wood-carved-pigheads to their Fire-Goddess "Pele" residing on Mt. Kilauea. Seems like Hawaii and Japan are bonded in the mythic connections of gods.

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