Shohei Miyasato was an immigrant from Okinawa who didn’t speak English, but he spearheaded a petition drive that allowed Jikoen Hongwanji Mission in Kalihi to keep its doors open during World War II, when virtually all Japanese organizations in Hawaii were shut down.
His daughter, Lily Horio, president of Jikoen’s board, said her father’s determination rooted the Buddhist temple’s tradition of drawing the community together to surmount daunting odds since it was founded 72 years ago.
Today Jikoen’s 160 members face a mountain of debt — $75,000 — as the result of a state cut in early-education subsidies that hit low-income students attending the temple’s Lumbini Preschool, a major source of revenue. When enrollment dropped dramatically in June, a "Jikoen 911" e-mail went out.
A variety show at the temple tomorrow will kick off a major fundraising drive. Musician Keith Nakaganeku started galvanizing entertainers for the fundraiser when he heard Jikoen was in trouble.
"I knew how important is was to the Okinawan community. My grandparents went there. … I play Okinawan music, and I’ve been going there since I was a kid. We use it for practices and recitals often.
"Jikoen has been so helpful to us, and now that it needs help, it’s our turn to step up. … The response was overwhelming. Everyone we asked really wanted to do something to help or give donations."
Horio said Jikoen was formed in 1938 to give Okinawans "a place of their own to gather … some place of comfort." Since the first generation arrived from Okinawa in 1900, they had been treated as outcasts by the Japanese who emigrated to Hawaii 15 years earlier, she said.
The public is invited to a fundraising variety show at Jikoen Hongwanji Mission tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tickets are $10.
The "Jikoen Chibariyo!" event will feature top Okinawan music and dance performers, food booths, karate demos, karaoke and other activities. ("Chibariyo" is Okinawan for "go for it!")
Another fundraiser, the Semi-Annual BBQ Chicken Sale, will be held Oct. 23 from 8 a.m. to noon at Jikoen. Get a whole chicken for $8.50.
The temple is at 1731 N. School St. in Kalihi. Free parking is available at Kapalama School. Call 845-3422 or visit www.jikoenhongwanji.org.
The state Department of Human Services slashed child care subsidies in February in response to the economic crisis. The Rev. Shindo Nishiyama said enrollment at the preschool dropped to 37 from 65 this fall, and that half the teachers and staff were laid off.
"Now I am minister of Jikoen, director for preschool, cook for the preschool’s lunch and janitor for the temple and preschool," added Nishiyama, who cut his own salary about 25 percent.
Fundraising chairman Pieper Toyama said "closing is not an option," as three other preschools have been forced to do this year. Assisting him is Colbert Matsumoto, Island Insurance Co.’s CEO and Jikoen member, who said, "We’ll get by, but we have to look for other sources of revenue so we don’t have to be dependent on income from the preschool."
With an operating budget last year of $230,000, Toyama said plans include strategies to expand membership and a marketing campaign to enlist students from Windward and Leeward Oahu.
Horio, 80, lived at the temple when it was on Houghtailing Street; her father, Shohei Miyasato, assisted the minister as a layman. The temple was shut down when Japanese aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, and the Rev. Jikai Yamasato was immediately interned to the mainland.
Horio said of her father, "I didn’t realize how brave he was. … He was undaunted."
Miyasato was in the process of attaining American citizenship and had learned that freedom of religion was law in a democracy, she said. Her father petitioned the military governor to reopen Jikoen on a limited basis, and with the assistance of Judge Masaji Marumoto, the request was granted, she said.
Jikoen has survived dire circumstances before, Horio said. In the 1980s Jikoen "nearly lost the property," she said, because of a large lease increase by landowner Bishop Estate. Jikoen launched a successful campaign to buy the property.
"We had hundreds and hundreds of bake sales and breakfasts. It really was a grass-roots effort," she said. "With this (latest) crisis, it’s like a wake-up call. All these young people saying, ‘We can’t let this happen.’ We have all these people wanting to help."