Celebrating those who enrich society

The Rev. Chikai Yosemori recalls Paia Hongwanji members using their skill, muscle and heart to build a brand-new temple in Makawao more than 30 years ago.

“We built the Makawao Hongwanji by our hands,” the former minister of both churches said.

The construction took almost three and a half years. The church moved as the plantation camps in Paia closed down and residents moved away.

“It was a hard time but a very joyous time,” Yosemori said about the work and the move.

The 82-year-old former Maui resident chuckled and called that period: “Glorious time in my youth.”

For his accomplishments on Maui and as former bishop of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, Yosemori, was recently honored as a “Living Treasure” by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission, which is on Oahu.

Along with Yosemori, former Maui resident Rene Yamada Kimura and her husband, Arthur Kimura, were also honored as treasures. The Kimuras of Oahu, who are educators with the Hawaii Space Grant Consortium at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, were honored for educating thousands of Hawaii youngsters about science and, in particular, space exploration.

This marks the 39th year of the Living Treasurers of Hawaii program administered by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, which is the head temple of 37 Jodo Shinshu Sect of Mahayana Buddhism temples in the state. The program recognizes and honors individuals who have made sustained contributions toward enriching society.

Others selected this year and honored at a luncheon in February on Oahu were the Rev. Ida Keli’iokalani Chun, a composer and singer and one of the last 60 known Hawaiian language native speakers; Samuel M.O. Gon III, a senior scientist and cultural adviser for The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii who is an interpreter for culture and conservation; and Robert M. Hamada, a self-taught wood carver whose work has been acquired by organizations and individuals around the world.

Yosemori and his family spent 17 years on Maui – from 1964 to 1981. He and his wife, Chihoko, moved to the Paia temple during the plantation camp days when old white tobacco bags were placed on faucet spouts to filter the dirt that would come out of the pipes, and neighboring homes had outhouses.

“I enjoyed the camp life,” Yosemori said, recalling the mango and orange trees that were in the church yard.

He also paid visits to the many camp houses.

But in 1971 the couple, along with their congregation, moved to the current – and then more modern – Makawao temple after church members and members of other Hongwanji churches on Maui worked together to construct the new Makawao church.

Yosemori said that without the friends or supporters like those he found on Maui, of which many are long gone, he wouldn’t be able to receive a Living Treasure award.

“I’m very grateful for all the people who supported me,” he said in a telephone interview from his home in Honolulu. “Without their help I don’t think I can receive this kind of (award).”

In 1981, Yosemori and his family moved to Oahu where he became the head of the Jikoen Hongwanji, the temple which his father, the Rev. Chiro Yosemori, established in 1938.

There, too, he tended to temple issues. This time the landowner had hiked rent from $5,000 a year to $5,000 a month.

It was a struggle to persuade Bishop Estate to sell the property to Jikoen, but after many tries, Yosemori said, Bishop Estate decided to sell. However, the cost would be $1 million.

He said that finding the funds was challenging as many of the members were over 70 years old and were retired, had fixed incomes and were unable to donate much money.

It took several years of numerous fundraisers, but eventually the temple was able to by the land.

After Yosemori was appointed bishop in 1996 he undertook another project – the establishment of the Pacific Buddhist Academy, the nation’s first Buddhist high school.

At that time, he said, Buddhist studies were available for youngsters up to 6th grade and also for those at the university level, but what was missing was a high school education.

After several years of discussions with the main temple in Japan, Yosemori said, the Hawaii head temple was able to get funding for the high school.

The high school in Nuuanu, Oahu, focuses on college preparation and peace education, which is its “signature program,” Yosemori said.

The school admits students regardless of religion and half of the students are not Buddhist, he said.

The school has transformed some students who were “naughty boys like me” into honor students, Yosemori said, recalling his childhood days.

Yosemori was born on

Oahu while his father was the minister at Waipahu Hongwanji. His family moved to Japan when he was 4. He attended high school and college in Japan and later returned to Hawaii, with his first ministerial assignment in the state at Paia.

Yosemori retired in 2007.

Rene Kimura is a 1963 Baldwin High School graduate who was born and raised in Wailuku. Her husband, Arthur, whom she met while attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa, was born and raised in Hilo. The two reside on Oahu.

They are seasoned and retired classroom teachers who ventured further into space and science education as Arthur Kimura, in 1984, applied for the NASA Teacher in Space Project that would select a teacher to fly on the space shuttle.

He was one of two teachers selected from Hawaii. New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe was selected nationally and perished in the Challenger accident along with Hawaii astronaut Ellison Onizuka on Jan. 28, 1986.

After the space shuttle tragedy, the couple began promoting Onizuka’s legacy and science education voluntarily on weekends and during summer breaks, as the two were still full-time teachers.

The Kimuras founded many programs including the annual Future Flight Hawaii summer space camp, which is now in its 24th year, along with astronaut recognition days for Onizuka and the late Charles Lacy Veach, who graduated from Oahu’s Punahou School and died of cancer in 1995.

The couple also started up family science nights that encourage STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics, studies and also an exchange program with a high school in Kyoto, Japan.

After they retired, the Hawaii Space Grant Consortium invited the Kimuras to join its NASA agency as part-time kindergarten-through-12th-grade educators. The consortium is a community educational program that promotes studies in scientific fields related to space. Rene Kimura has been working there for 20 years and her husband for 14 years.

Arthur Kimura was also an officer in the Air Force and spent 24 years with the Hawaii Air National Guard.

Rene Kimura said that she and her husband have served Maui through various programs since the Challenger tragedy. They also brought school robotics to Iao Intermediate School and Maui and Baldwin high schools as well as the Maui Fair.

Currently there are nearly 600 scholastic robotic teams statewide through various supporting organizations.

The Kimuras feel a strong need to teach students about the scientific world.

“We both passionately believe in the need to understand the scientific world in which we live,” Rene Kimura said in an email. “Space science suggests imaging the future, the possibilities of human exploration, technological applications and solving urgent issues of Earth as one global community of scientists, just as NASA does.”

Arthur Kimura thanked the teachers, schools and government officials who have made it a “privilege” for them to educate others.

“All that we do is dependent on thousands in our community, whether as robotics coach/mentor, a workshop or display facilitator at our astronaut day, a coordinator for our family science nights,” he said. “We are indeed among the most fortunate of educators.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.