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A New Year's Visit to the Maui Jinja Shinto Shrine

January 3, 2012 - Ray Tsuchiyama

On January 1, following Japanese New Year’s tradition, I visited the Maui Shinto Shrine or Jinja in low-key Paukukalo, off Waiehu Beach Road, just beyond Wailuku town and barely two miles from Kahului Harbor. In 1978 Maui Jinja was listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

For the last 20 years around New Year’s Day we visited the Nogi Shinto Shrine, named after a general in the Russo-Japanese War, near Roppongi, Tokyo. My father shares the Chinese ideogram with General Nogi (plus we usually found parking on the street near the shrine).

Shintoism is an ancient, animistic religion originating in Japan thousands of years ago, yet there are many Shinto shrines outside Japan (and non-Japanese who are shrine priests or priestesses), ranging from Canada, California (Fresno, Gardena, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose), Holland, Brazil, France (Paris, Bordeaux), Great Britain (several sites), Germany, Spain, Italy, and even Switzerland.

For many Dutch or Italians or Swiss who visit Shinto shrines, there is much current interest in Japanese culture and rituals (along with anime cartoons, very popular throughout Europe and even Russia). In one photo of a Dutch Shinto priest, he was dressed in a white formal kimono identical to a Japanese Shinto priest.

In pre-World War II there were bustling Shinto shrines throughout Hawaii, like Izumo Taisha near downtown on Oahu and other shrines on the Big Island, but some are gone, like Kato shrine in Kaka’ako.

At the old Maui Jinja – designed by architect Ichitaro Takata -- I saw an old photograph of a large Japanese group in front of the original Maui Jinja location, near the former Kahului racetrack. A large percentage of pre-War Maui Japanese weddings were performed there, plus New Year celebrations, Autumn festivals, and all kinds of blessings.* I have heard of the Ebisu Jinja Shrine somewhere in Maalaea, but I have not figured out where it is or was. A researcher named Takakazu Maeda even published a 1991 monograph (in Japanese) on a reflection on Maui Jinsha as a focal point in Maui/Hawaii social history.

In 2009 the Maui News published an article entitled “Named an endangered historic site, Paukukalo’s Maui Jinsha Shinto Shrine struggles to survive” on the challenges the Maui Jinja faced for its future survival. The Rev. Torako Arine, whom I spoke to in the Jinja, is probably now 97 years old. The shrine was built originally in 1915, the year my father was born in Kahului; perhaps my grandparents brought him there for a blessing. It has been named as one of the State's most endangered historic sites by the Historic Hawaii Foundation, and the daunting task is still exists for any group to begin a project to remedy years of salt-wind damage from the near-by beach and termite infestation.

Although some contemporary Europeans have expressed interest in Shintoism, Maui has a legacy of Shinto shrines as community centers up to the War. Unfortunately, Japanese military leaders usurped Shintoism into a “state” religion (the Emperor performs some annual Shinto rituals now, but in a much more restrained manner) and an animistic, peaceful religion became the part of the state ideology for the Pacific War that resulted in enormous Japanese military and civilian casualties, and destruction of many cities.

The War made all things Japanese suspect throughout Hawaii, and led to the closing all Shinto shrines, and only a few re-opened after the War – including the relocated Maui Jinja in the mid-1950s. Now only the memory of a thriving pre-War community remains in the minds of an aging Japanese Maui population, filled with weddings, babies, benshi or narrators of silent films, sumo tournaments, haiku poetry recitals, and home-grown dramatic ensembles, of Japanese heroes and history.

During my New Year’s visit to the Maui Jinja I saw on the old wooden wall a black and white reproduction of the famous portrait painting of George Washington, the first President of the United States of America. Afterwards, while walking in the salty air at Waiehu Beach, I wondered why the picture was hanging on the wall.

 
 

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