Hawaii is known as the endangered species capital of the world, and now there's something else that's in danger of being lost forever. It doesn't fly in our tropical skies, grow in our rain forests or swim beneath our ocean, but the nearly century-old Maui Jinsha Shinto Shrine is facing its own kind of battle as it struggles to survive.
"This an old building," says the Rev. Torako Arine, 95, as she surveys the inside of the church. "You cannot find this kind anymore."
The site was recently named as one of the state's nine most endangered historic sites by the Historic Hawaii Foundation, an annual distinction that is sure to cause either anxiety or a flicker of hope for those who are deeply familiar with these places. Inclusion on the list doesn't necessarily protect those sites, but the hope is that it will bring awareness and prompt the community to take action.
The Maui Jinsha Shinto Shrine located in Paukukalo was recently named one of the most endangered historic sites by the Historic Hawaii Foundation;
The Rev. Torako Arine, 95, still conducts monthly services in the aging church
An inside view of the church
A mural of painted horses adorns the church
entrance to honor Maui Jinsha Shinto Shrine’s founding members. The large painting was done in 1915 by Seppo Sawada, each horse representing a family who donated money to build the church.
Inside the church lies a?National Register of Historic Places plaque commemorating the nearly century-old church, along with an early photo of the congregation.
In the case of Maui Jinsha Shinto Shrine, years of termite damage, salt water
and extreme weather have masked the building's former glory, but the church still stands as an important piece in Hawaii's history. One of several Shinto shrines built on Maui, it's the last one standing and one of only a few left in the state. In its heyday, the church attracted hundreds of members, but its aging congregation, most in their 70s or older, has since dwindled to around 15. On most days the church lies empty, but Arine continues to hold a Japanese-language service every first Sunday of the month, along with New Year's and Autumn Festival celebrations.
Built in 1914 on leased land from Alexander & Baldwin, the structure originally stood near the former fairgrounds in Kahului and has served generations of Japanese in Hawaii. Made of wood beams connected mostly by wooden dowels and built by the volunteer labor and monetary donations from its original members, the historic church was the pride of the local Shinto community - mostly Japanese immigrants who came to work in the plantation fields. A giant mural of horses painted in 1915 still adorns the entrance, inscribed with the names of the founding families who donated
"People donate 25 cents, 50 cents, or one dollar is the most - that's big money back then," explains Arine. "We ask everybody for one dollar for a horse and they get their name on it."
Arine's late husband, Masao Arine, headed the church during the early 1940s until his death in 1972. Shortly after that, she traveled to Japan to become a priestess and has been leading the church ever since.
The fact that Maui Jinsha still stands today is testament to the dedication of the various church members throughout the years. Following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the military closed the temple and evicted the Arine family from an adjacent church cottage. The bad news kept coming and the Rev. Masao Arine was sent to a Japanese internment camp in Haiku, where he stayed for nine months. Meanwhile it was up to his wife, Torako, to care for the family's eight kids on her own.
"We sleep in this church for 10 years. We no more place to go, so we stay in this church," Torako Arine recalls.
"It was hard," admits son Richard Arine, 63. "There were eight of us kids and we all slept in the hallway, right in a row."
Just as the war was coming to a close in the mid- 1940s, another hurdle was mounting for the already struggling church. The landowner gave the family two choices: remove the temple or have it destroyed.
"People work hard and donate money to build this church - you think we going just leave it like that?" Torako Arine asks.
Instead, the family purchased land in its current location in Paukukalo and moved the temple, one piece at a time. Members disassembled the structure in several sections, then rebuilt it from the ground up and reopened it in 1955. Today the church is on the list of National Register of Historic Places.
"The church as you see it today is just like what it was like back when it was in Kahului," Richard Arine says.
But the church is more than just a historic structure. Inside the faded wood and broken windows is a unique story that weaves individual lives together into a tapestry of Maui's Japanese community. It's a place where marriages were bonded, babies were blessed and prayers were answered. And despite the church's trying history, there were happy memories that emerged from those years.
"The biggest memory for me would be every year in September when we'd have the Autumn Festival where we'd have something like a Japanese samurai theatrical show put on by the church members," remembers Richard Arine.
"Back at that time people didn't have a lot to do, so it was a big occasion. It served the needs of the older generation Japanese people because they could associate with that Japanese theatrical stuff."
"She (Torako Arine) would always use the kerosene stove to cook," adds daughter Susan Tamakawa, 59. "And I remember we'd go take a bath in the furo (Japanese bath tub) and she would burn the wood under there. I remember that because all the smoke would get your hair all smelly."
The Arine family is hoping the church will be resurrected once again, but admit the financial burden is overwhelming.
"Ideally, if we had enough funds we'd want to restore it," says Richard Arine. "An architect from Honolulu did a total review of the building and it was upwards of $800,000 to fix everything - it's major. Unfortunately the church doesn't have that kind of money."
The family has established a restoration fund to help pay for desperately needed repairs, but costs have far exceeded resources. Richard Arine adds that even if there were enough money to restore the church, nobody is willing to lead the congregation.
"I'm not sure what's going to happen because mom is 95, so obviously she can't keep on going forever and we don't know of anybody who wants to continue after her The best solution would be to bring a minister from Japan to take it over, but it would be really hard work for somebody to do that."
Lehia Apana can be reached at email@example.com.