The Lahaina Buddhist church - famous for its 12-foot, copper-and-bronze Buddha and a summer lantern service that attracts thousands - will celebrate its centennial this weekend.
The Rev. Gensho Hara, who has headed Lahaina Jodo Mission for 47 years, thanks its members, past ministers and community for their "sacrifices" and "devotion" that have contributed to the beachside mission's longevity and success.
"I'm just appreciative of the people's efforts," Hara said this week.
Coastline Limousine chauffeur Summer Ward gives a tour of the Lahaina Jodo Mission grounds Thursday.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
To celebrate its 100th birthday and its members and to thank the community, the church will hold a free public concert at 7 p.m. Saturday on the temple grounds. A special private service commemorating the anniversary will be held Sunday.
The church, its members and the community have gone through and seen many hardships through its 100 years on Maui, said current church President Donald Fujii.
"It was a lot of sacrifice and hard times," he said.
Lahaina Jodo Mission Centennial Celebration
* Free community appreciation concert, 7 p.m. Saturday on the temple grounds, 12 Ala Moana St., Lahaina.
* Popular Japanese singing duo Paix2 (pronounced Pepe) will sing traditional Japanese folk melodies as well as contemporary Japanese songs.
* Blankets and lawn chairs are allowed.
For more information, call 661-4304.
In 1968, the original temple was destroyed in a fire. But the late Japanese philanthropist Masao Omori, who lived nearby, donated the expertise of Japanese craftsmen to build the main temple and pagoda.
"It's an amazing story," the 74-year-old Fujii said. "We lost the temple in 1968 (to) fire and (had) no insurance."
"He could see the struggles," Fujii said of Omori witnessing the church's plight.
Omori also donated the expertise of the craftsmen for the casting of the Amida Buddha.
Church members gave their support to the temple and the pagoda.
Other struggles included church members coping with an absent minister, when he was taken to an internment camp during World War II.
Fujii added that the church opened up its doors and let people use the facility for soup kitchens when sugar plantation workers went on strike decades ago.
The church "was a sanctuary from the beginning for the first immigrants," Fujii added.
Recent immigrants could visit the church and hang out with others while learning about American life, he said.
The mission was founded in 1912 with the support of many Japanese immigrants then working in the sugar and pineapple plantations. The original mission was on Ala Moana street in Lahaina (the same street is it is currently on) but the mission was closer to Front Street than the shoreline where it presently stands.
Its first minister was Gendo Saito, who arrived from Japan to propagate the teachings of Jodo Shu.
Jodo Shu is the first independent school of Pure Land Buddhism in Japan and was established by Honen Shonin in 1175.
Eventually, the old temple near Front Street was moved to the current church site near the beach in 1931. In 1970 the new main temple was built, along with a pagoda.
The pagoda is approximately 90 feet high at its tallest point. Its first floor contains niches to hold the ashes of deceased church members.
With temple members assisting craftsmen from Japan, the temple and pagoda
were constructed in a traditional Japanese style using interlocking wood beams, without nails.
The "Great Buddha" and temple bell were completed earlier in June 1968 to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.
Hara explained that the 1868 arrivals were those of private citizens, while other immigration starting in 1885 was that of contract laborers.
The Buddha was cast in Kyoto, Japan, in 1967 and 1968. It weighs approximately 3.5 tons. In 1997, the statue was restored after years of damage from the sea, air and sun. Funding for the restoration was provided by Omori's wife, in memory of her late husband.
In addition to its famous Buddha, which attracts people of all faiths during the year, the church draws thousands of people during its o-bon service during the summer.
Lahaina Jodo Mission has a floating lantern ceremony near Mala Wharf. The ceremony and its lanterns symbolize the sending off and honoring of departed souls.
Currently at the church, there are 50 member families, Hara said.
During his tenure, Hara, 76, said the highest membership he's enjoyed was about 70 to 80 families.
Fujii said it is a challenge to keep the membership numbers up at the church because as many as 80 percent of its members are more than 75 years old. The most active members are in their 80s and 90s, and they still live in Lahaina.
In the 1940s and '50s, most of the church members worked in the Baldwin Packers Ltd. pineapple cannery, at the site of the present-day Lahaina Cannery Mall. The balance of the members worked at Pioneer Mill, Fujii added.
But then membership slid when Baldwin Packers merged with Maui Pineapple Co. and jobs moved to Central Maui. The church lost members as Pioneer Mill modernized throughout the years, also thinning its workforce, which forced people to move, Fujii said.
Fujii, whose family previously ran the Olowalu Store, still keeps his ties with the church even though he lives in Wailuku. He became active in the church in 1997 when his father died.
"I still see a future there," Fujii said of the church and its membership.
He added that Hara's son, the Rev. John Cho-On Hara, is a minister who serves at the Wailuku and Kahului Jodo missions and could possibly inspire younger generations to become active.
"He's kind of active in lots of events; maybe he can help build it up," Fujii said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.