Valley of the Temples
There is an ancient Hawaiian legend about a Japanese shipwreck off the coast of Maui believed to be sometime in the 16th century. The Legend of the Long Knife, recounted in King Kalakaua’s 1883 book “Myths and Legends of Hawai’i“, is believed by scholars to have been about a samurai sword.
The first known arrival of Japanese in Hawai’i involved a small Japanese cargo ship with eight passengers aboard. They became caught in a winter storm which damaged their sails and set them adrift towards the east for more than 70 days. They were rescued by an American ship captain, Cornelius Sole, who brought them to Hawaii where they were left in the care of King Kamehameha I. Kamehameha had a house built for them while large crowds came to see these men of a different ethnicity. Three months later they returned to southeast Asia aboard a Chinese ship. Unfortunately, they fell ill on the journey and only two of them eventually made it home.
Dutch American Eugene Miller Van Reed traveled to Japan as a representative of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1866. He eventually recruited 142 men and 6 women to work on sugar plantations. They would arrive in Honolulu in 1868. Several of these first immigrants would become legendary among Japanese Americans in Hawaii including Sentaro Ishii, a Samurai from Yokohama who lived and worked on Maui to the age of 102 and Taro Ando who would become Japan’s first Consul General to the Kingdom of Hawai’i in 1885. The 150th anniversary of their arrival was celebrated in 2018.
The Japanese government would bar emigration to Hawaii in 1869 as they believed the label of laborers would be degrading to the Japanese race. However, Hawaii’s King Kalakaua visited Japan in 1881 and upon his request to Japan’s Emperor for help with Hawaii’s labor shortage the ban was lifted in 1885. Soon Japanese immigrants would begin arriving to work in the sugarcane and pineapple fields.
In 1887 missionary descendents within the Kingdom of Hawaii’s government seeking to shift power away from the Hawaiian monarchy forced King David Kalakaua to sign a new constitution, known as the Bayonet Constitution, giving power to the parliament they controlled. The Hawaiian Monarchy became a mere figurehead and voting rights were suppressed by the new constitution which included denial of voting rights to Japanese and other Asians. After Kalakaua’s death the Hawaiian Monarchy was overthrown in 1893. Tokyo sent two warships to Honolulu in protest of the overthrow. The Japanese commissioner to the Kingdom worked to restore rights for Hawaii’s Japanese population and sent away the warships fearful that the protest would undo his work. Because of the protest anti-Japanese sentiment grew in Hawaii until the United States annexation of the Kingdom.
After US annexation all children born in Hawaii became American citizens at birth. Japanese parents registered their children which often gave them dual US and Japanese citizenship. These settlers set up the first Japanese schools in the United States. By 1920 they were the second largest ethnic group in Hawaii and constituted 43% of the population. Nearly 100% of all Japanese children in Hawaii at this time attended Japanese schools. In 1934 statistics showed that the Japanese schools numbered 183 with over 41,000 students.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the US government realized Japanese spies in Hawaii had aided in the planning of the attacks. This spurned the internment of some 120,000 Japanese Americans from throughout the west coast and Hawaii. A total of 17 camps were built in Hawaii with Honouliuli Internment Camp near Waipahu Oahu becoming the largest and was designed to hold 3000 people. Eventually, most of Hawaii’s Japanese Americans would be transferred to mainland camps as Honoluilui became a POW camp holding more than 4000 Okinawans, Italians, German Americans, Koreans and Taiwanese. The site was designated a National Monument in 2015 by President Barack Obama.
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