Japanese came to Hawai’i between 1885 and 1924, when limits were placed on the numbers permitted entry. “The government contract workers who arrived in Hawaii in the 1880s did not have much time or energy to worry about their children’s education.”
“Their only aim was to make enough money to return to Japan. With mothers going to work from early in the morning the children were virtually left to themselves all day long.” (Duus)
“At first the parents had no mind to settle permanently in this territory. One day they would go back to Japan and take their children with them. But they would be greatly to blame if their children were found unable to speak and write in their mother tongue.”
“It was thus the earnest wish of the parents for the welfare of the children that they should be fully equipped with Japanese instruction, so as to enable them, on their return home, to stand on an equal footing with those who were born in Japan and educated there.”
“In the early days then, Japanese schools tried very hard to meet this request of the parents. Though the school hours were limited to less than two hours in the morning or two hours in the afternoon, they used to give not only the language lesson, but teach as many subjects as you will find in the curriculum of Japanese instruction in Japan.” (Imamura)
“Because of the lack of higher education among most immigrants and their children in Hawai’i, Buddhist Bishop Yemyo Imamura proposed building a Hongwanji high school, incorporating dormitories for students from rural O‘ahu and the neighbor islands.”
“While in Japan in early 1906 he gained approval from the Honzan, Hongwanji’s headquarters temple in Kyoto, and on his return to Hawai‘i he spoke to (Mary) Foster about the new project.” (Karpiel)
“Mary Foster donated a large piece of land covered with kiawe trees, now bisected by the Pali Highway, which was used to construct Hongwanji High School in 1907 (the first Buddhist High School in the United States) and the new Honpa Hongwanji Betsuin in 1918.” (Tsomo)
The final stretch of the Pali Highway to be completed was the segment which connected it to the downtown area between Coelho Lane and the intersection of Bishop Street and Beretania Street. It impacted the school. Planning for this segment had
begun as early as 1953.
When the Pali Highway was constructed, the Honpa Hongwanji, whose property was bisected by the proposed new segment, requested three of its buildings be relocated and a pedestrian underpass be constructed under the new highway to connect the temple with its school premises. (HHF)
The Japanese High School of the Hongwanji got the attention of others. “The ﬁrst Japanese language program at a public school was established at McKinley High School in Honolulu on October 1, 1924.” (Asato)
“The minutes of the Japanese committee of the Hawaiian Evangelical Association, dated September 10, (1924) a month before the Japanese program at McKinley High School began, reveals who was involved with this movement.”
“During the meeting, Treasurer Theodore Richards expressed his concern about female high-school students who attended the Hongwanji School for advanced Japanese language study, saying that they ‘were getting led away from Christianity.’”
“Richards was discussing the Hongwanji Girls’ High School (Hawai Kōtō Jogakkō) established in 1910, the girls’ counterpart of Hongwanji’s junior high school, Hawai Chūgakkō, established three years earlier.” (Asato)
World War II totally disrupted Buddhist activities in Hawaii. On December 7, 1941, the Buddhist community was busily preparing for Bodhi Day services at various temples. The next day the temples were closed, and the Buddhist ministers were interned.
Labeled “potentially dangerous enemy aliens,” most Buddhist clergy, language school teachers, community leaders, businessmen doctors, anyone who had been identified as possible enemies of the United States, were rounded up to be taken away to detention camps, passing through the assembly center at Sand Island on O‘ahu. (Hongwanji Hawaii)
In 1949, one of the most momentous decisions made by the Hongwanji after the war was the adoption of a proposal to establish the Hongwanji Mission School, the first Buddhist, English grade school.
In 1992, the Hongwanji Mission School became available for students up until the 8th grade. Prior to that, the school was an elementary school with students from preschool to the sixth grade. In September of 1993, the middle school building was completed, and the class of 1994 was the first class to occupy it.
In the fall of 2003, with the encouragement of Bishop Chikai Yosemori, the Pacific Buddhist Academy (PBA) opened its doors to the first class of fourteen students. PBA is a college preparatory high school, and the first Shin Buddhist high school in the western world.
The school’s mission is “to prepare students for college through academic excellence; to enrich their lives with Buddhist values; and to develop their courage to nurture peace.” (Hongwanji Hawaii)