Born, reborn and born again,
The beginnings of their births they do not know.
Dying, dying and dying once again,
The end of their deaths they do not know.
The founder of the Shingon Buddhism sect in Japan, Kūkai (more commonly known as Kōbō Daishi or Odaishisama) lived between the years 774 to 835. In Japanese folklore, he has been given mystical powers, ability to create wells and springs for areas stricken by drought, abilities to heal the sick and raise the dead.
Born to an aristocratic family, Kūkai was well educated and charismatic, always able to gain the confidence of the people around him. While travelling to China, Kukai discovered Shingon esotericism and brought this back to Japan.
He convinced the Japanese Emperor to provide land for a temple complex on Mount Kōya, now the world headquarters of the Kōyasan Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism.
Odaishisama’s Shingon Esoteric view of life is based on the idea of the how things originate with the Six Great-Elements of earth, water, fire, wind, space and consciousness (all of the Six Great-Elements are expressed in the single sanskrit letter “A;” the Shingon view of life lies in the realization that there is no beginning or end to the world of the Buddha. (shingon-org)
Kūkai was a calligrapher; among the many achievements attributed to him is the invention of the kana, the syllabic Japanese script with which, in combination with Chinese characters (kanji,) the Japanese language is written today.
Having predicted his death the year before, Kūkai died on April 23, 835; it is believed that he remains in spirit. He was given the name Kōbō Daishi after his death (Odaishisama) and is remembered as a saint, scholar, savior and spiritual healer.
The Issei (first generation) Japanese immigrants that came to Hawaiʻi immigrated to the Islands from 1885 to 1924. Like the other ethnic immigrant groups, the Issei worked on sugar and pineapple plantations. The term Issei came into common use and represented the idea of a new beginning and belonging. When they came, they believed Odaishisama crossed the ocean with them.
On leaving Japan, the young Shingon followers received small portrait scrolls of Odaishisama from their elderly parents, who with tears in their eyes surely told them, “When you go to Hawaii there will be times of hardship and suffering, and also times when you will become sick. At those times, ask Odaishisama for help. Do not forget to say “Namu Daishi Henjo Kongo” (the mantra of Kōbō Daishi, “Homage to the Great Master, the Vajra of all-pervading spiritual radiance”) (NPS)
Shingon Shu Hawaiʻi (Hawai‘i Shingon Mission) was founded March 15, 1915 in Honolulu. The first temple was built on the site in 1918, completed by Nakagawa Katsutaro, a master builder of Japanese-style temples. In 1929, Hego Fuchino renovated the temple along the lines of the Japanese Design Style.
The temple is a congregational Buddhist school, interested in studying and sharing the faith of Shingon esoteric Buddhism; the temple follows the original tenets established by Kobo Daishi who brought the teachings of esoteric Buddhism to Japan from China in 806 AD. (ShingunShuHawaii)
The Hawaiʻi Shingon Mission (Shingon Shu Hawaiʻi) is one of seven missions remaining of this type of Japanese Design Style of architecture in Hawaiʻi. As the mother church for the Shingon sect in Hawaii, the Hawaiʻi Shingon Mission on Sheridan Street in Honolulu is one of the most elaborately decorated Buddhist temples in Hawaiʻi.
Although it was altered in 1978 and a major addition was built in 1992, the roof and its original carvings form the framework of its character and the interior furnishings brought from Japan maintain a major part of its significance. The most visible portion of the Hawaii Shingon Mission is its irimoya or steeply sloped-hipped gable roof with elaborate carvings adorning each gable end.
Termed “Japanese Design Style” by Lorraine Minatoishi Palumbo in her dissertation on Japanese temple architecture in Hawaiʻi, it is representative of a time period in Hawaiʻi when the Japanese, proud of their heritage, wanted the familiarity of home.
While this style lasted only 22 years before the Japanese took a decided lean towards a Western influence, the results of this strong connection to a style in Japan makes these buildings stand out in Hawaiʻi.
At the very top of the roof is a depiction of the tomoe, which suggests the yin-yang symbol of China, but represents the circle of life in Japan.
The karahafu-kohai or cusped gable entrance roof with a carving of the Hozo, a phoenix on top of the cusp and within the eyebrow, mark a well-defined entry. The phoenix is widely considered to represent the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. There is also a dragon, representing wisdom, good fortune and power, resting in the clouds.
Culturally, the social history of the Japanese is intertwined in the Buddhist philosophy (which originated in northern India by Prince Siddhartha Gautama, known as Buddha, in 528 BC.) (Lots of information here from NPS.)