Land Acquisition from Bishop Estate
Compiled by Ai Ogata with recollections from Rev. Chikai Yosemori and Shizuo “Billy” Tokuda
Prior to moving Jikoen Hongwanji Mission to its present School Street location from its inaugural Houghtailing site, the leaders of Jikoen tried their best to find a good location for the new temple. Yet most of the “good” empty lots in Kalihi were owned by the Bishop Estate, which did not intend to sell their lands but instead made them available for lease only. In 1961, Jikoen successfully leased a lot for its new temple from the Bishop Estate for a period of 55 years, with renegotiations to take place after the first 25 years. The contracted rent amount was $5,000 a year. By August 1964, construction of the new Jikoen was completed.
Twenty-two years later, Jikoen began preparations for the re-negotiation of rent with Bishop Estate. Rev. Chiro Yosemori’s son, the Rev. Chikai Yosemori, had just started his tenure as resident minister of Jikoen. He enlisted the help of attorney Mr. Kinji Kanazawa, legal counsel for Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, who specialized in real estate cases in Hawaii. Rev. Yosemori and Mr. Kanazawa met with trustees of the Bishop Estate.
The Estate asked for rent amounting to $5,000 a month, a vast difference from the $5,000 Jikoen was paying for the year. In fact, it was 12 times the amount they were currently paying. An increase in the rent was anticipated, but not a twelve-fold increase! Rev. Yosemori recalls the reaction of the members: “We thought, maybe two times or three times higher, but twelve times is an impossible amount for Jikoen to pay.”
Rev. Yosemori and Mr. Kanazawa continued to meet with trustees of the Bishop Estate. Mr. Kanazawa often met with Mr. Matsuo Takabuki, one of the powerful trustees of the Bishop Estate, attempting to negotiate a decrease in the proposed rent. In the meanwhile, Rev. Yosemori became a frequent visitor to the State Capitol where he met with former Speaker of the House Henry Peters, who was also a Bishop Estate trustee. Both Jikoen representatives faced difficult negotiations. Rev. Yosemori later stated, “The trustees of the Bishop Estate were really kind people-they always welcomed us, never spoke to us harshly and it seemed that they really wanted to help us. They were real gentlemen. Unfortunately, the common thing for them was that they never changed their minds about the rent.”
The Bishop Estate issued a final offer through Mr. Kanazawa: $5,000 a month rent as initially stated, but with an option for the temple to buy the fee for the land at 1.04 million dollars. Negotiations continued. Despite tremendous effort on the part of Mr. Kanazawa, the amount to buy the land was only decreased to one million dollars. Rev. Yosemori made a final visit with Speaker Peters, at which time he was told the following: The land could be purchased for a lower price of $750,000, but with many restrictions. For one, the land could only be used for church activities. Furthermore, if the church ever closed, the land would have to be returned to the Bishop Estate. Faced with the decision to purchase the land completely for one million dollars or for $750,000 with restrictions, the Jikoen Kyodan decided to buy the land for one million dollars.
Jikoen’s members faced a huge undertaking of raising this amount of money for its land fund. One way the money was raised was through donations from the membership and the community supporters. In addition to the very generous donors like Mr. Albert Teruya and Mrs. Agnes Asato, most all of the temple members made contributions to the land fund. Moreover, many members approached their children and grandchildren for help. Remarkably, many of them responded to their requests and tried to help save their Ojiichan and Obaachan’s temple. Mr. Shinsuke Nakamine, Mr. Yasuo Uezu, Mr. Shoshin Nagamine, and Dr. Albert Miyasato also approached the business community for contributions.
Furthermore, the hard-working members of Jikoen held numerous fundraisers such as bazaars, garage sales, BBQ chicken sales, Sunday morning breakfasts, and even a Karaoke festival. A total of 64 major fundraising projects was conducted until the goal was met. In fact, about 70% of the land fund came from these fundraisers. Many members such as Mrs. Kazuko Ige, Mr. Billy Tokuda, Mr. & Mrs. Brian Yoshimoto, Mr. Richard Zukemura and Jikoen Buddhist Women’s Association members volunteered to chair fundraisers. They, along with a core group of people never missed a single fundraiser: Mrs. Yoshi Aka, Mrs. Haruko Arakaki, Mrs. Janet Ginoza, Mr. Takejiro Higa, Mrs. Yuichi Ige, Mrs. Kiyoko Ishikawa, Mrs. Yoshimi Kaneshiro, Mr. & Mrs. Nobuo Kaneshiro, Mrs. Otsuru Kaneshiro, Mrs. Nobuko Kida, Mrs. Chizuko Kishimoto, Mr. & Mrs. Shinyu Kiyuna, Mrs. Kyoko Kuniyuki, Mrs. Chiyo Maeda, Mrs. Masako Matayoshi, Mr. & Mrs. Matsuo Momohara, Mr. Maurice Nakachi, Mr. Yoshiyuki Nakamura, Mrs. Hilda Nakasone, Mrs. Nobushige Nakasone, Mr. Ryotoku Noborikawa, Mr. & Mrs. Kiichi Oshiro, Mrs. Setsuko Oshiro, Ms. Misao Oshiro, Mrs. Hatsuye Oshiro, Mrs. Annie Shimabukuro, Mr. & Mrs. Matsuichi Shimabukuro, Mr. & Mrs. Kotaro Shiroma, Mr. & Mrs. Seiyei Takayesu, Mr. & Mrs. Hiroshi Tamayori, Mr. & Mrs. Yoshiharu Tengan, Mr. & Mrs. Takeo Teruya, Mrs. Alice Tokuda, Mr. & Mrs. George Tokuhama, Mrs. Harue Uechi, Mrs. Masako Wauke, Mr. George Yogi, Mr. & Mrs. Claude Zukeran, Mrs. Kameko Zukemura, Mr. Alan Zukemura, Mrs. Nancy Zukemura, and Mr. Morris Zukeran. In addition to this core group, many members came out regularly and worked extremely hard. Friends of the greater Okinawan community such as Hui O Laulima and some members of the Hawaii United Okinawa Association, and friends from sister Honpa Hongwanji of Hawaii temples also offered helping hands.
Mr. Tokuda recalls of the fundraisers: “The Sangha members, especially the ladies, worked hard. The Jikoen senior ladies who had worked at school cafeterias were very good in baking cookies which they baked for our sales…and a couple ladies were good with jelly making…Then groups of ladies went to sell andagi at malls, Sears, and Kapalama school grounds for their events.” He fondly looks back on the Sunday morning breakfast as most memorable, noting that some members from Betsuin would even come to breakfast before their own services.
Many speculated that it would take Jikoen ten years to accomplish the goal of raising a million dollars if everything went well-no one expected them to meet this goal in less than four years! In 1991, Jikoen Hongwanji Mission became the official owners of the land where its temple stood after successfully paying 1.08 million dollars (land price plus rent). Announcements were made in newspapers and over Japanese radio stations. “We are truly grateful to our hard-working members and the many countless others for their support, kindness, generosity, and encouragement,” stated Rev. Chikai Yosemori.
To celebrate, a special steak dinner was served in the hall for the hard-working crew. The men insisted that they do the cooking and preparing as well as serve the ladies since they felt the ladies did most of the hard work. Later, to express their appreciation and gratitude to everyone, the temples’ members hosted all of the delegates of the statewide Giseikai banquet at the social hall on February 7, 1992.
Says Mr. Tokuda: “It seemed like 1 million dollars in 3 1/2 years came so fast, I don’t know who did the worrying but I know we prayed a lot. The members all got close together during this period. We felt that anything is possible if we work together to achieve our goal…It was our temple and we couldn’t give it up.”