Rev. Chikai Yosemori, 1932-2016

April 18, 2016

Rev. Chikai Yosemori, the retired 14th Bishop of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, died on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. He was 84 years old. For all of his 42 years as a minister and his work after retirement, the foundation of Rev. Yosemori’s philosophical beliefs centered around the values of knowledge, respect, and gratitude.

Rev. Chikai Yosemori with backdrop of greenery
Rev. Chikai Yosemori in an image from Pacific Buddhist Academy’s 2013 Lighting Our Way program

While serving as Bishop of the state’s largest Buddhist sect, he was sincerely committed to the creation of the Pacific Buddhist Academy, the first Buddhist high school in America. Today, the high school is thirteen years old, and students, including one of Yosemori’s granddaughters, attend college preparatory classes while guided by Buddhist principles such as compassion, perseverance, and wisdom. Rev. Yosemori once said in an interview, “Our way is not to convert. Our way is the natural way. We try to convey who is Buddha by the way we live.” Yosemori’s dream was to develop graduates who had the courage to nurture peace and the ability to recognize the uniqueness of every person, culture, country, and religion. He sincerely believed that education was the key to breaking barriers and that it developed character and reinforced a person’s individual philosophy. He challenged his clergy and membership to take the time to read, to learn from history, to spend quality time with their teachers, and to participate not with just what is comfortable but what is necessary to develop as an individual and leader.

Rev. Yosemori was born at the Waipahu Hongwanji Mission. At four years of age, he moved with his family to Japan, where he was raised. He attended Keio University in Tokyo and received bachelor’s degrees in Literature and Law. He returned to Hawaii and worked briefly as a teacher at the Japanese language school, Palama Gakuen. He decided to follow the footsteps of his father, Rev. Chiro Yosemori, into the life of a Buddhist minister after learning about the history of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii and of the Okinawan immigrant experience. He received a master’s degree in Shin Buddhism from Ryukoku University in Kyoto and was ordained as a Jodo Shinshu minister from Nishi Hongwanji in 1961.

In 1964, Rev. Yosemori and his wife Chihoko, left the ancient city of Kyoto for the sugar plantation fields of Maui where his first assignment was as resident minister of Pai’a Hongwanji Mission. When he got to Maui, he quickly learned that he needed to provide renewed faith to a dwindling temple membership comprised mostly of first-generation “Issei who also faced evacuation of their homes due to the impending closure of the sugar plantation “camp.” Paia Hongwanji also faced the same fate and with no plans in place for its future. Rev. Yosemori felt profoundly about the sacrifice and effort put forth by the first generation of “pioneers” to make life easier for those of his generation. It was this feeling of respect and gratitude that fueled Rev. Yosemori and his members to work tirelessly to build their new temple. This was by no means an easy undertaking: their building fund was only three hundred dollars and they even walked door-to-door to ask neighbors for support, but they were able to literally build their temple piece by piece with their own hands. Paia Hongwanji, now known as Makawao Hongwanji, was completed in 1971.

In 1981, Rev. Yosemori was re-assigned to Jikoen Hongwanji Mission. The temple, which was founded by his father, was a gathering place for both spiritual guidance and for community and cultural organizations, particularly the Okinawan community. Besides his personal connection to the temple, Rev. Yosemori bonded on a very deep level with the temple’s members and often talked about how his understanding of respect and Dana (selfless giving) was more firmly rooted from his tenure at the temple. Several years after his arrival at Jikoen Hongwanji, the temple faced a critical financial challenge by its landowner that threatened its existence. The temple’s lease rent of $5,000 a year was increased 12-fold to $5,000 a month. Rev. Yosemori and his humble, senior-aged congregation along with support from other Hongwanji temples and the community, embarked on an ambitious fundraising plan to purchase the land to ensure the longevity of their temple for future generations. Rev. Yosemori gave up his salary and said that it was his members that instilled hope to all to persevere. Sixty-four fundraising projects and three-and-a-half years later, they were able to successfully accomplish their remarkable goal.

In 1996, Rev. Yosemori was selected to be the 14th Bishop of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii; its first Bishop of Okinawan ancestry. He was proud to be part of the founding of Pacific Buddhist Academy and felt it was a wonderful tribute to those that came before him as well as a light of peace for the future. He retired in 2007 after 42 years of service. Throughout his ministry, Rev. Yosemori built and bridged communities not by any grandiose measures, but by action, commitment, and his faith. He never complained about the difficulties of his life; instead, he preferred to impart knowledge that he credited to his elders and always expressed gratitude for all that he received.

Rev. Yosemori is survived by his wife, Chihoko, daughter JoAnn (Grant Ito), son Eric (Dawn), sister Sonoko (Samuel) Ikeda, and two granddaughters: Kayla Yosemori and Sydnie Ito.

Rev. Chikai Yosemori’s Funeral Service will be held on Saturday, April 30, 2016 at the Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin (1727 Pali Highway, Honolulu). The visitation will start at 9:30 a.m. followed by the Funeral Service at 10:30 a.m.

Media Contact:
Reverend Toshiyuki Umitani
Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, (808) 522-9200