Yoshiaki Fujitani
Military Intelligence Service

Bishop of the Kyodan

In 1975, Yoshiaki becomes Bishop of the Hawaii Kyodan. He serves four three-year terms.

He helps establish in 1976 the "Living Treasures of Hawaii" to recognize and honor the cultural contributions of men and women in the islands.

Bishop of the Kyodan (1975)

[I]n 1975, the main temple, Betsuin, and the state organization, were separated. And so, although I was the bishop, the bylaws says that the head minister will be appointed by the bishop. Up till that time, the head minister of the Betsuin was the bishop. I mean, it's just the wording in the bylaws just split the two organizations. So, I've never been the head minister of the Betsuin at all. I've been just the overall head, you might say.

Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii

At that time, one term was three years. And so every three years we had an election. I served for four terms. And it was perhaps because there wasn't anyone else who might be any different from me, so they kept me on for twelve years. (Laughter)

But after twelve years - twelve years is long, as a bishop. And of course, the main job is to assign ministers and set the tone and so on.

Bishop Fujitani, Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii

But that job, is one of diminishing returns, you might say. You're elected because you're considered to be the right person for that position. So once you get in, then your decisions will be antagonizing people along the way. We have to move ministers, the members don't want you to move them, so the members don't - they might have some antagonisms. The minister doesn't want to move, so he doesn't like you. And it's that kind of - I can't see it as a popularity rising. (Laughter)

For twelve years. And so that was long enough, I thought.

Living Treasures

There was a fellow, the name, I have a lot of these senior moments. Anyway, this fellow had this idea, which he thought, as in Japan, we should honor people with certain talents. And he brought this idea because he had a particular person in mind. He was thinking of this fellow named Charles Kenn, that he was part Hawaiian. Maybe the Hawaiians might like this idea, he thought. And so he went to Liliuokalani Trust or he went to Christian churches but nobody would accept that idea.

So finally, he brought it to me and we talked about that and we thought yeah, that's a good way to honor people who have contributed. And so that's the way it started, very small.

It was in 1976 and we decided, okay, let's honor Charles Kenn. And it started small but now it's a big thing. We have a banquet.

I think the original purpose, though, has been lost. See, the original idea was to recognize people who had been contributing something and have not been recognized, like Charles Kenn. Charles Kenn was quite a scholar, he knew a lot of stuff and people would come to him and learn from him. And they would write books and be recognized. But he didn't have anything, and so we thought, yeah, we should recognize that kind of people. So anyway, he was the first one. But from the second year, the choices have been people who have succeeded and gained notoriety, or whatever. So more and more, the selection would be of people who had been already recognized.

So I think we should rethink it, but I don't know.

Yoshiaki Fujitani's interview reprinted courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Yoshiaki Fujitani.

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