The Hamakua Jodo Mission on Hawai‘i’s Big Island was robbed by two men last week. A back-up surveillance camera caught the men stealing security cameras and other equipment as well as food and coolers from the temple. One of the assailants has been caught by police, while his partner remains at large. The theft occurred shortly after the two had visited with the church president, who offered them a tour of the church.
“They came to the church and they pretended to be interested in learning about Buddhism and about the history of our church,” said Hamakua Jodo Mission treasurer Sandy Takahashi. She continued, “Our church president was on the premises at the time and gave them a tour. [He] even gave them drinks because it was a hot day outside.” (Hawaii News Now)
Takahashi noted that the security cameras were installed as a response to previous burglaries and vandalism over the past year. Video from the camera shows the two men leaving the church after the tour. They are later seen returning after the church President and others had left.
Describing the burglary, Takahashi said, “The security camera system in the kitchen and dining hall, they dismantled the whole system, stole the DVR, recorder, as well as all the cameras and wiring. They stole some cases of beverages, the food in the refrigerator. They went into the temple a few times and we have a collection box in the area.” (Hawaii News Now)
Takahashi said that the 85-year-old temple president discovered the burglary and mess the next day. Temple officials placed images from the second security camera online and within hours people had identified one of the culprits. The man was caught after a local citizen recognized him at a gas station and alerted the police. The second assailant has not been caught.
“We really do a lot to help the community and to see that these people steal from a sacred place is really heartbreaking for our members. For our church, we barely survive on donations and when something like this happens we really take a hit financially,” she said. (Hawaii News Now)
Hamakua Jodo Mission is the oldest Japanese Buddhist Temple in Hawai‘i, founded in 1896 by Rev. Gakuo Okabe from Japan. The present building dates to 1918 and while it has been renovated over the years, it retains the same appearance as it did over 100 years ago. The structure stands today on a hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean, approximately 55 minutes by car from Hilo International Airport.
Japanese Buddhism in Hawai‘i is currently in decline. In Hawai‘ian temples, most members are elderly, and outreach efforts to the young have mostly been in vain. “It takes a certain foresight to develop something for our kids,” says George Tanabe, a retired University of Hawai‘i professor of religion, adding that many of the older members, and the local leadership, approach the situation with “a real fatalism.” “The people who are in power now, they have their values, they have their likes, they have their tastes, and they’re going to insist that that’s how it’s going to be, even though, for the next generation, it doesn’t speak to them.” (Honolulu Magazine)
Of all of the states in the U.S., Hawai‘i has the highest percentage of Buddhists at 8 per cent, according to the Pew Research Center on Religion & Public Life. However, its Buddhist population more closely resembles that of Japan, where religious participation is mostly by the elderly and overall membership is in decline.*
Cameras catch men stealing from Big Island Buddhist temple shortly after taking tour (Hawaii News Now)
Hamakua Jodo Mission (Jodo Shu International)
Hawai‘i’s Japanese Buddhist Temples Are Struggling to Keep Ancient Traditions Alive (Honolulu Magazine)