Rev. Chikai Yosemori

Photo by Nicole Kato

Rev. Chikai Yosemori, former bishop of Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, has decades of knowledge and appreciation for the Buddhist way of life that he wishes to share with those in the community.

Yosemori, who was featured on MidWeek‘s cover June 14, 2000, recently was an individual honoree at Pacific Buddhist Academy’s eighth annual fundraiser, Lighting Our Way, at Waialae Country Club. Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii also was the organizational honoree at the event.

Pacific Buddhist Academy is the first Buddhist high school in America, and Yosemori is proud to have had a prominent role in its establishment.

“The purpose is not to convert other people to the Buddhist religion,” he says. “Regardless of religion, we accept students.”

In fact, Yosemori says that half the student body identifies as non-Buddhist and half of the students are not of Japanese ethnicity.

When he became the 14th bishop of Hawaii Kyodan in 1996, he highlighted five areas he wanted to improve during his tenure: Strengthen Buddhist education programs, reorganize the arrangement of the temples, facilitate better communication and more openness, make the church more visible and engage in ongoing projects with the temples.

He recalls his plantation days, and he says he never imagined life would change so drastically.

“Just like I never thought Liberty House would close,” he says with a laugh. “We thought the sugar industry would remain strong.”

After his retirement in March 2011, Yosemori was hospitalized three times. One of the biggest problems was his voice.

“Especially the English side,” explains Yosemori. “Because I had lost my voice, I could not chant completely. The starting part (of the Buddhist chant) was all right, but soon I would lose my voice.”

Thankfully, he is recovering now and has a humorous approach to why his voice had left him. Yosemori had gone to see a throat specialist, who also is a good friend of his, but the doctor could not find anything wrong.

“Our conclusion was when I was working actively as a minister, maybe I often scolded the younger ministers and talked bad about other people, so it’s just like Japanese bachi,” he says.

Yosemori admits he is enjoying retirement and appreciates the time he has to spend tending his garden, but deep down he knows that a minister’s job never ends.

He still is involved with Pacific Buddhist Academy and still stresses the importance of education.

“Education is a very important thing,” he notes. “It is the No. 1 thing I wanted to do (as bishop).”