Hawaii travel report 2023 (a Japan away from Japan) [Part 2/5]

By | August 10, 2023

(This is the 2nd article in my 2023 Hawaii travel report. See here for the first article.)

Adventures in Aikido

Being a pretty avid Aikido student (and occasional teacher), I tried to fit in time on both Maui and Oahu to visit some Aikido-related places. 

In Maui, we stopped by the Hongwanji (本願寺) Buddhist temple in Lahaina that has been there for over a century. But more importantly, it is said to be one of the first places visited by Tohei Sensei (the founder of Ki-Aikido, also called “Shinshin Touitsu Aikido”). The main temple building wasn’t open at the time, but I did get a glimpse inside at the atmospheric interior that truly looked like something from Japan a century ago. The exterior too was quite ornate and beautiful. Lahaina Ki Aikido classes have been held in one of the rooms of a side building of the temple, but I heard they are moving to a different location. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to actually attend one of the classes there during our trip. I did get to spend some enjoyable time with two senseis that teach there, though.

In Oahu, I was able to visit the Myohouji (妙法寺) temple in Honolulu which was even more ornate and amazing, although we just missed the closing time and were unable to go inside there as well. But I was fortunate enough to be able to train in two Ki-Aikido classes in the dojo right next to the temple that is managed by the Honolulu Ki Society. It’s formally known as Seishinkan Dojo (精心館道場).

The dojo, while a bit smaller than the one I train in in Portland, had a very Japanese design with a unique atmosphere. One nice touch was an array of vertical name tags hung above the dojo that depicted all of the students and teachers along with their current rank. There was also a special calligraphic drawing done by Tohei Sensei displayed in a frame on the wall (though I couldn’t quite figure out what animal it depicted). The changing rooms were separate from the bathrooms, which was also a nice difference. Finally, as with the majority of old buildings in Hawaii, there was no air conditioner (this is also similar to Japan). But with one of the outside doors opened wide and a gentle breeze, it was comfortable even in my heavy training outfit.

The classes my son and I attended were quite similar to the Oregon Ki Society classes, though there were some interesting differences like a smaller amount of time spent on stretches and ki testing (though these things may differ based on the day and sensei teaching). But we did do one stretch where you lift another person onto your back; this was somewhat nostalgic for me since I hadn’t seen it done in a very long time. 

The main sensei teaching that evening had over 30+ years experience, and I found his style to be pretty similar to other teachers who have been doing Ki-Aikido for decades (this is a compliment since the senseis I frequently train with are quite skilled). Even though the classes were mostly targeted at children, I learned a few things from both senseis in my ~2 hours there. One interesting thing was how the one sensei described the hands-curved-under position when rolling as “monkey hands”, a term that gives a good image for the children to understand and remember.

Overall my training in Honolulu (part of Waikiki/Oahu) was a wonderful experience; besides the beautiful dojo and experienced senseis, everyone was very kind and really enjoying what they were doing, what we call “extending Ki”. Even though it was a bit of an effort to lug around me and my son’s gi (not to mention my hakama), it was well worth it. Next time we come back to Hawaii I am looking forward to training there again. 

As a side note, we had trouble with the GPS finding both of these temples. For the one in Maui (Lahaina), it led us to the back of the building and there was no way to get around. After walking back and forth I almost gave up, but then we decided to try driving around the front of the same street, where we finally found it. For the Honolulu temple/dojo, the GPS led us to some hotel that was in front of the grounds. After asking a hotel staff member we were told about the gate down the street that led to the temple. For some reason the gate was closed, but we had a custodian open it for us. Overall that day had a pretty tight schedule, since we had to eat, grab a taxi, and then make it into the dojo to get changed for the first 5:15pm class. 

Language Aside: Archaic Romanization “Hongwanji”

I was surprised to see that the 本願寺 temple was written in English as “Hongwanji”, and in fact when I first saw this I thought it was a Korean or Chinese word, partially because “ong” or “gwan” are generally not common in Japanese romanization. I wasn’t able to find the reason for this style of writing online, except to see a reference to it as an “archaic romanization”. Nevertheless I think I know why and will give you my thoughts on this. As you might guess, normally 本願寺 would be pronounced as hon-gan-ji (dashes added to emphasize the character boundaries), and some places on the internet do use this spelling. 

The problem with this is that if you remove the dashes you end up with “honganji”, which is confusing both to English speakers (since we have many words where “ng” blend together, like “sing”), as well as Japanese speakers to whom which the “n” sound can actually sound like “ng”. Using an apostrophe like “hon’ganji” is one option, but frankly it doesn’t look very clean.

My theory is that the “w” was added to make it clear the second syllable doesn’t start on the “a”, but rather is connected to a “g” sound (which blends with the “w”). Hence, by writing “hongwanji” people will tend to separate the syllables as hong+wan+ji, which is much better than “honganji” where you will likely end up with hong+an+ji. But that is just my guess, I’m not sure the actual reason for it. In any case, some of the styles of romanization of Japanese words make more sense than other ones.

The Locals

As with most trips, we interacted with a few locals here and there. Besides a handful of friends that we visited, there were local employees at restaurants, hotels, stores, and public transportation. Even though there were a bunch of kind people, we did come across a few unpleasant experiences that I wanted to briefly touch upon.

When we stepped foot into the IHop next to our hotel in Oahu, there was nobody at the front counter. We waited a bit and somebody eventually came in and sat us down. He took our order but said his shift was going to end soon and left a bit after that. Another woman came in and got us water, but even after ~20-30 minutes there was no sign of our food. This was actually on the day of the Honolulu Ki-Aikido class and we were in a bit of a hurry, so I asked her about the food. The waitress proceeded to get angry, saying something like “I’m the only one here,” though we heard a second person in the kitchen to conflict with her statement. Eventually the food did come out, with just enough time for us to eat. One of the other restaurants (a Dennys) made us wait quite a while before we got seated, despite not being very busy.

On one of the public buses, the bus driver stopped, got off, and started talking on the cellphone. We waited for what felt like 10-15 minutes, so I walked over and asked her when the bus was going to start back up. I assumed she was on break but it seemed to be taking a really long time. She then got upset and said something to the effect of, “I’m taking my break now. Everyone deserves a break, OK?!” Her attitude was pretty rude, which I guess she realized a few minutes later when she asked in a more polite tone, “Oh, do you guys have somewhere you need to be soon?”

In an aquarium, there was a man sort of quietly half-laying on a bench, and at first I wondered if he was homeless. But then I figured out he was supposed to be part of some exhibit about net-making, and was apparently the professional net-maker. He spoke to us briefly but never actually did any net-making while we were there.

Another day, I asked the concierge in one of the hotels we stayed in about where good coffee was nearby, and he recommended a place across the street. After walking over there (it took a little while since some streets in Hawaii can only be crossed except with cross walks), I found an open door with two or three waiters sitting at a table doing some sort of work. I asked them where I could order coffee and they said I could only order online, but then another one of them told me I had to buy food along with the coffee. This clearly wasn’t a place trying to sell their coffee, and the concierge who recommended this had never gone there just to get said coffee. Later I told this to the concierge, and he at least thanked me for the info. Ultimately I was more annoyed with the open-doored restaurant where they wouldn’t let me just purchase coffee, than the under-educated concierge.

In a sushi restaurant, when we asked for water the woman there said there was no water available. I think this was the first time I had been to a restaurant where water was not available in any form (there wasn’t any bottled water either, or at least she didn’t offer it). A restaurant that makes things like miso soup have to have water available, so this seems like she was just being rude.

These are just cherry-picked events and I am not trying to say all the locals were rude or lazy, but I did see a bit of this pattern in a few places. I’ve also seen similar attitudes in New York, so perhaps it’s partially due to the working conditions and/or rough economy. But for Hawaii, I don’t remember seeing this kind of thing last time we visited, a few years ago.

I also noticed there were many homeless people around Hawaii, which perhaps relates to the economy. I have even heard rumors that sometimes homeless people from other parts of the US were shipped to Hawaii for some reason.

(continued in Part 3)

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