Mahalo Rev. Ken!
By Claudia Haraguchi
pics courtesy of Elaine Harada

On Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012, family, friends, and colleagues of Bishop Kenjun Kawawata gathered to wish our former minister a fond Aloha nui loa at the Royal Vista Golf Club in Walnut. Apparently, it was the event of the season, not to be missed, since we had a turn-away crowd of approximately 273 people and then some. Although from the very beginning, planning was on the fast track and decisions had to be made quickly, it was like a Hollywood production with all the various aspects of putting on an event for a well-known and well-loved Sensei. Luckily, it all came together as planned with only a few glitches, here and there, as is to be expected in any big production.

If you were there, you, too, would have felt that the room was filled with love, admiration, and gratitude for Sensei. Participants included most of the WCBT Sangha including the Howakai, Senior and Junior YBA, Dharma school children, as well as members from our mother and sister temples of Higashi Betsuin and Newport. We even had a small contingency come all the way from our sister temple in Berkeley, represented by Alice and Dick Horio (Merry’s sister). In addition, many family members, representatives from ESGVJCC, and Kawawata Sensei’s fellow musicians from Kinnara Gagaku (ancient Japanese music) helped fill the large banquet room.

Stephanie and Merry Jitosho put together a thoroughly entertaining slide show accompanied by music which brought back memories of a young Rev. Ken and a young Bishop Nori Ito both with lots of hair and the two newest ministers from WCBT, Rev. Fred Brenion and our newly appointed WCBT minister, Rev. Peter Hata, with no hair! The slide show touched on all the high points of Rev. Kawawata’s 14 year tenure at WC which included the Ministers Assistance Program, the Buddhist lecture series, retreats at the mountain temple in San Luis Obispo, Obons, Oldies, and the out crop of musical groups under the direction of Rev. Peter such as Lotus, Bodhi Tree, and Dharmatones. The list of Rev. Ken’s accomplishments was long and varied. But the thread that connected them all was his sincere desire to spread the word of the Dharma in as many different expressions or modalities as possible in order to connect with as many people as possible.

Dr. Roy Takemura, our Master of Ceremonies, talked about the significance of offering and receiving of a lei in the Hawaiian tradition; that it is an expression of Aloha, a word which is used in greetings and farewells. It is also an expression of love and compassion. The Aloha Spirit for which Hawaii is often known is this feeling of compassion; of helping, protecting, and doing for others because we are all connected as one.

Each subgroup from WCBT offered its own unique lei to Rev. Ken, which contained symbols representing significant memories each group had of Sensei. Just a little FYI: While in Hawaii, Hisako Koga had the maili lei specially sent from the Big Island of Hawaii to California wrapped in dry ice and many layers of ti leaves. As Joanie Martinez explained the symbols on the maili, she also explained that the maili is known to many as the “lei of royalty” and is given to signify respect and honor. The maile is most often reserved for memorable occasions and the plant is found only on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Representatives from the Betsuin also offered Rev. Ken a lei to commemorate his 14 years as a minister at the LA Betsuin and as Nancy Kurihara-Johnson choked back tears, she fondly placed the lei around Sensei’s neck.

What was most touching to watch was Kevin Kawawata’s lei offering to his parents. It was humorous, as children tend to be, and also filled with warmth and love that only a child has for his father. Good job, Kevin!

Not part of the planned program and therefore caught the committee clock-watcher (we could not go over time!) by surprise was Bishop Nori’s presentation of the special gojo to Rev. Peter Hata as the new minister for WCBT. Resident Ministers traditionally wear a green gojo and one was formally presented to Rev. Peter.

In addition, as in the tradition of the passing of the gavel from one administration to another, Rev. Ken gave Rev. Peter a white orchid lei along with his formal fan and a special ojuzu (onenju) used for special observances, which Rev. Ken used when conducting services at our temple. Jeanne Kawawata gave a purple orchid lei to Diane Hata along with the recipe for the kintoki, which is part of the responsibility for all WC “okusans.”

There were several short talks which were memorable and bear mentioning. Johnny Martinez as President of the Board of Directors did a “Recalling and Reflecting.” He highlighted Sensei’s accomplishments, but also said that most importantly, Sensei was always there when members faced personal crisis, hardships, or during times of illness, loss and mourning. Rev. Fred and Rev. Peter both spoke about their own journey to find the Dharma and how Rev. Ken was instrumental in helping them find the right path. We could actually say that WCBT has a new minister largely due to Rev. Ken’s support, guidance and efforts in mentoring promising students of the Dharma.

Fun with Hukilau Dancing
Participants were able to get up out of their chairs not just to stretch, but also to sway and wiggle their hips when I, as a native Hawaiian, invited all to learn the “Hukilau.” It was probably the most thorough explanation of this popular dance ever heard.

The dance floor rocked with two bishops, reverends, men, women, and teens looking pretty darn good telling this fishing story with their hula hands and hula hips. Mahalo to all for such a fun moment!

Gifts to Sensei
Our Sangha presented Sensei with a gift certificate to a famous restaurant in Oahu called “Alan Wong’s.” It is one of the 2 places in Hawaii that President Obama dines at, and has exceptionally delicious Asian fusion food and impeccable service. (FYI, the other place President Obama loves to go to is Island Snow, a shave ice stand in Kailua, Oahu).

Our Sangha also gave a beautiful glass flame plaque to Sensei, which we hope he will keep on his shelf as a remembrance of his friends and fellow Bombu from West Covina. It was presented by Dharma School Superintendent Diane Hata and was engraved with the words:
Thank you,
Rev. Kenjun Kawawata
for being our sensei, friend
and fellow seeker of the Dharma
With Gassho,
West Covina Buddhist Temple Sangha

In addition, a picture scrapbook was put together with personal notes of appreciation from many of the Sangha members.
As Sensei humbly looked out at the crowd while donning his many leis, he said that he would never forget this Aloha celebration and expressed his deepest appreciation.

In Hawaii, there is a word we use, ohana. It means family, relative, or kin. But it has also come to mean those people with whom we may not be related by blood or through marriage, but with whom we have a deep connection or bond. They are part of our “ohana.” As Rev. Ken stood quietly and looked around the vast banquet hall, he saw that it was filled with his Southern California ohana; people whose lives he touched in his special wonderful way and who will miss him as he continues his journey on the path of the Dharma. Although an ocean physically separates us from Rev. Ken, we are all part of and quenched by the same Dharma water.

In closing I would like to thank everyone who helped plan and carry out this Aloha Luncheon for Rev. Ken. It is impossible to name names because inevitably some important individual will be left out by accident. But to the Reverends, to the Board members, to the committee people and the Sangha members who gave up their precious time and tireless efforts and who often gave us the needed encouragement to carry on, I want to express my deepest Aloha. Most of all, my sincerest Mahalo to all of you who attended this luncheon. Just your presence was the best gift we could ever give to Rev. Ken. Mahalo nui loa. Thank you from my heart.