Aiko Fujitani


Name Aiko Fujitani
Born January 6 1902
Died February 11 1965
Birth Location Toyama Prefecture, Japan
Generational Identifier

Issei

Community and religious leader in Hawai'i.

Background

Aiko Furukawa Fujitani was born on January 6, 1902, the second and only surviving child of Asajiro and Shite Furukawa in Kami Niikawa Gun, Toyama Prefecture, Japan. When she was four, her parents immigrated to Hawai'i where they worked as masseurs in Līhu'e, Kaua'i, catering to planters' families. As a child, Fujitani attended both English and Japanese language schools and she and her parents were active members of the Līhu'e Hongwanji Mission. Eventually her parents sent her to Honolulu where Bishop Yemyo Imamura and his wife Kiyoko raised her. Under the guidance of the Imamuras, Fujitani continued her studies and attended the Royal Grammar School and the Normal Training School to fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher. However, as an Issei, she was prohibited from obtaining citizenship that was necessary to become a teacher. Unable to teach, she attended the Philips Commercial School where she learned bookkeeping, typing, and shorthand. Her eldest son, Reverend Yoshiaki Fujitani explained that "Mother's attitude was to think positively rather than worry about things that you have no control over."[1] Although she was unable to become a teacher, Fujitani continued her education and intellectual growth.

Family Life and Community Efforts

Eventually Fujitani married Reverend Kodo Fujitani of Maui's Pauwela Hongwanji in 1921 and together they had eight children: Teruko, Yoshiaki, Ann Nobuko, Flora Shigeko, Minnie Mineko, Shigeaki, Akiko, and Aileen Michiko.[2] As a priest's wife, Fujitani assisted in temple duties, volunteered in the community, and became a Japanese language school teacher. As the temple served as the religious, social, and educational center of the community, Fujitani began to expand her activities and worked as a substitute teacher and interpreter and was a foster parent for orphans and juvenile delinquents. The Fujitanis also opened their home to people of different ethnicities, and Yoshiaki Fujitani recalls that his mother was "very good at relating to people of different races . . . Mother made them feel comfortable. I guess I learned from that—that we might look different, but we’re the same."[3]

Eventually the Fujitanis moved to Honolulu where Reverend Kodo Fujitani was assigned to the Mō'ili'ili Hongwanji, one of the largest temples in Honolulu with annexes in Kaimukī, Kapahulu, Waialae-Kāhala, McCully, and Mānoa. There Fujitani taught religious classes, managed the temple dormitory that housed students from other islands, and was a member of the Ka Moiliili Council (now Mō'ili'ili Community Center) where she worked to address health and environmental problems caused by a nearby quarry. Additionally, Fujitani organized a summer program to reduce juvenile delinquency at nearby Kūhiō Elementary School.

World War II and Postwar Activities

When war broke out, authorities arrested and incarcerated Reverend Kodo Fujitani at the Santa Fe, New Mexico, internment camp. Fujitani took over temple duties from her husband and occasionally conducted temple services while her eldest son, Yoshiaki, served as a volunteer in the Hawai'i Territorial Guard, the Varsity Victory Volunteers, and eventually joined the Military Intelligence Service. As the head of Mō'ili'ili Hongwanji's Fujinkai, she helped to mobilize the temple's members in war readiness preparations and Red Cross efforts. Many priests' wives like Fujitani managed the temples that authorities closed with the outbreak of war. These bōmori provided cultural and religious continuity during a period of great upheaval and uncertainty while their husbands were incarcerated during World War II.

After her husband returned after the end of the war and became the first elected Bishop of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission, Fujitani established the Hongwanji Mission School in 1949. It would be was the first English-language Buddhist elementary school in America. While Fujitani never taught at the school, she served as the executive secretary to the board and was involved in the school's operation until her husband's retirement in 1952. The Fujitanis returned to Maui for Reverend Kodo Fujitani's final assignment at Wailuku Hongwanji. While Aiko Fujitani would pass away in 1965, the Hongwanji Mission School still stands as a testimony to her community activism and commitment to education.[4]

Authored by Kelli Y. Nakamura, University of Hawai'i

For More Information

Miyasaki, Gail. "Aiko Fujitani." Hawaii Herald, Oct. 17, 2008, D-2.

Stone, Scott C. S. Living Legacy: Outstanding Women of the 20th Century in Hawai'i. Honolulu: Japanese Women's Society Foundation, 2002.

Footnotes

  1. Gail Miyasaki, "Aiko Fujitani," Hawaii Herald, Oct. 17, 2008, D-2.
  2. Barbara Bennett Peterson, Notable Women of Hawaii (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1984), 132.
  3. Miyasaki, "Aiko Fujitani," D-2.
  4. "Fujitani, Mrs. Ai," Honolulu Advertiser, Feb. 12, 1965, C-7.