As you step off the plane, be prepared to be enveloped by aloha, the nurturing quality of Hawaii Island’s vast ‘aina (“land”) and her elements. Notice the fragrance of plumerias, the velvety feel of gentle trade winds, the green lushness of tropical forests, the immensity of the five great mountains, and the ever-present ocean that cleanses and gives life. Aloha means love and friendship, and its invigorating energy permeates the island. 

The big island of Hawaii contains nearly two-thirds of the state’s landmass but only 13 percent of its population. From its introduction in 1889 to serve Japanese immigrants, Buddhism has grown to become an integral part of the island’s multicultural landscape.

1| Daifukuji Soto Mission

Daifukuji (“Temple of Great Happiness”) sits at the top of a gently sloping hill in Honalo overlooking the Pacific. One feels the friendliness and gracious presence of this temple. Founded in 1914 by Reverend Kaiseki Kodama, who walked around the entire island twice to raise donations for its construction, the mission is now headed by Reverend Mary Beth Jiko Nakade, who became its first female resident minister in 2004. The gift shop is a favorite because of its unique pottery and Japanese items. Visit for zazen, taiko (drumming), yoga, baikako (chanting accompanied by bells), or the orchid club.

79-7241 Mamalahoa Highway

2| Nechung Dorje Drayang Ling

Nestled in an old eucalyptus forest, Nechung Dorje Drayang Ling (“Immutable Island of Melodious Sound”) is a place of healing and contemplation. While the main temple was built as a Nichiren Mission at the turn of the 20th century, the present institution—founded by Nechung Rinpoche in 1973 and dedicated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1980—embraces its nonsectarian identity, housing a Shingon shrine on the building’s upper level. Take a peaceful walk around its twenty-five acres, and if you can’t take in enough in one day, book an overnight stay.

96-2285 Wood Valley Road

3| Honpa Hongwanji Hilo Betsuin

The large island is dotted with thirteen Jodo Shinshu temples belonging to the Nishi Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, which first arose to serve Japanese workers on sugar plantations a hundred years ago. The oldest Hongwanji temple (and also the first temple founded in Hawaii, in 1889) is the Honpa Hongwanji Hilo Betsuin, located in Hilo, the island’s largest town. The temple is bustling with a Japanese school that is 125 years old and a plethora of activities: judo, kendo, an oral history project, and youth development programming.

398 Kilauea Avenue

4| Hamakua Jodo Mission

The Hamakua Jodo Mission in rural Pa‘auhau was founded in 1894 by Reverend Gakuo Okabe. Inside, there’s a koa altar flanked by two magnificent dragons carved by the Japanese immigrant Umekichi Tanaka, who was trained in miya-daiku (the traditional wood construction of shrines and temples). The cemetery includes many ancient natural lava rock headstones featuring Buddha carvings.

44-2947 Kalopa Road

5| Mauna Kea

Measured from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, Mauna Kea is over 33,000 feet tall, making it the tallest mountain in the world—and for Native Hawaiians, the most sacred peak. It is the mountain of Wakea (“expansive space”) and home to Poliahu, the deity of snow and compassion, who comes in the winter. Cultural shrines are found at the summit, along with thirteen observatories, but you’ll have to book a tour or bring a four-wheel-drive vehicle to access the peak. The mountain is arguably the world’s premier spot for watching the stars, thanks to its remote location. But plans to build another, much larger telescope have stirred controversy, and Native Hawaiians have not yet given consent to build it.

Mauna Kea Access Road

6| Lili‘uokalani Park and Gardens

Serene, scenic, and seaside, Lili‘uokalani Park and Gardens is a microcosm of Japan. It’s delightful to leisurely walk the twenty-four-acre Edo-style park, crossing bridges over picturesque ponds and walking stone paths to pagodas, statues, torii (gateways), and a Japanese teahouse. Queen Lili‘uokalani donated the land in 1917 and dedicated the gardens to honor the first Japanese immigrants. Also situated in the park is a small island called Moku Ola, or “Island of Life,” the site of an ancient Hawaiian temple dedicated to healing.

189 Lihiwai Street

7| Akiko’s Buddhist Bed & Breakfast

Thirty years ago, my friend the spunky Buddhist elder Akiko Masuda converted an old garage and house into her simple and quiet Akiko’s Buddhist Bed & Breakfast. “Very little has changed,” she says, “except for the plants, people, and houses getting older.” (She’s being modest—she has added several buildings since then!) Visiting here is a trip back into a simpler time of peace, practice, and service to others. Seven days is the minimum stay, but ideally you can stay for a month to refresh your outlook on life. Daily zazen is held from 5:20 a.m. to 6:20 a.m.

29-2091 Old Mamalahoa Hwy.