Buddhist Church of Oakland

A post on The Nenju pointed me to a wonderful article about the Buddhist Church of Oakland. Through interviews with members, Stinson shows how Japanese American history remains relevant to the congregation today—and also how they are moving forward to embrace a new generation in the twenty-first century.

BCO has existed throughout the last century as a spiritual place for worship, but also an important Japanese cultural and community center during a time when Japanese-Americans faced great discrimination. The Issei (first generation) intended for it to be a place to pass Japanese traditions down to new generations.

Matsui and her husband had two children and made sure they attended services and the Japanese language classes that were once offered at BCO on Saturdays. John Minamoto was from one of the few Japanese-American families that lived in Chinatown in the 1950s; he also attended Japanese language classes and watched samurai movies on a big screen in the church’s social hall. His two daughters, now in their twenties, spent weekends throughout their youth playing on the church’s thriving basketball team that competes in a Bay Area league. “There’s this element of community and an element of spiritual practice. The athletic practices, that’s all part of it. All part of the deal,” said Minamoto, adding that the church has acted as a safe haven for Japanese-Americans, a place to socialize, and a space for marriages and funeral services.

Check out the article when you get the chance—it comes with embedded sound and black-and-white photos!

Happy Rohatsu!

Today is Rohatsu (臘八), often referred to as Bodhi Day (佛成道節), the day Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment. As I’m grateful to have learned from the following blogs, today is also the culmination of sesshin for many Buddhists with a Zen meditation practice. I encourage you to check out these posts that I found about elsewhere in the Buddhist blogosphere.

Bodhi Day, as celebrated on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month, is typically an East Asian and Mahayanist Buddhist holiday. The celebration of Rohatsu is rooted in a Chinese pre-Buddhist festival, but has been since been firmly recontextualized in the Buddhist tradition. In contrast, Theravada Buddhist tradition customarily celebrates Lord Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and parinibbana on the same full-moon day of Vesak (roughly May). I’ve also got a hunch that Vesa日本藤素 k, in turn, is rooted in pre-Buddhist Indian tradition. Just something to think about for the folk who advocate stripping Buddhism of its “Asian cultural baggage.” Happy Rohatsu!

Ikuo Hirayama

Renowned artist and cultural conservationist Ikuo Hirayama (平山 郁夫) has died at age 79.

He is known for his efforts to preserve cultural treasures such as the Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia, China’s Mogao Caves and Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Buddhist monuments, which were dynamited in 2001 by the Taleban.

His goal was ‘to make people of all races and religions aware of the value of these human treasures, thus leading to mutual understanding and the promotion of world peace’, said the UN cultural organisation, which made him a goodwill ambassador in 1988.

You can see images of Hirayama’s own art here and here. To learn more about the Ikuo Hirayama Museum of Art, visit here or here.

Zen Buddhism in Brazil

Dangerous Harvests blogger Nathan shares an article about Zen Buddhism in Brazil.

The author, Cristina Moreira da Rocha, writes of the history and development of Buddhism (primarily Zen Buddhism) in Brazil, beginning with the arrival of Japanese immigrant laborers in 1908 up to the present day diversity of approaches Buddhism and Buddhist communities. What I have been struck with is how many parallels there are to the North American Buddhist story.

He expands on five themes that jumped out at him, namely, the initial arrival through Asian immigrant communities, oppression of citizens and immigrants of Japanese descent during World War II, the increase of Buddhist “missionaries” and teachers arriving during the 1950’s, the issue of whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy, and a certain level of Christian influence. Both pieces are well worth your time, but for those of you with very little time to spare, Nathan’s post is a good summary.

Buddhist Church of Florin

My apologies for broadcasting this announcement so late. The Buddhist Church of Florin celebrates!

The Buddhist Church of Florin celebrated its 90th anniversary on Oct. 25 with the theme “Remembering the Past and Embracing the Future.”

Over 200 people attended the event. Through old photographs, maps and newspaper clippings, attendees reflected on the people and efforts that made the temple what it is today.

You can check out the photos on the church website. (You can also check out Florin!)

Modern Art for An Ancient Tradition

Artist Emi Motokawa talks with LAist about the role Buddhism plays in her art.

Buddhism influences my work tremendously. My fascination is Buddhist concepts such as oneness, universality, compassion, and human nature. I try to take these old concepts and express through a pop, modern picture. By doing this, it helps me to deepen my own spirituality. It’s a very fun process for me and my drive is to become better at it. Right now, I am painting caricatures of different bodhisattvas that appear in Buddhist sutras.

You can buy some of her unique “Krokeshi” dolls from the Japanese American National Museum store.

Guadalupe Centennial

Guadalupe Buddhist Church celebrates its centennial, but not forgetting the trauma of the concentration camps.

“Today says a lot about what the Issei (first-generation Japanese-American) and Nisei (second-generation) went through before, during and after the war,” said Mike Furukawa, Buddhist temple president. “We, the Sansei (third generation) are trying to carry on for them.”


At the centennial celebration Saturday, members of the Buddhist church held a moment of silence for the Issei, for the parents and grandparents who gave birth to the church and quietly suffered so that their children might prosper.

As Shin Buddhism moves forward into its second century on American soil, we must neither forget nor ignore the scars inflicted by a government that treated its own citizens as enemies simply because they were Japanese.

Are Only Asians in the Pure Land?

Perusing a paragraph brimming with parochial perspectives on Buddhist Asian Americans, my attention was drawn to a single question pointed at those of Japanese heritage:

So would a Jodo Shinshu sangha in a Japanese neighborhood alter their appearance or layout easily because a few White folk (or any person of color) don’t feel comfortable?

A general problem with rhetorical questions, such as the title of this post, is that in practice they are often more fatuous than illuminating. This homespun musing suffers from several questionable premises. For example, there is the tacit lumping of Japanese American cultural groups, regardless of the stark cultural differences, say, from issei all the way down through yonsei. This point is pertinent as the mores of yonsei+ are often characterized as more in tune with the average non-Japanese American. And exactly which hypothetical Japanese neighborhood are we talking about? Keep in mind I live in one of the most Japanese neighborhoods in North America, and there really aren’t that many Japanese here. As for what the Shin temples here would do—they have done what just about every Shin temple in America has done. They have brought up the issue of accepting more non-Japanese into their congregations and wrestled with what that entails. In fact, I’d love to know if there’s any American Shin temple that’s managed through the past ten years without confronting the issue of expanding membership diversity. I won’t deny that there are individuals who have resisted Shin Buddhism becoming less “Japanese”—but they still have taken on the issue of diversity, albeit reluctantly. And there aren’t just “a few” white folk involved or interested in Shin Buddhism. That’s a whole ’nother post. Underneath all my nitpicking with the terminological inexactitude, my real gripe is with an even more troubling premise: that the comparison between Asian and white American sanghas is even a fair one. I’m talking about white privilege. When we start making the claim that white sanghas and white Buddhist publications are no more segregated than Asian temples and Asian-language Buddhist newsletters, we are jumping straight into the camp of separate-but-equal. You might as well have your white Buddhist country club while you’re at it.

Practice Past Authenticity

Karen Maezen Miller writes of her Japanese garden as an analogy to the discussion of authenticity and context of American Buddhism:

Shortly after my husband and I moved into our house with its old garden, we invited the experts and academics over tell us what to do. Some would say that our backyard is Southern California’s oldest private Japanese garden, dating from 1916. Some would say that it isn’t; that by virtue of geography, topography, plant selection, and cultural anthropology, it can’t ever be Japanese. We were twisted into a fit by these and other debates about the right way to care for the place. Heaven forbid we make a fraudulent move when we were already paralyzed by ignorance from the get go!

She makes a worthy point that we shouldn’t let ourselves be paralyzed into inaction while we fret over the authenticity of our practice. It’s worth noting that this very same discussion occurs frequently in the Buddhist Asian American community, as I was regretfully honored to be reminded of the other weekend. As Miller writes: Practice is practice. Debates, however, are debates.