Saturday, July 31, 2010

An Anatomy of an Enigma

After a late start on Tuesday, I shuffled my way over to campus to check out the oral history that Jichan completed back in the late 90s. I have to say that despite the three minute panic in library when I thought that the copy was missing/stolen, the affair was successful. No parking ticket equals successful outing.

I checked out and rushed home to start reading. Even though I read the copy from cover to cover, I still feel like I don't know the whole story. This may come from my unrelenting methodological elitism as I thought that the interviewer was horrendous- my "interviews" (if you can call them such) for a project in undergrad were more detailed and nuanced than this woman but I will leave my methodological concerns for a different blog.

I was hooked on every word, as if it could single-handedly give me insight into the enigma that was my Jichan. Here is a list (I do believe I like lists) of some of his amazing achievements:

1) Born in Kauai, HI and spent the first decade and a half on the island but moved to our family's temple in Japan.

2) Although 15 generations had taken up the Buddhist ministry, Jichan was enchanted with Christianity and attended a Lutheran school during his youth in Japan.

3) After becoming frustrated with Christianity's view on salvation, he turned to Buddhism and later became ordained in the faith.

4) At the outbreak of WWII, was urged by friends in the US Embassy to leave Japan as the police were becoming suspicious of his anti-war and peace ideologies and were considering jailing him.

5) Left all family behind in Japan and sailed to SF. Later, he traveled to LA then Bakersfield, where he was given the position of minister for the small church.

6) Executive Order 9066 forced Jichan into the Santa Anita Racetrack Detainment Center. There he developed TB and was transferred to a hospital for internees.

7) Asked by the US Army to teach soldiers the Japanese language so he traveled to Yale University and used the drama department's props and stage to help young soldiers learn Japanese.

8) Married my Bachan, who graduated with a BA in Sociology (I guess it runs in the family).

9) Led Churches in Honolulu, Toronto, Berkeley, and Florin.

10) In Honolulu, he acted as the first Buddhist chaplain to the State Legislature.

11) Was "promoted" to the first Bishop of the Buddhist Churches of Canada.

12) Met with the Queen and Prince Phillip during Canada's bicentennial celebration.

13) Met Mother Teresa at a UN meeting and had a brief conversation with her.

14) Created the first Buddhist award for the Boys Scouts Organization.

15) Pushed to have the Dharma Wheel be installed as the signifier on Buddhist Soldiers' dog tags. Previously, soldiers who were Buddhist were labeled as belonging to no religion or were mis-identified as Christian.

16) Near the end of his life, he was asked to minister at a Buddhist Church in Kenya. He learned Swahili in preparation but was unable to ever make the journey due to his deteriorating health.

Nothing like reading the transcript to realize that I am doing nothing with my life. At my age, my Jichan was already managing his own Church in Bakersfield. Right now, my main responsibilities are to water and feed the cats and dog. And Chris.

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