Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Ryo Imamura Interview
Narrator: Ryo Imamura
Interviewers: Stephen Fugita (primary), Erin Kimura (secondary)
Location: Olympia, Washington
Date: August 3, 1999
Densho ID: denshovh-iryo-01-0011

<Begin Segment 11>

SF: You mentioned that the sort of cultural orientation of the Japanese Buddhist priests is different obviously because of where they come from and so forth. Do you think that the new Buddhist priests who go to, what, the Institute of Buddhist Studies -- is that right, in Berkeley -- ? rather than going back to Kyoto and, that that influences that process much, or a little bit?

RI: Oh, I guess it could. There's very few actually American born men and women who want to be Joudo Shin ministers at this point. Mainly because they have so many options if they're educated and bright and they come from lay families where their parents are saying, "No, no, be a doctor or a lawyer instead." For them to say, "No, no I'm gonna be a Honganji minister is quite difficult, not only to make up that decision for yourself, but to get family support and agreement. And I think, just looking at our -- if we're just talking 'bout Nikkei, we have many, many brilliant, talented Sansei, Yonsei who are making their names in many different fields. Within the tradition and confines of say an individual Joud Shin temple it's very hard to express themselves. We have our, the old forms of music that are, have been sung for the last seventy years. And they're terrible in a lot of ways. They were suppose to be temporary only until our own musicians created contemporary music. But people got used to them. So when you have a brilliant, say a eighteen year old who's gaining accolades in composing and musicianship and he's not invited to do that for the temple, you see. He says, "Well, why don't we try this type of music? Let's use a synthesizer," you know. "And we could mix taiko in there," and all this. And people say, "Well that sounds interesting, but I think you're twenty years ahead of your time," this kind of thing. And of course they drift away and go somewhere else where they're not appreciated, where they're more appreciated. This happens with a lot of where, churches are -- no matter what religion -- house conservatism. The people are most comfortable in institutions don't want drastic change. They want to feel at home. They want it to be a home away from home. These are usually the parents of these young, creative, rebellious youth. So they're seen as dangerous of threatening the status quo. And they pick that up. And they certainly don't want to be composing music under the eyes of their parents and uncles and aunts. So they leave. And this is in every field. And so this creates a certain poverty inside the temples. And so if you were a young man thinking about becoming a minister, and you wanted to build a very vibrant expression of Buddhism, and you look at your local temple and you see the same old board there, and all the young people leaving. What type of person would still want to be a minister, you see, and accept the limitations to your own life? Knowing that if you were very moved to say teach classes on Buddhism, you might get three Fujinkai ladies showing up just to be kind to you. And so, so if you're attracting people who accept that status quo into the ministry, then you can't expect even a few ministers to have a real fire in them. Someone who says, "I'm gonna go in and change things." 'Cause if they know anything about it, it's almost impossible to change in that way. This is why, for me I had to leave too to find my own... to develop myself. I felt that I could function very well within the BCA inside the temples, but there's unlived life to discover. So I had to leave and I'm very happy doing what I'm doing now, teaching Buddhism and psychology. But at some point I'd like to go back I think, and bring what I was able to develop, and hope that they will appreciate that. I think they do appreciate outside influences coming in, but not the process of it happening -- all the trials and errors, and the battles over funding and all that that goes on to get there. So, I did a study for my doctoral degree on Buddhist priests within our sect. Studied them from many angles. Which ones stay as priests, which ones leave and become academics in terms of what I call Jungian psychological type and I compared the same, similar populations in Protestant ministers and Rabbis and so on. And the same picture always comes up. Those who are what we call intuitive, really generating a lot of ideas, they all leave. Or most of them leave to generate them elsewhere. And the ones who are more comfortable with attending meetings, looking at previous years' programs to see how we should do this year's program, who honor history and tradition rather than wanting to discover new things, that's the type that tends to stay. And the lay people who stay are very much the same. I did a study of lay people too. The same type stay, keeping things the same. And so while your question was about the ministers too... so if they're going be comfortable together, they'll reflect that same conservatism, right? So even, you mentioned Senshin and their very -- what are seen as progressive programs. Lot of it was around bringing back old traditional instruments that aren't played any more except like gagaku instruments. Even the taiko is very old, right? It's not new. It's going back to our Japanese roots. So everything was going back to Japanese roots and doing things the old authentic ways, we, they call it. Rather than creating a new music, let's say that includes Western influences, and new ways of showing -- of having services without going back to the old chants in perfect form. Well let's chant in new ways, you know, that are maybe more conducive to this new land. And so certain people have pushed in that way, which I call more progressive. And I think the other way, which is very exciting to go back and rediscover your roots, I think many Sansei and Yonsei are into that, is progressive in a very conservative way. Right? And I appreciate both of them. But that has been a significant movement. Maybe one of the most within BCA, is this going back to the roots. And so you find a lot of the American born Sansei ministers writing books now on what is the proper way to do service in the traditional way. How do you put the flowers in? What do all the symbolisms mean, right? Rather than what can they mean, or what can we change?

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.