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-01-0019

<Begin Segment 19>

SF: Speaking of the 442, and as you pointed out, most of them were Buddhists, right? So there were no Buddhist chaplains in the 442, right? At that time.

RI: Yeah.

SF: And so you see these pictures of the guys sitting around a, an obviously Christian minister with, you know, a cross. I understand that their graves were -- the 442 guys' graves were typically marked with crosses. So, what struck me is sort of, it must've been difficult for the guys, right? I mean here was this different religion and that the institution that they were willing to sacrifice their life for was not recognizing their beliefs.

RI: Well, I, I suppose that -- I guess you have to take it on an individual basis. One thing that Buddhism encourages is tolerance towards other beliefs and non, non-attachment to forms. For instance, when I was a hospital chaplain here in Oakland -- "here," I think I'm in California -- down in California in Oakland, I would have to make the rounds. This is an oncology ward where many people were dying. And maybe I'm the last person they talk to before they die, or, or the last person, they want -- last clergy to come by. And I would come by and I'd talk with them and they would say, "Oh" -- they didn't know I was Buddhist, 'cause I was just part of the chaplains of the hospital. They'd say, "Oh, pastor would you pray with me? I'm so alone -- I'm dying. Would you pray with me?" So I would say something with a kind of a Buddhist message. And then I could see they're sitting there like this, and they're gonna die. They'll just keel over if I said, "Namu-Amida-Butsu," right? So what I say is, I say, "Amen," for them, but meaning, "Namu-Amida-Butsu, the union of myself and the great universe in my own heart," you see. And then they would say, "Oh thank you, that's the most beautiful... now I could die in peace." And so this non-attachment -- I could say, "Amen." It's what I mean that's important, it's not the form. So I wonder if a lot of these GIs, they had no choice, and they could be bitter about it. I think there were some families who went back to the graveyards and did change some of the symbols there later on. But I think a lot of them have kind of the mind-set, "Well they mean well. This, this Christian chaplain's doing it for me." And so, "I'm not gonna reject that." So I don't think that'd be a very sincere Buddhist attitude, not to insist on having the Buddhist symbol there, right?

SF: Uh-huh.

RI: Yeah.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.