Yoshiaki Fujitani
Military Intelligence Service

Kyoto University and the Ministry

In 1953, Yoshiaki and his young family move to Japan. Under the guidance of Dr. Gadjin Nagao he studies Buddhism at Kyoto University.

While still a student, he teaches English at Kyoto Women's University.

Yoshiaki also begins ministerial training. He receives his minor ordination in 1955 and his full ordination a year later.

Kyoto University: 1953

I majored in history of religions at the university with Dr. Joachim Wach as my professor / advisor. I decided then that's not going to get me anywhere unless I become a professor or something like that, so I decided, maybe I should go into the Buddhist ministry.

In that case, I have to study Buddhism a little bit more and so I decided to go to Kyoto. And I consulted with Dr. Wach, and he said, oh yeah, he'll write a letter of recommendation. And he was kind of well known to the academia. And so he wrote a letter to the Kyoto University. Dr. Gadjin Nagao, who was a professor of Buddhism there. And I got a response from Dr. Nagao saying, "Oh yeah, if Professor Wach recommends you, we'll accept you without any exam" (chuckles). In other words, I had a free ride. And so, I went to Kyoto.

Fujitani family en route to Japan

That was my main school but that wasn't going to get me into ministerial training, so I also signed up for other schools. And I took courses at both Otani University, which is Higashi Hongwanji, and Ryukoku University, which is the Honpa Hongwanji schools, and took courses there. And meanwhile, the Hongwanji people got me a teaching position at the Kyoto Women's University, teaching English, of all things. And that sort of helped our finances.

[W]ithout Professor Gadjin Nagao, I would probably not have been able to survive there because he was a linguist, also. Actually he was a Hongwanji minister, I mean, clergyman from Hiroshima but he became a very famous Tibetan scholar. I guess in his studies, he had to learn languages, so he knew not only Tibetan language but Chinese, classical Chinese, and Sanskrit, and other modern languages, including German, and English, and so on.

When I went, he used me as a kind of sounding board for his English studies. And whenever I visited his office, he'd speak to me in English. And, of course, I speak in English and that prevented me from learning Japanese. But he had other students studying with him and so I got to meet them, too. It was very interesting. And many of them became very important scholars.

I guess that was the Japanese style, the student attaches himself to the teacher and he is nourished in different ways.

[University of Chicago and Kyoto University were] similar in some sense. I worked with the professor and so it was not very difficult. It was easy to ask questions and gain some kind of perspective.

Kyoto University

In Japan, the language was the difficulty. I remember, the first year, sitting through many of these courses. The lecturer is speaking in Japanese and so I couldn't grasp too much. But I began to pick up certain words that they kept on using.

I still remember that the first that I remember is haaku, which means to grasp. Haaku. Anyway, this professor kept on using that word, haaku, "to grasp" this idea, and so on. And so I guess I must have written it down and looked it up, and said, "Oh yeah, that's what it means."

So it was that kind of process of learning words, little by little. From the second year, it was easier to understand what they were talking about. And I took my notes all in English, as I hear it, I would translate. And I found out that the syntax is different, isn't it? Watakushi wa nani nani o shimasu. I, this thing, will do. And so, in translation, I would have to say, "I do this." So I have to leave that space open. I, this thing, will do.

And so my translation began to become easier and easier as I went along because I could catch the difference in syntax. But I look at my notes now and find that there's a lot of blank spaces. I don't know what was being said and all that. So anyway, in Japan, it was the language, yeah.

In Chicago, there was a professor named Wilhelm Pauck, who taught Christian theology. And I thought I wrote a pretty good term paper and the paper came back. And I think he gave me a pretty good, decent grade but on the bottom he said, "Your English is excellent for a foreigner." He knew I was from Hawaii. To him, I was a foreigner.

I think I'm really fortunate that I've had these many different kinds of teachers along the way. And at my age now, I appreciate that.

Asahi Beer Company

Dr. Nagao was also a sort of an important person in the community. The Rotary Club would have meetings every week and they'd have a speaker come and share all kinds of information. In Kyoto, there was a club like that, too. It wasn't Rotary, though. It was sponsored by the Asahi Beer Company. And every month, there would be a gathering at this beer parlor and Asahi Beer Company would donate all the beer. And we had to pay about four hundred yen for our meals. Then we would have speakers come and talk about different things.

Asahi Breweries, Asakusa

Dr. Nagao was a member of that club and so he would drag me along. And so once a month, we would have a beer bust. We were smart enough not to lose to the liquor, you might say. But some guys would come to that gathering just to get drunk. So you pay for your food and all the beer you want to drink. And so we had all kinds of interesting people.

But I got to meet some very famous people, like Kawai Kanjiro. Kawai Kanjiro is a rather famous ceramic artist. And he was the one who sort of led the Japanese mingei [folkcraft] art group after the war, to encourage the artisans to produce unique ceramic art. And he was located in Kyoto. But there were others, Mashiko, and others. Those artists were encouraged but Kawai Kanjiro was one of the leaders of that group. And I visited him - we visited his kiln and he gave me a bowl, a large bowl. And I asked him, "What do you use this for?"

And he said, "You use it for anything you want." And then he gave me an idea of what he meant by that. In other words, we look at something and we think we are supposed to use it for something, when actually, it's all up to us what we want to use it for. In other words, we shouldn't let the object tell us what to do but we tell the object to do what we want it to do. And I thought that was an interesting thing. So his bowl is very big and it doesn't look like a rice bowl, it doesn't look like a soup bowl. When we brought it back - what it became for us, was a planter. I thought, well, that's okay. If Kawai Kanjiro says use it for anything you want, yeah, it could be.

People like that came to this club and they shared their thing. So, as speakers, we had a scenario writer for one of the movie companies. He must have been a well-known person. In that way, Dr. Nagao introduced me to his world. It wasn't only the academia but also his social world. Chee, a lot of names sort of escape me. So I might not have learned Japanese from him but he taught me many things.

Ministerial Studies

I was taking courses that would prepare me, eventually. And not only that, I had to spend some time teaching language at Kyoto Women's University, just for my livelihood, too. But that was kind of interesting, I thought.

Yoshiaki Fujitani, Kyoto, Japan

[O]nce I was in Japan, it was for that purpose. So I took courses that would help in that area. And I was there for three years, from [19]53 to [19]56. And in [19]55, I had my minor ordination. In [19]56, I received my full ordination.

Now, if a person were a very devout, basically spiritual person and all that, perhaps studying of religion would be a natural and there's no problem. But I think I'm basically a skeptic. I question and I don't like magic and stuff like that. So I remember in lectures, I'd be questioning all the time, things that I don't understand.

I think I went into religion from a very logical kind of direction, rather than a spiritual kind. So I see that even in the kind of sermons that I prepare, it has to be something I understand. And maybe that's a kind of valuable tool, for me, anyway. Because people are prone to understand logical things, rather than just something based on faith alone.

It might be more what I perceived in my dad or Mother, also. You know, what was around me. I didn't think that Dad was that kind of a devout person, either. Maybe I learned from that. And Mother, also, she went through Normal School here and so it wasn't just a religious kind of atmosphere but a very academic, scholarly kind of life that she had that made her what she was. And so education was important, rather than, say, religion. Yeah. I think I would tend to be that sort of person, rather than a devout, kind of holy type of person.

Yoshiaki Fujitani's interview reprinted courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Yoshiaki Fujitani.

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