Military Intelligence Service
Life After the War
In 1956, Yoshiaki serves as an associate minister at Wailuku Hongwanji where he trains with his father, Rev. Kodo Fujitani.
Later, Yoshiaki becomes the first English-speaking resident minister at Wailuku.
In 1960, he heads the Hongwanji's English department in Honolulu. He and others attempt to fill demands for English-language religious materials and services.
Yoshiaki becomes interested in fostering cooperation between various faiths.
Wailuku Hongwanji, Maui (1956)
My first assignment was Wailuku Hongwanji and it was so because my dad was there. My dad had served one term as bishop from 1948 to 52 and then he was assigned to Wailuku. When I got through with my training in 56, as a kind of training, I was sent to Wailuku to learn the trade. And so I was there from 56 to 60.
Yeah [I was the first English-speaking resident minister at Wailuku]. Although, the other ministers have tried to speak English, too, but they're not niseis.
[I]t was easy to communicate with [the congregation], so I got to know the young people very well. We did a lot of things. I was interested in photography, so there were some young fellows who came around to fool around in the dark room and stuff like that. So it wasn't only religious education that I was able to impart but other things, too. Other interests, as well.
In Charge of the English Department, Honolulu (1960)
[W]e've had the English department for many years. You know, from the late 20s, on. There were people like Ernest Hunt, for instance. There were other Caucasian ministers. So there was that English group. And in fact, it was a very active group. Many British people living here were members of that group. But the name "Hunt," of course is kind of well known.
Then the niseis began to come back, and so we have, Rev. Warren Takeda and Rev. Miura - these were early niseis. And they were part of the English department.
I remember in 1960, when I first came back to Honolulu, the English service didn't have any sutra chanting, for instance. Sutra is supposed to be very important to Buddhism but that part of the ritual was just thrown out. There was no chanting. And so we decided, maybe we should bring that back. So we did that.
Of course, translations were important. Sermons in English was important. But my concern was to instill in our membership, a kind of confidence, a pride in their traditions, including their religious background. So I felt that it was necessary to get out there and let our members know that, yeah, we do have something to contribute as well. And so much effort was put into interfaith kind of activities. But interestingly, that kind of attitude I got when I left Maui.
When I was at Wailuku, there was a minister, a priest, in Kahului, with the Christ the King church there - a Catholic church - who came into the Hongwanji temple to participate in a funeral service. And that was unheard of up to 1958, 9, around there. That's when some kind of encyclical, the papal declaration, sort of changed the Catholic attitude. Up until that time, Catholic members were not supposed to enter other churches. But I think that was freed about that time. I thought this is something that we ought to sort of support, too. That we have to get to know other religions, just as we want others to get to know Buddhism.
So when I came out to Honolulu, one of the things I remember was the first Union Thanksgiving Service, which was on the eve of, night before Thanksgiving, 1960, that year. And the speaker was supposed to be Rev. Hunt. And this service was held at St. Clement's Episcopal Church on Wilder Avenue. And the minister there was Rev. Paul Wheeler. And so, about that time, there was this spirit of cooperation of doing things together.
That was the first Union Thanksgiving Service and Rev. Hunt was supposed to be the speaker. A few days before that event, he came down with a bad cold or something, he couldn't come. And so he sent his sermon and Paul Wheeler, an Episcopal minister, read a Buddhist minister's message. And that was a historic event, you might say.
Some of the people there were Rev. Harry Komuro, he was the Methodist minister there. Frank Ricker was there, Frank Ricker was a [First] Unitarian Church [of Honolulu] minister. Roy Rosenberg was the rabbi. And Rev. Hunt was supposed to be the speaker. It's sort of seared in my mind, that very important occasion. I had just come from Maui and I was younger but I was very impressed with that. And so we have continued this cooperative spirit.
[T]here was one minister who cautioned us about not even observing Thanksgiving service at the Hongwanji because this is a Christian observance. A Buddhist minister saying that. And maybe that was the feeling at that time. A lot of the stuff that we felt we ought to do, in spite of those things being of, say, Western or Christian origin.
I thought I brought with my kind of experiences and attitudes, a different kind of view of our purposes. And so we established also Memorial Day service at the temple and Thanksgiving service. These were declared, for our purposes, semi-religious services because we had our Hongwanji services.
There were other people, lay people, who shared this kind of attitude. One was Albert Miyasato's sister, Lily - at that time she wasn't married - but she's Lily Horio now, very active at Jikoen. Anyway, she shared this kind of openness. She had been as a teacher, after the war, many teachers went to Europe and places. I think she was at Frankfurt as a teacher. And so she experienced there in Germany, the attempt to create a Buddhist community there. There was a man named Harry Pieper there who tried to establish a Buddhist community there and I think she was helping him. So anyway, there were others, younger people with some energy, bringing in new ideas.
I was thinking, there could have been a little bit more [returning veterans] at the main temple but although there were a few, people like Bert Nishimura, they were around but they weren't that active. I know he still attends services today. Whereas in the Christian churches, especially the Manoa Valley Church, that was founded by Rev. Hiro Higuchi. Yeah, he was able to get a lot of veterans to be very active there. I was thinking maybe we could have had a little bit more.
We had the YBA, the Young Buddhist Association. We used to call them OBA, they're not young Buddhists. (Laughter)
And then they had certain ideas, too. But through people like Ralph Honda, they did a lot to sort of bring a little bit more stature to Buddhism as well. You go to Punchbowl, I think the dhammacakka, the wheel on the gravestones, was something that the YBA brought. At Punchbowl, the eight Bodhi trees, are you familiar with that? Yeah, there're eight Bodhi trees growing on the makai slope over there. They're big trees now but they were planted in the early 50s. So among the YBA fellows, I think there were some veterans.
Yoshiaki Fujitani's interview reprinted courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Yoshiaki Fujitani.