By JUN STINSON
SAN FRANCISCO — Molly Miyako Kimura has without a doubt, worked tirelessly to build cross-cultural relations between Japan and the U.S. throughout her 87 years.
That is why she was honored with the Foreign Minister’s Commendation on Nov. 8 at Consul General Hiroshi Inomata’s home in San Francisco.
The commendation is given annually to individuals and groups who have made outstanding achievements in international fields, and promoted friendly relations between Japan and other countries.
Molly is an ordained Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist priest and a teacher of traditional Japanese art forms including the Chikuzen biwa, Ikenobo ikebana, and sunae (sand painting). She is a Japanese-English translator, and has hosted numerous exchange programs between East Asia and the U.S.
Molly’s independent spirit can be seen through her leadership. But she also loves to bring people together, and her contributions to the Japanese American community are countless. To name a few, she co-founded the Matsuyama-Sacramento Sister City Corporation, Jinan-Sacramento Sister City Corporation, and the Sacramento Chapter Ikebana International. She has also been involved in the Sacramento Senator Lions Club, Buddhist Church of Sacramento, and Buddhist Women’s Association, and was the first female president of the Sacramento Hiroshima Nikkeijin-kai.
“In our family, Molly stands out as the aunt who is both very eccentric and very talented,” said Molly’s niece Susanne Sharpneck, who spoke at the ceremony on behalf of their extended family. Molly is the mother of Sylvia and Clifford Kimura, and was married to the late Kazuo Kimura. “Aunty Molly has always been very special and amazing,” said Sharpneck.
Molly was born in Yuba City in 1924 to immigrants from Hiroshima. She spent her childhood taking Japanese language classes after her normal public school hours, and began learning the biwa when she was nine years old.
She graduated from Marysville High School in Marysville. During World War II, she and her family were sent to live at the Tule Lake internment camp in Northern California.
“Molly was my first Dharma school teacher back when it was called Buddhist Sunday school,” said Molly’s lifelong friend Hiroko Tsuda, who helped plan the celebratory afternoon at the consul general’s home. Tsuda and Molly first met while interned at Tule Lake, where they lived in neighboring barracks. “She taught me Buddhist history, the Dharma, etiquette, rules and rituals, and emphasized how Buddhism has influenced the development of various Japanese cultural arts.”
Molly was only 18 years old when she taught Sunday school at Tule Lake. But she ended up teaching for 30 years, eventually becoming the superintendent of the Sacramento Buddhist Church Sunday School and the Northern California Buddhist Sunday School Teachers League. In 1995 she became a priest.
Molly has also taught Japanese art and music out of her home, and in temples, community centers, schools, and colleges across Northern California.
She says that her Buddhist practice is deeply connected to her dedication to Japanese arts. “The Ikenobo school advocates for peace, tranquility and simplicity,” said Molly. In 1998, she received the highest certificate from Ikenobo ikebana’s headmaster.
During the ceremony, Molly was presented with flower bouquets from Koso Nodohara, the treasurer of the Sacramento Hiroshima Nikkeijin-kai; Virginia Uchida, a student of the Sacramento Ikenobo Tachibana Club; Mary Ann Miyao, president of the Sacramento Senator Lions Club; Lynn Kurahara, president of the Sacramento Buddhist Women’s Association; and Ralph Sugimoto, president of the Matsuyama-Sacramento Sister City Corporation.
She also received congratulatory messages from the governor of Hiroshima Prefecture, the headmaster of Ikenobo ikebana, the headmaster of Chikuzen biwa, and the creator of Yoshikawa sand painting, for her contributions to their art forms.
“Like the single rose, you have stood out as an example,” said Marielle Tsukamoto while handing Molly a red rose at the podium. Tsukamoto is the president of Florin JACL and the vice chairperson of the Japanese American Archival Collection Advisory Board at Cal State University Sacramento’s Library. She spoke about the oral history project that Molly participated in. The oral history that Tsuda conducted of Molly is now housed in the libraries of Sacramento State University and UC Davis as a document of what Japanese Americans experienced during the 20th century.
After the ceremony, guests reminisced Molly’s tireless contributions over sushi and sashimi in the consul general’s living room, which overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge.
“Molly hosted Japanese New Year open house every year,” said Professor Alice Tom, the dean of English as a second language at Sacramento State. “She and her husband Kaz would have 50, 60, sometimes 70 guests at their house.”
Molly has dedicated her life to being a teacher and attributes her accomplishments to those who taught her. “It’s hard to find good teachers,” she said in a phone conversation after the ceremony. “I have been very fortunate with all of my teachers — my Japanese language teacher, my biwa teacher, my ministers. They helped me so much.”
Her dream is that Japanese cultural traditions continue to be passed down. “I hope we can transmit the beautiful essence of Japanese culture. I hope they (young people) have the opportunities to appreciate their cultural heritages, to know that something is there that might be helpful in meeting their goals in life.”
At least for now, the many cross-cultural organizations that Molly has helped start and sustain will be the space for those traditions to flourish.
This article originally appeared in Nikkei West.