Jane Imamura Remembered for Her Contributions to Buddhism

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Jane Imamura

BERKELEY — Jane Michiko Imamura is remembered for her warm and compassionate spirit as well as for her numerous contributions to the Berkeley Buddhist Temple, the Buddhist Churches of America, the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii and the Hawaii Kyodan.

In addition, she was recognized for her active role in advancing and promoting the study of Shin Buddhism to Westerners.

Imamura, 91, died Dec. 26 at her Berkeley home of complications stemming from Alzheimer’s disease. A memorial service was held Jan. 7 at the Berkeley Buddhist Temple.

“Jane Imamura made everyone, regardless of background or age, feel welcome and wanted,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, who along with other Beat Generation iconic figures such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, studied Buddhism at the temple during the 1950s. “She was also a wonderful, personal friend and advisor, with a deep knowledge of Buddhist thought and values, and a great spirit of compassion and service…. Jane Imamura was kind of a beacon in my mind, a light to steer by all those years, and I know this was true for many others — not just me. My great thanks to her big spirit and extraordinary life.”

Imamura was born on Aug. 9, 1920, the daughter of Rev. Issei Matsuura and Mrs. Shinobu Matsuura, and grew up in the Central Coast town of Guadalupe. Her father was the minister of the Guadalupe Buddhist Church.

In 1940, she attended UC Berkeley, where she majored in music. In the fall of 1941, she transferred to the Chicago Musical College. But after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, she returned to Guadalupe, where she witnessed FBI agents taking her father away at the church.

She married Rev. Kanmo Imamura on Feb. 22, 1942, and the Imamuras were relocated to the temporary Tulare Assembly Center before being sent to the Gila River internment camp. They were released in March 1945 and made their way to the Senshin Gakuin — later the Senshin Buddhist Temple — in Los Angeles, where they stayed at the hostel. They returned to Berkeley in March 1946.

Jane Imamura created the Berkeley temple choir in 1947 and began composing music for Sunday School services.

The Imamuras were involved with the Berkeley study class on Buddhism, which began in October 1949. The first BCA Seminar was held in 1952, and eventually moved to the Asilomar retreat center in Pacific Grove and was renamed the Pacific Seminar. In recent years, it has been held at the Jodo Shinshu Center in Berkeley. The Berkeley study class turned into the establishment of a BCA Buddhist Study Center at the Berkeley temple, and the center evolved into the Institute for Buddhist Studies (IBS) in the mid-1960s on Haste Street in Berkeley.

Jane Imamura also helped to establish the temple’s Satsuki Bazaar in 1949 to encourage greater participation by the young temple members and to put the temple on more stable financial footing. The bazaar, now a two-day event held each May, attracts such internationally known artists as taiko master Kenny Endo and Hiroshima kotoist June Kuramoto.

Rev. Imamura resigned as Berkeley minister in August 1958 after serving 17 years. But he continued to steer the transformation of the Buddhist Study Center in Berkeley into the IBS and served as the first director of the IBS from the mid-1960s until 1967. And from 1947 to 1967, he worked at UC Berkeley’s Lowie Museum of Anthropology (now known as the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology). He became the museum’s head curator and was appointed to the position because of his expertise in Asian history and culture, according to his son, Rev. Ryo Imamura.

After Rev. Imamura’s resignation from the temple, Jane Imamura joined the staff of the UC Berkeley Music Department and was in charge of the music practice studios. She was also in charge of publicity for concerts, supervising student staff, making posters and flyers for events.

“The music faculty and students came to rely on her for the smooth and cooperative functioning of the department,” said Ryo Imamura. “She was loved by everyone.”

The Imamuras left Berkeley in 1967, when Rev. Kanmo Imamura was selected as the first Hawaii-born Bishop of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii in Honolulu. He served until 1974. During their tenure, a movement to educate Westerners to become Buddhist ministers was established and the Buddhist Study Center was created there to advance the study of Buddhism in Hawaii.

The Imamuras returned to Berkeley in the mid-1970s. Rev. Imamura died Aug. 10, 1986, at the age of 82 from complications of Parkinson’s disease.

Jane Imamura is survived by a sister, Kiyo Eshima of Berkeley; children, Hiro David of Seattle, Rev. Ryo Imamura and his wife, Teresa, of Olympia, Wash., and Mari Matsuoka of Los Angeles; four grandchildren, Michi Imamura and Kaya Imamura, both of Olympia, Wash., Alma David of Seattle and Natasha David of New York City; one great-grandchild, Zegyai Kanmo Lama of Seattle; and six nephews and six nieces.

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