SAN FRANCISCO — Continuing a tradition starting at the turn of the 19th century, Rev. Kodo Umezu was appointed as the 14th bishop of the Buddhist Churches of America by Gomonshu Koshin Ohtani in a formal shinju-shiki ceremony conducted on March 22 within the historic Shoin chambers of the Nishi Hongwanji mother temple in Kyoto.
Back in the U.S., the formal accession ceremony and transfer of authority was held on June 2 in the BCA Hondo at the Buddhist Church of San Francisco. BCA Executive Assistant to the Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada was chairman of the service, assisted by Rev. Ron Kobata of BCSF. Misaye Abiko was the organist and the Northern California gagaku group provided the musical accompaniment throughout the service.
After the procession of BCA ministers into the Onaijin, Socho Koshin Ogui entered and before the Amida Buddha announced the conclusion of his term as BCA socho/bishop. Umezu entered the Onaijin and Ogui passed the egoro (long-handled incense burner) to him as a symbol of the transfer of authority.
Umezu ascended onto the officiant’s seat (toraiban) and announced before the Amida Buddha that he was accepting the appointment as the 14th bishop of the BCA. This was followed by the sangha’s chanting of “San Butsu Ge” led by Umezu.
Each BCA District Council, the national affiliated organizations, as well as a representative of the BCA National Board and the BCA Ministers’ Association, offered incense.
After being introduced by Ogui as the next bishop, Umezu gave his accession address. The sangha joined together and sang “Ondokusan.” Words of appreciation were extended by BCA President Ron Murakami, and the ceremony was concluded.
An appreciation and celebratory banquet for the two bishops was held at the Hotel Kabuki in San Francisco Japantown, attended by 300 members and friends. The master of ceremonies for the banquet was BCA Vice President Ken Tanimoto.
Guests included Consul General of Japan Hiroshi Inomata and his wife, Midori; Bishop Noriaki Ito of the Higashi Honganji North American District and his wife, Janet; Hideki Oshima, regional manager of Japan Airlines; Jerry Ono of Union Bank; Mieko Ogata of Japan Travel Bureau USA; Yoshimi Haruyama of Tokyo TV; Koji Hamada and Stephen Katayama of Kintetsu International Travel; Bhante Madawala Seelawimala of the American Buddhist Seminary; Tomoko Haneda of the Maida Center for Buddhism; and the evening’s guest speaker, the Rev. Sonam Wangdi Bhutia, resident minister of Kathmandu Hongwanji Temple in Nepal.
Shokuzen no gassho was led by Rev. Harry Bridge, kyokucho/chairman of the Bay District Ministers Association, and shokugo no gassho was offered by Rev. Bob Oshita, rinban of the Sacramento Betsuin. Following the meal, Madame Michiya Hanayagi, one of America’s premier classical Japanese dance teachers, performed a congratulatory dance in honor of the occasion.
Murakami recognized Ogui and his wife, Mayumi, for their eight years of dedicated leadership and service to the BCA sangha and presented him with a gift from the BCA.
After grateful words of acknowledgement by Ogui, Murakami called Umezu and his wife, Janet, to the podium to be recognized. After he gave words of appreciation, a bouquet of flowers was presented to Umezu from his family home temple of Saikoji in Fukuoka. In his remarks, he asked everyone to reaffirm their faith in the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha and their support for the local temples and the BCA.
Rev. Bhutia offered the evening’s remarks. Prior to becoming a Hongwanji minister, he was a Tibetan Buddhist priest. He started his training at the age of 3 and eventually rose to a high-ranking position in his Buddhist sect. However, he always felt something was missing in his spiritual quest.
While visiting one of the Shakyamuni Buddha’s sacred sites in India, he came to meet a Shin Buddhist follower, Hiromichi Mukaibo from Kitakyushu, who at the age of 21 was in a car accident and became totally quadriplegic, unable to move any part of his body. Mukaibo, despite all of his physical limitations and suffering, expressed total happiness and joy in his life.
Bhutia wondered how Mukaibo could enjoy and feel such contentment in his life despite his physical condition. Mukaibo explained that his joy arose from his faith in the promise of Amida Buddha. Upon hearing of Shinran Shonin’s teaching, Bhutia immediately began his own personal search for the Nembutsu teaching and went to Kyoto to study.
Upon completion of his studies and ordination as a Hongwanji priest, he established the Kathmandu Hongwanji temple in Nepal, which today has over 700 members, including young celebrities and well-known Nepalese personalities.
Upon conclusion of the accession ceremony events, Bhutia embarked on a whirlwind BCA speaking tour, visiting San Jose Betsuin, Tri-State/Denver, Orange County, the Southern District Conference held at Gardena, and the Los Angeles Betsuin temples before returning to Nepal.
Banquet attendees were presented with special memento gifts of lacquered chopsticks and wrist nenju by Umezu’s family from Fukuoka as well as raisins from the Fowler sangha, courtesy of the National Raisin Corporation, given in honor of Janet Umezu, one of Fowler’s own members.
Words of appreciation were offered by Rev. Jerry Hirano on behalf of the BCA Ministers’ Association and Murakami on behalf of the BCA National Board. The evening concluded with closing remarks by Tanimoto and a rousing cheer of “Ko-do, Ko-do, Ko-do” in honor of Umezu’s accesssion.
The BCA would like to thank general chairpersons Judy Kono and Michael Endo and the committee members from the Bay District temples for their behind-the-scenes support and coordination efforts for the ceremony and banquet.
A Brief Biography
Born in Fukuoka, Umezu graduated from Ryukoku University in 1973 and immediately made his voyage to the U.S. to become a BCA minister. He was first assigned to the Fresno Betsuin and continued his studies at the Institute of Buddhist Studies, where he received his master’s degree in 1976.
Later that year, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. After serving for four years, he returned to the BCA ministry and was assigned to Los Angeles Betsuin in 1980. In 1987, he was assigned to Buddhist Church of Oakland, and in 1996, he was appointed as executive assistant to Bishop Hakubun Watanabe. He was appointed director of the Center for Buddhist Education in Berkeley by Ogui in 2006, and served in that position until becoming bishop on April 1.
Umezu and the former Janet Teraoka have three daughters, Amy, Stacy and Michelle.
From a report by Wheel of Dharma, the official publication of the Buddhist Churches of America.