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Appreciation for our Nisei Generation

“I will gather the true words so they may help others to practice the way for Birth. My wish is that those who have attained Birth may lead those who come after them and those who aspire Birth may follow their predecessors, thus following one after another, endlessly and uninterruptedly, until this boundless sea of Birth-and-Death is exhausted.”  From Doshaku’s Anraku Shu quoted by Shinran Shonin toward the end of his Kyogyoshinsho)

I think of this quote from Shinran Shonin’s Kyogyoshinsho when I think about our Issei (1st generation Japanese immigrants) and our Nisei (2nd generation Japanese-Americans). The Issei knew the importance of religion and temples as they took up residence in America. They built our temples and invited Buddhist priests from Japan to lead their Sanghas.

Three rows of IOBT temple leaders in the temple

 Photo: 1965 cabinet photo: Rev. Takemura pictured with the 1965 leadership. Our Issei leaders are seated in the front row with Nisei leadership standing behind.

We have already mourned the loss of our Issei generation. They endured immigration to a strange country to build lives for themselves. They were barred by law from owning their own property yet they persevered and built farms and businesses despite the prejudice. They lived and worked in America even though most did not have any knowledge of the English language. They endured the incarceration camps of World War II. They taught their children, the Nisei, important Japanese traditions and values. Now we are mourning the loss of the Nisei. We have lost so many of our Nisei Sangha members in the last few years. I think about Isao and Mary Kameshige, June Morinaga, Tom Kamimae, Helen Okai, Yas and Midge Teramura, Jim Mizuta, Isoko Yoshihara. These individuals and many more are the backbone of this temple. The Issei and Nisei are the ones that we can thank for our Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple. We owe them a debt of gratitude for providing this foundation so that we are able to share the Teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and Shinran Shonin.


Photo: Rev. Tada and his wife enjoying lunch with members of the Buddhist Women’s Association.

There are two Japanese ideas that I think of when I think of the Issei and Nisei generations. The first idea is “enryo”, an attitude of deference and reserve valued in Japanese etiquette. Nisei were often reminded to “enryo” and not call attention to themselves. As a Sansei (3rd generation Japanese-American), I can remember being told to “enryo” in school—even though I knew the answer to a teacher’s question. I was reminded to not “show off”. Many of the Sansei will remember such reminders from our parents and grandparents. This attitude of enryo could be related to the Buddhist idea of letting go of our ego-self, and it may also trace back to World War II and not wanting to call attention to yourself as being Japanese and possibly the enemy.

The second Japanese idea is that of “gaman”—to endure, with fortitude and dignity. This idea of “gaman” was one that sustained the Issei and Nisei as they lived in the incarceration camps of World War II. They carried themselves honorably despite the harsh conditions of the “camps”. They endured, planting gardens, making furniture and butsudan (Buddhist home altars) from the available scrap wood and natural wood found around the camps. They built schools, held religious services, had dances and talent shows, and constructed baseball fields. They even volunteered for military service to show their loyalty to the government that rounded them up for these camps. Gaman is a Japanese value, and it is also a part of our Buddhist Teachings in the “Six Paramita”. One of the Paramita is “Kshanti” or patience. Here is a quote that helps to explain the idea of patience: “Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.” Kshanti paramita reminds us that we humans, with our egos, feel that we’re too important to be kept waiting.  However, we cannot allow our egos to put ourselves ahead of anyone else. We need to be able to wait patiently and find some way to use our time constructively, keeping a good attitude. Shinran Shonin taught that we are foolish beings full of blind passions.  These blind passions of greed, anger, and ignorance are feelings that are fueled by our impatience with ourselves and others. According to the dictionary, patience is the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, difficulty, or annoyance without getting angry or upset. (Sounds like gaman, doesn’t it?) We all experience delay, difficulty, and annoyance in our everyday lives.  How we deal with those three is our practice of patience. Our practice of patience is the practice of gaman.

Our Nisei generation has provided us and all succeeding generations with the opportunity to listen to the Dharma (Buddhist Teachings). Their lives should inspire us all to keep the temple moving forward through the 21st century.

I think of the following proverb when I think of the Issei and Nisei practicing “gaman”. Think of how you can rise up and move forward after being knocked down.

nanakorobi yaoki  sign



Rev. Kathy Chatterton

Assistant Minister, Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple 

Female Buddhist minister in front of altar