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Celebrating the Amazing Mrs. Joyce Terao

“Come for coffee,” was a lifelong invitation that was extended to me by Mrs. Joyce Terao, the wife of the late Rev. Eiyu Terao of the Alameda Buddhist Temple.

Over the years, whenever we met, she would remind me of the invitation, but I would always respond, “I’m too busy.”

After I retired last year, I decided to pay her a visit. When I went through the door, I saw the welcoming smile that has never changed, and she said, “Thank you for coming. I’m sorry I can’t get up because my legs are not what they used to be.”

She is 102 years old, but once we started talking, it was hard to stop. I planned to stay for just a short time, but once our conversation started, the visit lasted 2½ hours. I learned so much from her about her dedication as a minister’s wife, mother, and friend.

She was born on Dec. 9, 1919, the second eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Kinzo and Misue Tateyama of Stockton, California. Her parents might have been thinking about going back to Japan because they sent Joyce at age 13 to attend the Oe Girls High School in Kumamoto, Japan. After completing high school, she stayed an additional two years to study flower arrangement, tea ceremony, and other cultural studies. After six years in Japan, she finally returned to Stockton.

About that time, a young minister from Japan was initially assigned to the Buddhist Church of San Francisco. He caught the interest of Mrs. Kikue Yamate, an active member of the San Francisco Fujinkai. She took it upon herself to find a wife for him.

Mrs. Yamate contacted her school classmate, Rev. Toshinao Ouchi of the Stockton Buddhist Church, and asked if there was a suitable future bride for her minister. Rev. Ouchi said there was a girl who had just returned from Japan. So, the two friends began to arrange a meeting of the two young people.

When Joyce met Eiyu, her first impression was that he was good looking. She learned that his parents had worked at farming on Union Island together with Mr. and Mrs. Sadaichi Neishi. He had been born on Union Island in California’s San Joaquin Delta, so he was Nisei, or second-generation Japanese American.

Joyce and Eiyu began seeing each other, but, in the meantime, Eiyu was assigned in 1939 to the Buddhist Church of Oakland. They were married in 1940 at the Buddhist Church of Oakland and followed the old traditional ways.

His parents could not attend the wedding, so Mr. and Mrs. Sadaichi Neishi, who were close friends of his parents, were stand-in parents (oya gawari) and Mr. Kikutaro Nakashima, President of BCO, and Mrs. Nakashima were the official go-betweens (Baishakunin). After the wedding, Rev. Terao was assigned to the Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple. While there, their first daughter, Reiko, was born.

With the start of World War II, they were evacuated in 1942 to Minidoka, the internment camp in Idaho.

Rev. Terao, being an American citizen, was able to do Buddhist services for the internees. Most of the people in the camp were from western Washington and Oregon and had lost everything.

In Minidoka, Karen, their second daughter was born. In 1945, the family was released from the camp, but Rev. Terao wanted to be assigned to Spokane. The Seattle Betsuin had founded a group in 1910 there that was serviced by Seattle ministers.

Rev. Terao requested the assignment because he wanted to serve the needs of the Japanese community, who lived near and far from Spokane.

But another major reason was that he wanted to create a church in memory of his parents and relatives, who had died in the atomic bomb blast in Hiroshima in 1945.

Rev. Terao was officially assigned as the minister of the Spokane Buddhist Temple in 1945, but there was no church building. So they rented an upstairs flat, which served as the family home and as the church.

Rev. Terao began services at the home, but the family felt sorry for the owner because she was not Buddhist, so they felt they had to find a home to purchase.

The Terao family found a home nearby and purchased it for $3,000 and used the home as the church. It was a difficult time for the family because their son, Dennis, was born, followed by another daughter, Lenni. The family home became a gathering place for the membership of the small, struggling church.

Rev. Terao did not receive a salary. But the Spokane Sangha was kind enough to provide the family with fresh vegetables and rice, according to Mrs. Terao.

Rev. Terao worked part-time as a handyman at the printing shop, where his younger brother William, who was discharged from the Army, had a full-time job, and helped as a minister’s aide.

Since Rev. Terao was busy visiting Buddhist families at their farms and homes in eastern Washington, Mrs. Terao handled many of the church activities while raising her growing family. She was instrumental in starting the Sunday School, Fujinkai, YBA, and a Friendship Group.

In 1961, after 16 years, Rev. Terao was assigned to the Alameda Buddhist Temple and his brother, Rev. William Terao, took over the Spokane Buddhist Church.

Mrs. Terao assumed the responsibilities of Okusan at Alameda but took a job at the local U.S. Postal Service branch and worked for 20 years to help provide for the family.

Rev. Terao retired in 1978 and passed away in 1994. Mrs. Terao still maintains communication with the Spokane temple and the Spokane Sangha members honor the Terao family even to this day. She currently lives with her son, Dennis, in Alameda.

In the beginning, I did not understand why Mrs. Terao kept inviting me over for coffee all those years. I finally realized the reason for her persistent invitations. It was based on a feeling of obligation and the sincere appreciation she felt for Mr. and Mrs. Kikutaro and Kane Nakashima, who were the go-betweens at her wedding. That couple became my grandparents when I married my wife, Shigeko, granddaughter of the couple. Mrs. Terao wanted to check in on my progress as a minister.

It should be noted that thanks to the Teraos, using their own resources, they were able to establish one of the most diverse Sanghas in the BCA.

I learned so much from Mrs. Terao and realized that she had my back all these years. The coffee tasted so good because I felt the special warmth of being embraced by such a beautiful, caring person. Thank you. Namo Amida Butsu.

Mrs. Terao’s daughter, Lenni Terao-Doerr, contributed to this article.


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1 Comment

Jun 01, 2022

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