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IMOP Resumes After Three-Year Hiatus; Two Ministers Arrive

A program that brings Japanese ministers to BCA temples has resumed for the first time in three years.


Revs. Hiroya Sato and Yukari Torii arrived in the Bay Area on Sept. 9 to spend about three months in the International Ministers Orientation Program (IMOP).


During their stay, they have been taking daily English conversation classes; attending lectures about other religions, social and LGBTQ+ issues, and from other ministers about the life of a Kaikyoshi (overseas minister); visiting BCA temples; participating in an internship at a temple; and doing volunteer activities.


“All the Buddhist churches I visited looked very cool,” said Rev. Sato midway through the program. “I was especially surprised to see temples and gymnasiums where you do not have to take off your shoes to enter the building, whereas in Japan you have to take off your shoes before entering the building.”


Rev. Torii said: “I’ve seen liveliness of members and their temple activities in the BCA. It seems to me that temple activities are part of their daily life. I’m so glad to know that.”


IMOP occurs annually, but there has been a three-year gap due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A number of ministers who have participated in the program are currently resident ministers at BCA temples, including three who were assigned in 2019: Rev. Etsuko Mikame (San Jose Betsuin); Rev. Noritaka Imada (Lodi); and Rev. Hibiki Murakami (Los Angeles Betsuin).


Rev. Sato is a graduate of Ryukoku University, where his graduation paper was on the “Study of Time Theory in Buddhism” as expressed by Nagarjuna, the Indian Buddhist scholar who lived about 1,800 years ago. The Kagoshima native has been a minister for 16 years.


His home temple in Kagoshima was founded 60 years ago, newer than most other temples. It has a nursery school. He spent 11 years in various temples in Osaka, Miyazaki, Fukuoka and Kagoshima and is now interested in sharing the Jodo Shinshu teachings with people outside of Japan.


Rev. Torii, who is from Gunma Prefecture north of Tokyo, studied film history and theory at Waseda University in Tokyo. She spent a year as an exchange student in Florida during high school and a year in the Czech Republic during college, studying the film history of that country.


“A few years after I started working, my mother suddenly passed away,” Rev. Torii wrote in a bio shared with IMOP. “I came to know the teaching of the Nembutsu, Namuamidabutsu at that time and felt a deep connection to it.”


After the devastating 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, she organized monthly meetings with young Jodo Shinshu ministers to help people deal with their fears and anxieties. Those experiences inspired her to study at the Chuo Bukkyo Gakuin Buddhist Seminary, which she said helped ease the pain of her mother’s death. She has started an M.A. program in Buddhist Studies at Musashino University, where she plans to study the influence of Mahayana Buddhism on contemporary culture and art.


Rev. Torii enjoys watching performing arts, films and overseas TV series (science fiction, mystery, suspense), and also doing pilates, playing with cats, and is interested in philosophy, anthropology, folklore studies, mythology and spiritual care.


Revs. Sato and Torii will be in the Bay Area until shortly after Thanksgiving, and may be back to serve as Kaikyoshi ministers.


“When I return to Japan, I am going to decide my future,” Rev. Sato said. “If I were to become a minister overseas, I hope to be assigned to BCA. I would like to work on including more music into our services.”


Rev. Torii said: “I sincerely hope to become a Kaikyoshi and share the teaching of Jodo Shinshu with people in the United States.”


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