For the first time, the Kyoshi Kyoshu certification — the step needed to become a full-fledged Shin Buddhist minister — will be held outside Japan and at the BCA’s Jodo Shinshu Center in August to help address the chronic shortage of ministers.
The Hongwanji-ha’s decision reflects the urgency to respond to the current worldwide shortage of Pure Land Ministers — not only in the BCA, but also in Hawaii and Canada.
The Kyoshi Kyoshu, an intensive 10-day retreat with lectures, chanting and workshops, will be held from Aug. 21-30 at the JSC. A total of about 12 participants are expected from the BCA, Hawaii and Canada. Eight of the 12 are from the BCA, and five of the eight have aspirations to become full-time BCA ministers and will be able to serve soon after they are certified.
There are three levels of ordination concerning Jodo Shinshu ministers. The first level is Tokudo, an initial ordination that Shinran Shonin received when he was 9. The second level is called Kyoshi. It requires meeting educational requirements as a Hongwanji-recognized institution like Ryukoku University in Japan or the Institute of Buddhist Studies. The third level is called Kaikyoshi, an overseas minister on behalf of the Hongwanji, which is earned after serving a year in the BCA.
Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada, who formally made the announcement June 4 at the BCA National Board meeting, called the decision “exciting news.
“We have this huge shortage of ministers, but it will be alleviated somewhat after this Kyoshi Kyoshu,” Rev. Harada said. “We’re very excited that the Hongwanji has given us permission to hold it. It’s going to save a tremendous amount of anxiety, travel and expense, especially with the COVID-19 situation in Japan.”
Japan has long clamped down on foreign visitors during the pandemic, but has recently loosened some restrictions. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced May 26 that tour groups made up of international travelers would be allowed to enter Japan beginning June 10, while the number of arrivals permitted per day would increase from 10,000 to 20,000.
Last year, at the June 2021 National Board meeting, Rev. Harada described the shortage of ministers as “severe.” There are currently 35 full-time ministers for the BCA’s 58 temples and churches, with nearly all of the ministers serving two or more temples, and juggling additional responsibilities such as online services and programs. (See July 2021 Wheel of Dharma article “BCA Facing ‘Severe’ Shortage of Ministers.”)
The shortage has been rooted in several factors, among them ministerial retirements, leaves of absence, and the unexpected impacts of the pandemic.
Rev. Harada said Rev. Kiyonobu Kuwahara of the Jodo Shinshu International Office (JSIO) “was a big factor in getting this accomplished”
In his communications with Hongwanji-ha and for pressing both the urgency and need to hold the Kyoshi Kyoshu at the JSC.
The JSIO will be the central administrative body handling participants from Hawaii, Canada, and the BCA. Rev. Harada noted that several Europeans expressed interest in participating, but had conflicts in their schedules.
According to Rev. Harada, the Hongwanji-ha is being flexible and allowing the BCA to work on the curriculum, including adding lectures on being an effective minister.
“What does it mean to be an effective minister? We’ve asked Rev. Patti Usuki (who recently retired at the San Fernando Valley Hongwanji Buddhist Temple) to give the lecture,” he said. Other ministers will include IBS staff such as Rev. Dr. David Matsumoto, Rev. Dr. Mutsumi Wondra, Rev. Dr. Takashi Miyaji, chanting experts like Seattle Betsuin Rinban Rev. Katsuya Kusunoki, and Rev. Tadao Koyama.
In addition, the Hongwanji-ha announced the next Tokudo for foreigners will take place in 2023 and the next Kyoshi Kyoshu will occur in 2024 — both in Japan.
“This is very encouraging because we have a number of students at IBS and a number of ministerial aspirants,” said Rev. Harada, who added that he has personally met with all of the IBS ministerial aspirants. “We have a good, next wave of candidates for the ministry coming up. And, although we have a shortage now. In maybe three years or so, that shortage will be greatly alleviated.
“So, if I could ask the temples and ministers to hang in there for just a few more years, we should have a number of more outstanding ministers serving us in the BCA,” he said.