Listening to former Bishop Rev. Umezu speaking at the BCA Eitaikyo Service on YouTube on Feb. 28 reminds me of my many karmic encounters with him that have now spanned nearly half a century.
I am grateful for his 50 years of untiring diligence in trying to help the hopeless me open my true Nembutsu heart.
Rev. Umezu first arrived in America in 1973 and was assigned to the Fresno Betsuin. He likes to tell the story that our first encounter was when I came to Betsuin office dressed in a Boy Scout uniform. At that time, he spoke very little English and the Betsuin enrolled him in a local junior college class on journalism (to help him write Betsuin bulletin articles), and to the great surprise of both of us, we ended up in that same class!
I am sure some would call it “fate” or “karma,” but for me, I am now sure this was the Buddha’s request for me to work together with Umezu Sensei in his ministry.
From the first day of that class, when I began working together with him to help him with his English and continuing to this day for nearly 50 years now … what karma!
Secondly, Rev. Umezu’s wife, Janet, and I were both born and raised in Fowler, California, so we have been lifelong friends.
After finishing his Navy assignment and returning to the ministry, he was assigned to the Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple. While serving at the Los Angeles Betsuin, Rev. Umezu led Sunday services at the Hacienda Heights Dharma School, which met at the Mitutoyo Corporation facility.
Up until that time, I had been living and working in the Bay Area. In 1987, the year Rev. Umezu was transferred to the Buddhist Church of Oakland was also when I became employed by Mitutoyo Corporation. And I was assigned to work at the same Mitutoyo facility where Rev. Umezu and the Hacienda Dharma School met.
Rev. Umezu and I laughed that we were switching locations — I was moving to Los Angeles and he was moving to Oakland. Somehow, our karmic paths kept crossing.
In 1996, Rev. Umezu was appointed Executive Assistant to the Bishop and I returned to work in the Bay Area in 1999. And once again, he needed help with his English. But this time, it was because he needed to find an English Editor for the Wheel of Dharma newspaper. Once again, we laughed that it was the Buddha’s will that I had to assist him again.
During his assignment under Bishop Watanabe, one of their main projects became the establishment of the Jodo Shinshu Center. By this time, I was serving as Corporate Administration Manager of Mitutoyo America Corporation.
Our company had been founded by the Rev. Dr. Yehan Numata who created Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (Society for the Promotion of Buddhism) Foundation better known as “BDK.”
When the idea for the Jodo Shinshu Center emerged, Bishop Watanabe and Rev. Umezu first came to the Numata family and BDK Foundation to ask for their support and I am honored to say that the Numata family supported the noble vision and presented the BCA with the very first contribution ($500,000) for the Jodo Shinshu Center project.
After Rev. Umezu became the director of the Center for Buddhist Education, we would sit for hours discussing what kind of programs could be organized and developed for the benefit of the members. I am happy to say that some of our ideas and dreams have come to fruition — a variety of lectures and seminars, TechnoBuddha, Japan Study Tours, Pacific Seminar, military chaplaincy program, etc.
Serving as Bishop, Rev. Umezu would call on me in his times of need, and once again, I found myself helping him with his English (serving again as editor of the Wheel of Dharma for a second stint). We spent hours together with another longtime friend, cleaning the Bishop’s residence’s gardens and I helped with the cooking and entertaining of VIP guests at the residence as well.
I believe the Wheel of Dharma might have wanted me to pen an article and share some secrets or funny adventures I have experienced in my many years of friendship with Rev. Umezu. But for me, what has been most meaningful in our nearly half-century of brotherhood in the Dharma is that we could depend on each other in time of need without hesitation (“No enryo,” Japanese American style).
Looking at our BCA ministers who have come from Japan, I often wonder, what kind of a person would be able to leave their family and comforts of home and country, immigrate to a foreign country knowing that they will never return home again, get married, serve in his adopted country’s military, build a family and devote one’s life to spreading the Dharma? I know I would never be able to take such a course of life. But this has been the life path of Rev. Kodo “Hiro” Umezu.
Thank you, Umezu Sensei! All of your friends and I are so appreciative for your accomplishments and dedication to us. All the BCA and Hongwanji are grateful for your 50 years of sharing the Dharma. I am grateful for my life of karmic interaction with you. May you and Janet be happy, healthy and content! Namo Amida Butsu to our first 50 years of friendship!