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Kimi Hisatsune, Lyricist of Notable BCA Gathas, Is Remembered

Updated: Oct 28, 2022

Readers may not immediately realize that many people have been touched by the creative work of Kimi Hisatsune.


Perhaps the most familiar lyrics that Hisatsune wrote were for gathas composed by Jane Imamura, such as “Buddha Loves You,” “Long Ago in India,” and “Farewell.”


Immersed in Buddhist children’s gathas over the decades, we have enjoyed singing about the little bird, the little pup, the pussycat, and the little fish to rejoice in the all encompassing compassion of Amida Buddha.


We recall the birth of the historical Buddha for Hanamatsuri as detailed in “Long Ago in India.” And yes, many still sing “Dharma (Sunday) school is over for another day … ” as we bid our Sangha friends “farewell” until the following week.


Other children’s gatha lyrics written by Hisatsune include somewhat less familiar selections such as “It’s Raining,” “Sing!” and “Sunbeams,” also composed by Jane Imamura.


“We are little sunbeams .… We’re happy as can be!” Hisatsune also wrote the lyrics of “Our Pledge,” the Dharma School teacher’s song with music composed by Yumi Hojo.


Kimi Yonemura was the daughter of Rev. Masachika Yonemura, who was an early minister at Enmanji Buddhist Temple from 1939 to 1949. She was the eldest of three daughters, and she and her sisters all took piano lessons.


While attending UC Berkeley before World War II, she lived in the women’s dormitory and met her future husband, Isamu Clarence Hisatsune. They both sang in Jane Imamura’s YBA choir. We do not know much more about Kimi’s earlier life except that she and her family were incarcerated in the Amache internment camp in Colorado. Her mother passed away shortly after their release from camp.


In her younger years, Kimi taught piano at Enmanji Buddhist Temple and began a choir. She was fluent in Japanese and helped at the Japanese school.


After Clarence and Kimi were married in September 1951, they moved to Seattle where he received his doctorate in chemistry at University of Washington. Kimi studied in the UW Information School and received a master’s degree to pursue a career as a librarian. They moved to Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania, where Clarence taught and Kimi worked in the library. The couple had no children.


Hisatsune collaborated with Jane Imamura to write lyrics for many of the children’s gathas in the 1950s post-war period.


In the 1990s, when the BCA Ad Hoc Music Committee was formed for the purpose of providing gatha selections for the BCA Shin Buddhist Service Book, Hisatsune was a member of the Gatha Book Committee.


Marrie Yamashita, who chaired the committee, and Ruth Kaneko recall Kimi Hisatsune as quiet and reserved, but say she was a consistent participant for the project.


Kimi and her husband, Clarence, were pillars of the BCA community and guided members in making important decisions. Hiro Imamura David describes Kimi Hisatsune as a rare person, who was “very quiet in manner but radiated intelligence, warmth, and generous strength.” David recalls that her parents, Rev. Kanmo and Jane Imamura, were always very grateful for the support, talent, and dedication of Kimi and Clarence Hisatsune.


Emiko Katsumoto had the opportunity to briefly correspond with Kimi Hisatsune when Katsumoto served as a co-chair for Berkeley Buddhist Temple’s centennial in 2011. Hisatsune shared photographs for the centennial.


Kimi and Clarence Hisatsune volunteered for many years at the Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS) from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, according to Rev. Dr. Kenneth Tanaka.


“Kimi utilized her background as a librarian and really organized the IBS,” Rev. Dr. Tanaka said. “They came almost every day to help.”


Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada also recalled the dedicated volunteer work of the Hisatsunes, who served a vital role when there was no budget for a professional librarian at the IBS. Kimi Hisatsune also wrote many thoughtful articles on Buddhism, which were published in books as well as in the Wheel of Dharma.


Kimi Hisatsune, a native of San Francisco, passed away in June 2012 in San Francisco at the age of 88. Isamu Clarence Hisatsune, a native of Stockton, passed away in February 2021 in Millbrae at the age of 97.


As we begin another Dharma School and academic year, we express our deep gratitude for the contributions of Kimi Hisatsune as one of our esteemed Buddhist Churches of America music pioneers, and along with Clarence Hisatsune, for their support of IBS. Namo Amida Butsu.


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