Former Bishop Rev. Dr. Seigen Haruo Yamaoka had never planned on his amazing path — which has now nearly spanned 60 years — with the Buddhist Churches of America.
He wanted to become a journalist, a newspaper reporter.
But he graduated in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Fresno State University, a time when Japanese Americans were continuing to experience the brunt of racist backlash in America. Just a decade before, during World War II, 120,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry had been uprooted from their homes and sent to mass detention camps. And mainstream newspaper staffs remained exclusively white and male, off limits to minorities.
“I had journalism professors tell me that I wouldn’t be able to get a job out of college,” he said in a recent interview. “At that time, it was pretty hard to be hired as a Japanese American. I got a summer (newspaper) program, and worked on some weekly newspapers, but as far as a good position anywhere, it was difficult.”