Rev. Kodo Umezu Praised for Leadership, Foresight

There was a little-known — but profound — reason why former BCA Bishop Rev. Kodo Umezu chose to be at the Buddhist Church of San Francisco when he delivered the annual Eitaikyo Perpetual Memorial Service message on Feb. 28 and was honored for his 47-year career as a Kaikyoshi minister.


He noted the San Francisco temple was built in 1937 with contributions from its Sangha members as well as BCA members around the country.


“Right after the Depression, they donated 5 cents, 10 cents, 15 cents — they built this building,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to be here. I wanted to thank those people — not just people today. I could see those people sitting in the room, to thank them. We need to be reminded that those people are putting their hands together to all of us, so we can pass on, appreciate, and pass on to the next generation.”


It was an extraordinary day — the culmination of the BCA’s first virtual National Council and Ministers Association three-day meeting held by the Bay District Council. And the Bay District Council was congratulated by people throughout the BCA for the excellent production of the online events.


The retirement event for Rev. Umezu, who stepped down as Bishop in 2020, was delayed a year because of the pandemic. But through the efforts by the Bay District Council and the BCA, the event was rescheduled this year — online.


Beginning with Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada, BCA representatives paid their tributes and gave their heartfelt thanks and gratitude for Rev. Umezu’s exceptional career. It’s a career that has made its mark on every corner of the BCA — IBS, Center for Buddhist Education, and the Endowment Foundation, as well as temples and churches. He was instrumental in establishing CBE, oversaw construction of the Jodo Shinshu Center, and created the Jodo Shinshu International Office (JSIO).


As a Shin Buddhist ambassador, he’s traveled the world, including stops in Europe and Asia. He’s met VIPs including former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Dalai Lama, and former California Gov. Jerry Brown.


Rev. Umezu grew up in Yoshitomi, Japan, in Fukuoka prefecture, the 16th generation of ministers from the 450-year-old Saiko-ji Temple. But he wanted to become a minister in the United States, so he applied with the BCA.


His association with the BCA began in 1973. At the age of 22, he was assigned first to the Fresno Betsuin Buddhist Temple, where he served two years.


He enrolled in the Institute of Buddhist Studies in 1975 to get his master’s degree. And in 1976, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy for four years in order to acclimate to the United States and American culture.


In 1977, Rev. Umezu married Janet Teraoka of Fowler, California, and they raised three children: Rev. Amy Umezu, assistant minister at the West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple, who is married to Marie Miyashiro; Norio, who is married to Liz Hall; and Michelle. Norio and Liz Umezu Hall are the parents of 16-month-old Mari.


In addition to the Fresno Betsuin, Rev. Umezu also served as the Resident Minister for the Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo and the Buddhist Church of Oakland.


From 1996 to 2004, Rev. Umezu served as the Executive Assistant to Bishop Hakubun Watanabe, and from 2004 to 2005, as Executive Assistant to Bishop Koshin Ogui, before becoming the director of the Center of Buddhist Education.


On Vesak Day 2011, he gave a speech at the United Nations in place of Bishop Ogui, who had a previous commitment with a world convention in Japan.


“I was so overwhelmed … this is the place President (John F.) Kennedy and all these people had spoken,” he said, referring to his United Nations appearance. “I have to say NamoAmidaButsu several times.”


Rev. Umezu became the BCA Bishop during an Accession Service on April 1, 2012.


Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada spoke about Rev. Umezu’s legacy — the Jodo Shinshu International Office (JSIO).


“This was Rev. Umezu’s idea,” Rev. Harada said. “He presented the idea to the Hongwanji-ha leadership (in Kyoto). And they said, ‘That’s a great idea.’ And with that, we have now established worldwide propagation of Shin Buddhism through the Jodo Shinshu International Office for decades to come. This will be Rev. Umezu’s legacy.”


IBS President Rev. Dr. David Matsumoto said, “On behalf of everyone at IBS, the students, the faculty, staff, trustees, supporters and friends, I’m very, very honored to be able to express to you our profound appreciation for all of the support and leadership and friendship that you’ve given us during your tenure as