The Enduring Legacy of Jane Imamura

Through countless causes and conditions, the Imamuras engaged the efforts of an international community of scholars and artists and influenced the interest in Buddhism far beyond Berkeley, where Rev. Imamura was the minister and Jane was the Bomori.

Jane Imamura, the eldest daughter of Mrs. Shinobu Matsuura, a major BCA figure herself, continued her mother’s tradition in building a music tradition and was a key contributor to many BCA gathas that continue to be sung today. The article was written by the couple’s eldest daughter, Hiro Imamura David, on behalf of the BCA Music History Subcommittee.

Jane Imamura’s legacy continues today through her many gathas, the Institute of Buddhist Studies and musical programs that she inspired.

Jane Imamura’s parents, Issei and Shinobu Matsuura, were Buddhist pioneers and their example helped to form Jane’s development and outlook.

Jane was well-versed in her future role as Bomori from a very young age. Born in 1920, two years after her mother arrived as a young bride in America, she learned the art of selflessness, growing up in a temple, sharing her parents — not only with her siblings — but with the many children living in the Guadalupe Children’s Home that was run by the Matsuuras.

She also developed an early appreciation of music and the Buddhist gathas. She and her siblings would gather around their mother as she played the piano and sang, teaching them songs and gathas.

The turmoil that enveloped the world during Jane’s early years delayed her parents’ many plans. It was not until 1931, when the Matsuura family returned to the United States after two years in Japan, that Jane began piano lessons.

She practiced on a piano that came with the Matsuura’s rented accommodations in Fresno, where Rev. Matsuura was the minister. She progressed quickly and was soon able to master a Beethoven sonata of considerable difficulty. Shinobu splurged on a $100 piano during the hardships of the Great Depression.

Upon the family’s return to Guadalupe in 1935, Jane began her music lessons with Muriel Fisk, a successful and well-respected teacher in the Santa Maria Valley. Jane’s exemplary exam grades, given by the National Music Teachers Association, confirmed the promise she showed. Mrs. Fisk organized a choir at the Guadalupe temple, and Jane learned the art of choral training and conducting.

When Jane left Guadalupe to study music and composition at the University of California at Berkeley, Mrs. Fisk stayed in touch with her. In Jane’s senior college year, Mrs. Fisk helped her transfer to the Chicago Musical College to study piano with the famous teacher and president of the school, Rudolf Ganz.

But Jane’s formal musical education came to an abrupt halt with the mass relocation and detention of Japanese Americans that followed the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.

She returned from Chicago to Guadalupe, and she watched as her father was arrested and carted off by FBI agents — one of thousands of Japanese community leaders arrested nationwide — on suspicion of being a possible security threat. Her father’s parting words to her were: “Go to Berkeley and marry Rev. Imamura. Be happy!”

The esteemed educator and sage, Rev. Joen Ashikaga, had arranged a previous meeting between Rev. Kanmo Imamura and Jane. The first meetings were cordial and the two decided to continue a lively correspondence as Jane moved to Chicago and Rev. Imamura continued his duties as the new priest at the Berkeley Buddhist Temple.

But the relocation orders after Pearl Harbor changed their plans for a longer courtship. In 1942, with her father’s words ringing in her ears, Jane defied a travel ban and took a bus to Berkeley to visit her older brother, who was studying there. Rev. Imamura and Jane were wed soon thereafter.

Rev. Imamura was spared arrest, though records showed he was under careful surveillance by authorities.

He and Jane joined the rest of the Matsuura family at the Tulare Assembly Center. At the center, displaced internees were fearful and in despair. Rev. Imamura was the lone Buddhist priest among the almost 3,000 internees.

He immediately formed a Sangha. Hundreds of internees participated in the services. Shinobu Matsuura taught Sunday School and gave lectures in Japanese. Jane, though feeling ill from her first pregnancy, gathered what would be the biggest choir she would ever conduct. She managed to also perform in spontaneously organized concerts.

The family’s move to the federal internment camp in Gila River, Arizona, was a trying ordeal. Thankfully, Rev. Imamura was joined by three other Buddhist priests and they formed an active Sangha, complete with YBA, Sunday School, services for the Issei and even 500 mimeographed service books.

Every type of ceremony was held at Gila River, from Hanamatsuri, weddings, births, and sadly, funerals. Jane, in her growing role of Bomori, organized music for services and events. Two children, Hiro and Ryo, were born during those camp years.

In 1945, as the camps were gradually closed, the Imamuras moved to the Senshin Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles, the first Buddhist hostel. It was at the Senshin hostel, with soon to be ordained Arthur Takemoto, that they worked under difficult circumstances to help a steady stream of former internees as they left the camps, looking for a home and work. The hostel had been set up with the generous and tireless help of Rev. Julius Goldwater, a dedicated Buddhist who had kept in contact with the Imamuras throughout the internment. Takemoto’s parents and his future wife, Kazumi Sanwo, joined the staff during this effort.

After a year, most temples in California had set up their own hostels, and the Imamuras, now a family of five, returned to the Berkeley temple.

The following years were vibrant and highly productive. Throughout the United States, Buddhist temples thrived with increased membership and activity.

The Berkeley Buddhist Temple had a small congregation, but being located nearby UC Berkeley, a major educational institution, the temple attracted many students from Buddhist families. The temple grounds were a complex of buildings that housed not only the priest and his growing family, but eventually, a women’s and men’s dorm for university students.

Jane would become house mother to the dorm members as well as tending to her many duties in the temple and to her family. Once the Imamuras moved from their one-bedroom accommodation in the back area of the temple into a modestly small, but comfortable house on the same property, Jane accepted a baby grand piano given to her by Mrs. Fisk.