Young Buddhist Editorial, which celebrated its one-year anniversary earlier this year, scored a major media coup when it was the subject of a national “Today” show segment on May 7.
The brief piece, which ran for about five minutes, also showed Seattle Betsuin Resident Minister and Rinban Rev. Katsuya Kusunoki, Tacoma Buddhist Temple Rev. Tadao Koyama, Tacoma Dharma School Superintendent June Akita and the Tacoma Dharma School students in a virtual Zoom session.
YBE Editor-in-Chief Trevor Yokoyama, President Devon Matsumoto and News and Buzz Editor Emily Ko are also featured in the segment, which showed how Jodo Shinshu Buddhism is being passed down to young Japanese Americans. It was broadcast during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
Yokoyama pointed out the importance of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism to Japanese American culture and identity, especially after the fallout and racism that spiked in the forced mass removal and detention of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. In the postwar period, all ties with Japan — such as language, culture, art, and history — were downplayed or discouraged by many Nisei because of the drive to assimilate to the predominant American culture. Subsequently, as an example, most Sansei and Yonsei generations do not speak the Japanese language, a key connection to heritage and culture.
“My first name is Trevor,” Yokoyama said. “It’s not something that’s phonetically Japanese …. My parents don’t really speak Japanese. One of the things they did keep was Buddhism as a religion, which is why I think a lot of us cling to it very heavily because it gives us a sense of cultural identity.”
YBE is an online forum that began in January 2020 to give voice to young Buddhists to share their expressions, and to provide a safe space where young Buddhists can foster growth, community and interconnectedness with other generations of Buddhists. YBE members and contributors have held several workshops in the past year and have provided perspectives on a range of issues, including the rise of anti-Asian hate and violence, Black Lives Matter, implicit bias and anti-Blackness.
YBE’s activities and its list of accomplishments in its first year have not gone unnoticed. At the BCA’s virtual National Council meeting in February, the BCA approved YBE for candidate-affiliation status, precursor to a full-fledged affiliation status in the BCA.
Meanwhile, in the “Today” show segment, Matsumoto explained part of the reason why YBE was established in the first place.
“I actually was not really big into Buddhism until maybe my senior year of high school,” Matsumoto said. “I used to always tell my mom that when I turned 18, I’m going to become a Christian. I think that a lot of that was internalized racism. To be Buddhist wasn’t very cool or very accepting, and it was around those times when I was looking at who’s talking about Buddhism in the United States, most of the time that’s not people who look like us, Asian Americans. It’s usually more middle-class white men who have come to Buddhism later on in their lives. We aren’t being represented, we aren’t being seen.
“One thing we really like to emphasize is interdependence,” Matsumoto continued. “Everything is connected, freedom comes with responsibility and our responsibility to other people in our world, other people in our community and other people who we’ve never interacted with.”
It’s not the first time Young Buddhist Editorial has received national media attention — the organization appeared on the Washington Post website in January via a Religion News Service story titled, “Millennial and Gen Z Buddhists created an online forum to explore their identity.”
The “Today” show segment opens and closes with scenes from the online Dharma School class from the Tacoma Buddhist Temple. Rev. Koyama begins it by leading the students and teachers by reciting the Nembutsu and he ends it by doing the same,
“OK, Dharma School students, you know the drill,” Rev. Koyama says. “Put your hands together and Gassho — NamoAmidaButsu, NamoAmidaButsu, NamoAmidaButsu.”