March 1, 2021, marked the 100th birthday of Yumiko Hojo, one of the three dynamic women of the BCA Music Committee in the pre- and post-World War II years.
Yumi Hojo, Jane Imamura, and Chizu Iwanaga composed many of the gathas of that era, along with Kimi Hisatsune, who often provided the lyrics.
The centennial birthday was celebrated with Yumi’s family: son and daughter-in-law, Tetsu and Gail Hojo; granddaughter and husband, Samantha Hojo and Dr. BJ Palmer; and great-granddaughter, Mieko Palmer.
Because of the pandemic restrictions, the birthday was a private affair at Sakura Gardens Villa where Yumi resides in Campbell in the San Jose area. It marked the first time the family met in person in more than a year.
Members of the San Jose Betsuin organizations, such as the Betsuin Choir, the Buddhist Women’s Association, and Sangha Support Committee — all with fond memories of their times with Yumi — were limited by safety restrictions and sent gifts of candy and flowers.
Born in Suisun, California, Yumi and her younger sister, Mariko Oino, assisted the parents, Ginji and Mitsu Oino, on their fruit ranch and attended local schools in Cordelia and Fairfield.
Yumi showed an early interest in music and piano and was encouraged by her mother, an accomplished koto and shamisen player, and was wholeheartedly supported by her father. She began piano lessons at the age of 6 and would accompany her sister, a singer, at various community events.
Yumi’s high school music teacher at Fairfield encouraged her to apply to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Her successful acceptance at the prestigious school led to completing a rigorous curriculum that included four hours of practice daily, while working as a house girl for an elderly woman. She graduated with degrees in composition and piano pedagogy and received a baby grand piano from her parents at commencement.
One week after graduation, on June 19, 1941, she and Rev. Ejitsu Hojo were married in a ceremony officiated by Bishop Rev. Ryotai Matsukage.
The couple moved to Stockton, where he was assigned as a minister in 1939. At the request of Stockton Jr. YBA members, Yumi established the Stockton Junior Choir.
When the World War II mass relocation occurred in 1942, she, along with her mother and sister, were initially sent to the Turlock Relocation Center, where she continued to teach gathas.
From there, they were sent to the Gila River internment camp in Arizona, where Yumi taught high school music and began a choir.
Meanwhile, Rev. Hojo and her father were interned at a separate camp in Lordsburg, New Mexico. Rev. Hojo also spent time at the federal camp in Crystal City, Texas before the family was reunited in March 1943 at Gila River. Their son, Tetsu, was born at the Gila River internment camp.
Upon their return to Stockton in September 1945, Yumi helped her husband expand the church, establish a Japanese language school, acquire and operate a church hostel, establish a bus service for congregation members, and host various guests such as visiting ministers. She began the Junior Choir, taught herself to play the organ, and gave private piano lessons.
As a member of the BCA Music Department, Yumi met frequently with Jane Imamura and Chizu Iwanaga to compose, transpose and translate the music that is still used in our services today.
They compiled Buddhist music from Hawaii, Japan, and other sources and published several books including “The Young Buddhist Companion” and the first “Sunday School Service” book. During this time, she composed some of the gathas that remain favorites today, including “I Love the Story”; “Obon, Obon, It’s Festival Day”; “Happy Buddha’s Day”; and “Amida’s Children.”
In 1959, Rev. Hojo was assigned to the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin. As Rinban, he continued the many innovative practices he had established in Stockton.
He expanded church membership, created a bus service for those outside the city, and instituted a vigorous visitation program. Yumi became the Choir Director and, in 1963, organized the Junior Choir. The Senior Choir has since performed for Betsuin services, local and national conferences, and at other temples.
Yumi organized singing tours to Southern California, the Pacific Northwest and Canada, and Hawaii. She played the organ, gave organ lessons, composed gathas and compositions for the Betsuin, and led Fujinkai gatha practices
From her early years in Suisun helping her parents on the fruit ranch, Yumi learned the value of family support, hard work and taking care of her family. She carried that lesson through, taking care of her mother until her passing.
Yumi remained a dedicated member of the San Jose Betsuin after Rev. Hojo’s passing in 2001.
Now, with care extended by her son and family, Yumi still maintains her usual cheerfulness, optimism, and strength in her 100th year. As her son, Tetsu, stated, when they were finally able to be together, they were “buoyed by the good spirits she still demonstrated, her continuing good appetite, and good health.”
On Oct. 12, 1985, Yumi – affectionately known as “Mrs. H” or “Boss Lady” by choir members — conducted her last performance with the Betsuin Senior Choir at the National Fujinkai Conference.
Nancy Hikoyeda, who succeeded Yumi as the Betsuin Choir director, stated, “Those of us who have had the privilege of singing with Mrs. Yumiko Hojo miss her patience, sense of humor, skills, and expertise. Mrs. Hojo — on behalf of the Betsuin and all past/present choir members — we extend our heartfelt gratitude and appreciation. Thanks for the memories.”