JA follows his father’s footsteps into the Konko ministry

Rev. Alan Matsui of the Konko Church of San Francisco
photo by Kazuichi Nogata

While Buddhists begin to celebrate their annual remembrances of their ancestors during Obon, the Konko faith considers the universe an eternal home for everybody. Furthermore, believers remember ancestors’ spirits throughout the year.

“I pray to their spirits whenever I remember,” Alan Matsui Sensei said in an e-mail interview with the Nichi Bei Weekly. “I pray that they are at peace, thank them for what they did in their physical form, and thank them for their ongoing protection and guidance in their spiritual form. At church, we have a separate altar that we pray to help us remember our ancestors,  called the Mitama Altar.”

Matsui is the latest Konko minister to join the San Francisco church, but his involvement with the church goes back five generations. His family had helped found the Konko Church of Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture and his father, the Rev. Fumio Matsui, served as the third head minister of the Konko Church of San Francisco as well as a bishop for the Konko Churches of North America. He added that his father led the American churches’ shift from being Japanese-language based to English.

Matsui said his father had “no intention of becoming a minister.” However, Fumio Matsui joined the clergy after he found Al Matsui’s mother following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Fumio Matsui also witnessed her subsequent recovery from radiation burns and poisoning. Matsui said his father “received a miracle blessing in response to his sincere prayers and decided to become a minister.”

While Matsui said his faith played a role throughout his life, he was, up until recently, a certified public accountant working for IBM, Siemens and other Silicon Valley startups. He joined the Konko Church of San Francisco as a part-time minister at the age of 61 while continuing to work as a finance executive.

“As I approached 60, I started to think about retirement,” Matsui said. He initially thought about moving to the Philippines, but said he realized his passion was in the Konko faith. “This faith makes me happier and have more peace of mind. (I) decided that I wanted to spend the rest of my life as a teacher of the Konko faith; to help others who seek to be happier and have more peace of mind.”

Matsui added he prefers to be referred to as  a teacher than a minister. “I prefer to be referred to as ‘Alan Sensei’ rather than ‘Reverend,’ Matsui said. “I view our role in the Konko Faith as teachers, rather than as ones to be revered.”

Matsui said he refers to the Konko belief system as a faith rather than a religion, calling it a way of life centered on being grateful and appreciating nature. “Having faith is a choice,” Matsui said. “If we choose to see life as a gift, rather than an accident or an entitlement, then we will appreciate life more.”

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