A Japanese American minister, born in Japan, raised in the U.S.

Rev. Harry ‘Gyokyo’ Bridge photo by Kota Morikawa/file photo

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Buddhist Church of Oakland is located a few blocks away from the city’s Chinatown and across the street from Madison Park. The Rev. Harry “Gyokyo” Bridge, a 41-year-old minister, leads the small congregation.

He has been a minister for the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) for six years. His first position was minister of the Buddhist Church of Lodi from 2006 to 2009 before he was transferred to Oakland where he currently serves.

Obon has a great amount of meaning to Bridge. “Obon has many aspects — Hatsu-Bon, the first Obon after someone has died; Bon Odori; chochin; Obon matsuri … I have experienced these various aspects at different times in my life and in different places,” said Bridge. “My mother’s Hatsu-Bon in Iwate 11 years ago; chochin lanterns at an Obon in a cemetery in Boston; Bon Odori at Nishi Honganji and at BCA temples — I hope I can bring this experience to our members and visitors.”

Bridge said the Bon Odori is a festive gathering for Oakland. Hundreds come to dance according to the minister. Compared to Japanese Bon Odori, Bridge says there are “many, many, many more dances to learn in the U.S.” He also said he feels fortunate to have live music at the dance.

While the Bon Odori is festive, the service, especially for Hatsu-Bon, is solemn and meaningful. The service is a memorial for church members and non-members alike to remember their loved ones who have passed. In 2001, after his mother died, Bridge took his mother’s ashes to her home village in Iwate Prefecture.

Bridge feels he brings a slightly different perspective to his teaching as he was not raised Buddhist. “I sometimes explain things that maybe ministers who were brought up in the tradition take for granted,” said Bridge. “People often make it a point to thank me for explaining things whose explanation they may never have heard before.”

Before becoming a minister, Bridge was born in Tokyo and grew up in Massachusetts. His father met his mother while working as an engineer for the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force in the 1960s. He was not raised Buddhist, having discovered it in 1990 when he visited the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple with a friend in California. “That sparked my first interest in Buddhism, which grew slowly but steadily over the next few years. By 1995, I had decided to attend the Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS) and become a Buddhist minister.”

Bridge now releases talks about Buddhism online via a podcast he conducts with Scott Mitchell, a faculty member at the IBS. Bridge says he’s seen modest success from the project. “We didn’t plan it, but our podcast, the Dharma Realm (www.dharmarealm.com) gets hundreds of hits each episode.”


Correction
Accuracy is fundamental in journalism. In the June 14-27, 2012 issue of the Nichi Bei Weekly, the photo caption in the article entitled “A Japanese American minister, born in Japan, raised in the U.S.” misstated the Rev. Harry “Gyokyo” Bridge’s name as Rev. Harry “Gyoko” Bridge. The Nichi Bei Weekly regrets the error.

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