Mountain View Buddhist Temple’s reverend reflects on Obon from Japan to São Paulo

Rev. Yushi Mukojima of Mountain View Buddhist Temple courtesy of Yushi Mukojima

Rev. Yushi Mukojima of Mountain View Buddhist Temple
courtesy of Yushi Mukojima

The Rev. Yushi Mukojima arrived in Mountain View, Calif. in August of 2013 to replace Rev. Dean Koyama — who became resident minister of Palo Alto Buddhist Temple —and celebrated his first Obon as the Mountain View Buddhist Temple’s resident minister last year.

To the Japan-born minister, Obon is an opportunity to see friends during the summer break and a time to express respect and gratitude to deceased family and friends. He also said it is an opportunity to recognize the impermanence of life and the importance of living in the moment. “When we deeply understand this truth, we can’t help but dance with joy and gratitude under the loving guidance of the loved ones who have passed before us,” he said. “That’s why we often call Obon ‘the gathering of joy.’”

Mukojima looks forward to this year’s annual dance.

“Though the size and magnitude of this event at our temple can be a bit overwhelming, Sensei did not hesitate to roll up his sleeves and physically contribute to every phase of the preparations, the setup, and the take-down of the festival,” said Mike Inouye, a congregation member.

According to past estimates, more than 400 people come to dance at the temple each year.

A Background in Clergy
Mukojima comes from a long line of Buddhist ministers. His family heads a small Jodo Shinshu Buddhist temple in Obama city in Fukui Prefecture, Japan. His father is the 19th successor and his older brother will be the 20th.

“Our family temple ‘Renkoji’ was built in Obama city in 1471,” Mukojima said in an e-mail interview with the Nichi Bei Weekly. “It is one of many temples that were started by Rennyo Shonin who was the eighth head abbot of Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha.”

Mukojima, who was born in Osaka and raised in Obama, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Buddhist history in 1994 from Ryukoku University in Kyoto, a private university founded for Jodo Shinshu ministers and his father’s alma mater. While his older brother was expected to take over the family temple, Mukojima said it was still “natural” for him to work as a minister. “Chanting, sweeping, offering the buppan (rice), welcoming the members, assisting my father during the services, the sound of the gong, the smell of incense, everything was part of my daily life since childhood,” he said. “Before I even realized it, I wanted to be a minister like my father.”

Obon Around the World
Without the expectation to take over the family temple, however, Mukojima said he was interested in going abroad. He left Japan and was assigned to São Paulo from 1998 through 2001, before being assigned to the Buddhist Churches of America. He would spend a year at Seabrook Buddhist Temple in Bridgeton, N.J. before transferring to Visalia Buddhist Temple in Visalia, Calif. in 2002. He would then transfer to the Buddhist Temple of San Diego in 2005 before coming to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Having attending services around the world, Mukojima observed how Obon is observed differently in different regions.

“In my hometown, for example, the Obon observance lasts four days,” he said. His father would go visit each member of his congregation’s home over three days to chant sutras and hold a joint service on the fourth. “When I lived in Japan, my brother and I used to help my father out those three days by dividing up the number of homes to visit.” Mukojima said his father is exhausted after Obon each year and said he is asked to return to Japan each year if he can.

Mukojima recalled his unique experience of Obon in Brazil. Being located on the Southern Hemisphere, Mukojima said they celebrated Obon in the winter and new year in the summer.

“Although Obon is associated with warm weather here and in Japan, Obon in Brazil is really cold,” he said. “In the U.S., we enjoy the Bon Odori wearing happi and sweating in the heat. But in Brazil, people dance wearing thick chan-chan-ko,  which is like a down jacket. At the Obon festival, I didn’t have a snow cone or somen (thin noodles made from flour), but instead really enjoyed hot tea and udon (noodles).”

He also said he enjoyed eating watermelon while watching the annual NHK “Kohaku Uta Gassen” during the New Year. “January in Brazil is really warm, so it felt odd to be offered a bowl of steaming ozoni,” he said. “But it is a Japanese New Year tradition, so I ate it with sweat dripping off my forehead! It was really a unique experience.”

Coming to Mountain View
Mukojima said he is grateful for his sangha’s efforts to maintain its congregation. “I can say with confidence that Mountain View is among those special sanghas which constantly devote their time to working hard for the benefit of their temple and members,” he said. He cited the large number of year-round activities including those his daughter participates in, such as the Dharma School and Girl Scouts.

The feelings of gratitude and respect are mutual, according to Inouye. “Sensei Mukojima manages somehow to maintain a deep respect for the keiro (the seniors) while connecting with even the youngest new sangha member at the same time,” Inouye said in an e-mail interview. He said Mukojima’s ability to engage the multigenerational congregation is not only impressive, but critical to sustaining the temple.

As the temple’s resident minister, Mukojima said he hopes to meet the expectations of the sangha, as his father does in Japan. “I would like to share experiences with the sangha, both in good times and difficult times, through the Nembutsu  teaching,” he said. He also said each congregation he has served at has always welcomed him warmly and has been a source of encouragement and support for him as well. “Because of this, now I sincerely want to remain in the U.S. to help and support these kind people … That is how I can repay them for their warm friendship and continued support.”

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