July 10, 1944. South Parkway Community Hall. Southside Chicago. Rev. Gyodo Kono holds the very first service. Seventy-five years on, such are the humble beginnings of MBT.
It’s easy to hear a milestone like this, remark momentarily about the achievement, and then move on to something else in your day. This is normal. We are all very busy, taking care of work, family, friends and ourselves.
But for just a second longer, I ask that you give yourself permission to reflect more thoughtfully about this milestone. Sit with it for just a few minutes. Allow it to really sink in. Let any thoughts, memories, hopes and dreams surface.
And, then, let them retreat to make room for more thoughts, memories, hopes and dreams.
Did anything recur or remain with you as you let yourself think? The next time I’d personally love for you to share such things.
Were you alive in 1944? Do you remember the sights, the sounds, the smells of the city? Were the winters as bitter and cold as they are now? Was Chicago’s summertime lakefront as vibrant and buzzing as we experience it today?
And what about Ginza? Did the at-once-sweet-and-salty smell of boiling teriyaki sauce permeate Chicago’s thick, humid air—winding expertly for blocks in every direction in search of unsuspecting nostrils?
In conducting some light research for this article, I read that the charismatic Rev. Gyodo Kono, a 24th-generation minister from Hiroshima departed the Jerome incarceration site, catalyzing the temple’s modest beginnings in 1944 and attracting upward of 1,000 attendees to his early services.
What was that like?
If you weren’t alive in 1944, try for a moment to put 75 years into perspective. It’s hard, I know—but give it some real effort. Consider how much has happened to you in just the past 24 hours…or the past week…or the past month even.
Do you remember what your life was like five years ago? Or 10? Or even 20 years ago? I bet there are some bad haircuts in that rear-view mirror, sprinkled with a few questionable music choices, and all mixed up with a spectrum of emotions that, whether labeled “good” or “bad,” hopefully leave you with lasting life lessons.
Sometimes I try to imagine the bravery and resilience it took to create “MBC,” or the Midwest Buddhist Church—our temple’s official name from its founding in 1944 until 1971.
Rev. Kono and our founding members were labeled enemies of the United States, losing nearly every material possession that came from a family’s hard work and perseverance as new immigrants in a new country, and then losing something much deeper—dignity. They first became prisoners housed in former animal shelters—horse stalls covered haphazardly with lye—and, then, again as prisoners housed in roughshod barracks placed purposely in areas with some of this country’s harshest conditions.
Even the original usage of the word “church” in our temple’s name bears the challenge that faced Jodo Shinshu’s existence. At that time, “church” was more publicly acceptable than the foreign-sounding “temple.”
In all honesty, it is impossible for me to imagine.
Luckily, anniversaries are moments of natural reflection. I am excited to dig deeper into the history of MBC/MBT during this milestone year.
Anniversaries are also natural moments for two other equally important thought exercises: celebrating our present and imagining our future.
As part of the temple’s official 75th Anniversary Committee, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to assist in planning our MBT’s 75th commemoration. It is our intention to do things a bit differently as we look to plan a number of programs, activities and events throughout this celebratory year under the 75th anniversary banner.
MBT, throughout its 75 years, is fortunate to have been under the guidance of compassionate, forward-thinking leadership. It is fortunate to be supported in a countless number of ways by a strong crowd of members, affiliates and friends representing diversity in each and every way that diversity can be defined.
MBT stands for what it believes is right. It values openness and inclusivity, inviting people who are 1 mile away or 10,000 miles away to “come as you are.”
Here are some upcoming events, we hope to see you there! Oh, and if you would like to donate to 75th anniversary planning activities, please do so at the Sunday Donation Table. Please indicate that the donation is for 75th anniversary activities.
– Jason Matsumoto, 75th Anniversary Committee Chairman
MARK YOUR CALENDARS
MAY 17-19 The Japanese American National Museum is coming to Chicago with plans to set up its traveling exhibit, “Contested Histories,” at the Midwest Buddhist Temple. The exhibit will be open for viewing on Friday, May 17, between 10:45 am and 5:00 pm with programs scheduled for Saturday, May 18 and Sunday, May 19. For more information about the exhibit, visit janm.org/exhibits/contested-histories/
Time: To be determined. Location: MBT Social Hall Info: 312.943.7801.
POST-GINZA It’s no secret that MBT has an ongoing relationship with some of the finest masters of Japanese crafts through the Waza’s annual Chicago visit. They are inarguably a staple of Ginza’s unique charm. Thanks to Harumi Ichikawa who made the first ask, followed by an in-person visit to Kawakami-san in his Asakusa-based tenugui shop, master artisan Chihiro Kawakami, one of the senior members of the Waza, has agreed to create a special MBT 75th Anniversary tenegui to commemorate our milestone. More details to come.
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 21 Mark your calendars! The Knu(er) Basics (some MBTers may remember them from many years back as the Knu Basics) have chosen a venue for their big reunion concert and it’s MBT! Come check out original band memebers Steve Arima, Jim Chikaraishi and George Formosa, and knuer-comers Alan Arima, Darrell Kaneshiro and Elaine Matsushita as they rock out. Stay tuned for more information, you won’t want to miss this!
Time: To be determined. Location: MBT Social Hall Info: 312.943.7801.
FRIDAY MARCH 1 USC professor Duncan Ryukan Williams, who is also a Soto Zen priest and author of the upcoming book “American Sutra: A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War” will give a presentation and talk about “American Sutra.” The book, which will be released by the Harvard Press on Feb. 19, reflects on how Japanese American Buddhists dealt with dislocation, loss and uncertainty during their wartime incarceration.
Drawing on contemplative practices and rituals from their Buddhist tradition, their stories represent timeless approaches to finding inner liberation when freedom has been taken away from you. Their stories also represent a vigorous defense of the American ideal of religious freedom.
Dr. Williams will be joined by Rev. Ron Miyamura and Northwestern University’s Associate Professor of Religious Studies Sarah Jacoby. The event is co-sponsored by the Buddhist Temple of Chicago, which is also celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2019.
Time: 7 pm. Location: MBT Social Hall Info: 312.943.7801.
SUNDAY MARCH 3 Dr. Duncan Ryukan Williams (see more about him above)will give a Dharma talk at the Sunday service.
Time: 10:30 am. Location: MBT hondo. Info: 312.943.7801.