After last night’s celebration of the Cubs’ incredulous world series victory, today I’m feeling a somber sense of loss and lostness. Our temple’s long-serving minister, Rev. Ashikaga and his wife just left for the airport where they will board a plane taking them back to Japan. Around sixty years ago, Rev. Ashikaga arrived in Hawaii to start as a kaikyoshi (“missionary”) for Higashi Honganji in Hilo and a few years after that, settled in Chicago to serve as one of several ministers at our temple. Although he and his wife spent almost all their adult lives in the United States, they are now returning back to the country of their citizenship, Japan.
[photo by Y. Fujiwara]
After Rev. Ashikaga officially retired in 2013 and I became the full-time resident minister, he was a constant presence at the temple, showing up to almost every Sunday service. I was grateful that he would conduct the services during my frequent absences to speak at other temples and attend conferences out of town, but he wasn’t one to play a subordinate role and I felt like the one who had to meet his expectations. Some of this tension was the usual “former boss not wanting to answer to the new younger boss” situation that many ministers have found themselves in (unlike Christian churches, the Buddhist temples don’t banish their retired ministers from the premises). But some people have told me that some of it looked like the “man doesn’t want to take orders from woman” attitude that is especially entrenched in Japanese culture. So after Rev. Ashikaga announced that he and his wife decided to finally return to Japan, my main reaction was one of relief. “Now I can run the service as I want instead of always worrying about Rev. Ashikaga having a cow if I try this or that new thing.”
After waving goodbye to them as they were being taken to the airport, I can’t help having a mournful feeling. Two people who were part of my life helping and working at the temple now are gone. I may see them both again – either in Japan or if they return here on a visit – but for the days and months ahead there will be a lot of adjusting to their absence. Despite the relief I felt knowing I’ll be free of their meddling, I know there will be many moments when I wish I had them around.
It’s the end of a long era and the beginning of my having to take some very uncertain steps ahead for the temple’s future. There are too many questions and worries for me to spell out here, but there are those passages in the old Buddhist texts that predict the downfall of the teachings once women join the ordained ranks. I may be just the kind of female those scripture writers feared that will bring the whole structure down – lacking both the strong identification to past culture (language, rituals etc.) and the swaggering resoluteness that people expect of a spiritual leader.