BWA Background and History

The Buddhist Women’s Association (BWA) is a lay organization that can be found at Jodo Shinshu temples around the world, including those in Japan, the United States, Canada, South America, and beyond, open to Buddhist women of all ages.

History in San Diego

Early Days

Our Temple was established in 1926, and in the first three months we saw the creation of our own chapter of the Buddhist Women's Association, which was mostly called by its Japanese name of Fujinkai.  Charter members were Misao Kawasaki, Shizuye Koba, Mine Takeshita, Seki Nakagawa, Matsu Tsunada, Yuku Hosaka, Kameno Kawahara, Umeno Itami, Tsune Kuratomi, Isa Shimoda, Tami Mamiya, and Sada Tsuenyoshi. 

Annual member dues were 50 cents. In those early years. members produced and sponsored engeikai (dramatic productions), held cooking classes for both Japanese and Western dishes, and supported the Dharma School. By 1934 there were 148 members.  

War and Post-War

Internment ripped the Japanese American community from San Diego in April 1942, and in the camps Temple-oriented activities were severly curtailed. The end of internment did not come until starting in 1945, with some camps not closing until 1946. However, the Temple itself was in the possession of the USO and was not made available to returning San Diegans until 1948. At that time, the Fujinkai reorganized with Misao Kawasaki as President and began immediately to help organize and find teachers for the Dharma School. At the same time, a younger generation of women were organized as a youth contingent of the Fujinkai under the banner of Junior Matrons. The Junior Matrons group remained in place for the next ten years and when disbanded, found members joining Fujinkai directly or the Young Adult Buddhist Association.

1960s and Beyond

A truncated overview of the Fujinkai from the 1960s moving forward will include a history of temple service and projects, including food sales to raise Temple funds, specialized and trusted roles in conducting the twice-annual extensive cleaning (omigaki) of the altar area (onaijin), a more active participation in global BWA meetings. In the 2000s, reflecting changes already taken place in its membership, the BWA worked to present itself under its English name of Buddhist Women's Association, which is how members typically refer to it today. Moreover, comment must be made of the passing of the baton from Issei to Nisei to Sansei leadership (that is, from the first to second to the third generation of the original Temple members) in the makeup of the BWA.

Origins Worldwide

The BWA traces its origins and current global presence to two extraordinary women associated with the Nishi Hongwanji-ha branch of Jodo Shinshu, headquartered in Kyoto, Japan. 

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Lady Takeko Kujo

Lady Takeko Kujo (1887-1928) dedicated much of her adult life to giving a greater voice to Buddhist women, and is credited with co-founding the Fujinkai in Japan with her sister-in-law, Kazuko Ohtani. Lady Kujo was the daughter of Koson Ohtani, the 21st Monshu. She also founded Asoka Hospital, one of Japan’s first modern medical centers. She died in Tokyo, Japan after contracting an illness during her charitable work in the city’s slums following the Great Kanto Earthquake. BWA chapters were established in every Jodo Shinshu temple in Japan, and later in the United States and other overseas areas as many Japanese began emigrating in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

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LADY YoshiKO Ohtani

After World War II, Lady Yoshiko Ohtani (1918-2000), spouse of the 23rd Monshu, Kosho Ohtani, revitalized the Buddhist Women’s Association by visiting many temples in Japan and overseas. She was the first to institute Japan-wide and worldwide conferences, so that diverse BWA chapters could better communicate and learn about the various cultural traditions of each region where BWA chapters are active. Therefore, by tradition, today the World Buddhist Women’s Association operates under the honorary leadership of Lady Ruzumi Ohtani, spouse of the 25th Monshu of the Nishi Hongwanji-ha, Kojun Ohtani (aka Sennyo Shonin). 

Example of Visits by Lady Ohtani to BCA Temples

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Lady Yoshiko Ohtani

Historical photo of how Gomonshu Kosho Ohtani and Lady Ohtani visited BCA Temples. Shown here is her visit to Seabrook Buddhist Temple in 1952.

Photo Source: Japanese dignitaries Abbot and Lady Ohtani visit Seabrook, New Jersey. 1952. Also shown are Marian Glaueser, far left, next to Kiyomi Nakamura. Courtesy of Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center. All rights reserved. Thanks also to to the New Jersey Digital Highway project and the Rutgers Library.


Notes

For local history and photos see "History of the Temple-Affiliated Organizations," Coming Full Circle: 75th Anniversary of the Buddhist Temple of San Diego (San Diego CA: Buddhist Temple of San Diego, 2005), 49-52. 

Discussion of the early history of BWA and its global reach is adapted from the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin website, specifically "Buddhist Women's Association - History," accessed February 2018. Also helpful were the articles "Lady Takeko Kujo" by Rinban Kenshin Fujimoto and "Kujo Takeko" by Dr. Alfred Bloom, both accessed April 2018.