Oral Histories

Interview of Masao Kodani

Drummer, hichiriki player, and co-founder of Kinnara, an organization dedicated to the study and performance of traditional Japanese performing arts. Minister at Senshin Buddhist temple.
Traditional Asian Arts in Southern California
Asian American History
Biographical Note:
Drummer, hichiriki player, and co-founder of Kinnara, an organization dedicated to the study and performance of traditional Japanese performing arts. Minister at Senshin Buddhist temple.
Cline, Alex
Kodani, Masao
Persons Present:
Kodani and Cline.
Place Conducted:
Senshin Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Alex Cline, UCLA Library Center for Oral History Research. Cline has spent a considerable amount of his career as a jazz drummer/musician in Los Angeles.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Kodani was then given an opportunity to review the transcript but made no corrections or additions.
6 hours
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The Traditional Asian Arts in Southern California series focuses on both immigrants and second- or third-generation Asian Americans who have continued East Asian or Southeast Asian musical, dance, and performance traditions in Southern California. Some preserved their art form by adhering to the traditional forms of their disciplines, while others incorporated elements from Western arts and culture.
Father’s family background—Mother’s family background—The Kodani family are relocated to the internment camp in Poston, Arizona, during World War II—They return to East Los Angeles after the war, then move to Willowbrook—Characteristics of their mostly African American neighborhood—Kodani’s parents send him and his brothers to a Baptist church until high school—High-risk activities in which Kodani, his two brothers, and their friends engaged in in their neighborhood—Music Kodani heard while growing up—His use of African American English until he went to college—Food eaten during his youth—Racial realities during Kodani’s teen years—His musical interests as a teenager—A high school teacher takes Kodani and his class to a kabuki performance, an experience which proves pivotal and influential—His transition from Baptist to Buddhist while in high school—The myriad subjects he majored in when he attended the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB)—His encounter with racial discrimination at a college fraternity—His observation and experience of racial discrimination against African Americans—Japanese culture in Kodani’s family—Japanese language school—He ultimately settles on East Asian Studies as his major at UCSB—The unexpected way Kodani wound up going to Kyoto as a foreign student in the Buddhist ministry—His almost total lack of knowledge of Japanese language and cultural expectations upon arriving in Japan—His struggles to adjust to his life and training in Kyoto—Finding clothes large enough to fit him—His father’s disapproval of Kodani’s choice of occupation—Initial feelings about being in Japan—Experiences attending traditional Japanese cultural events in Kyoto—Art events in Kyoto at the time—Kodani’s Buddhist interests fall outside Jodo Shinshu, or Pure Land, Buddhism while he is a student in Kyoto—His studies of Tendai Buddhism and the practice of walking for miles around Mount Hiei—Experience of zazen, or sitting meditation.
Kodani’s Western and Japanese first names—Beat poets and other notables in Kyoto while he was there—His education in Kyoto—More on other Buddhist traditions and practices he encountered in Kyoto—His first exposure to taiko and gagaku occur back in L.A.—The Watts Riots happen while he is in Kyoto—His travels around other parts of Japan—Buddhist precepts and their absence in the Jodo Shinshu tradition—Kodani’s ordination at the end of his six years in Kyoto—He is offered a ministerial job at Senshin Buddhist Temple back in L.A., which he eventually accepts, then travels around Asia, the Middle East, and Europe for six months—His arrival back home in 1968 during the huge cultural changes of the time—The impact traveling in India had on Kodani—Places he wanted to travel to but was unable to—Life for Kodani upon his return home and assuming his new career as a minister at Senshin—His new job introduces him to a Japanese American community for the first time—He is induced to purchase a house—The beginnings of Kinnara in 1969—Kinnara’s first taiko drums and taiko repertoire—The beginnings of the formation of taiko ensembles worldwide—The philosophy behind the teaching and performing of taiko at Kinnara—Suenobu Togi-sensei’s relaxed approach to teaching gagaku at Kinnara—Bugaku is introduced into Kinnara’s activities—Kinnara becomes an official nonprofit entity at Senshin—The Kinnara retreats at San Luis Obispo Buddhist Temple—Jodo Shinshu’s view of zazen—The impact of the Kinnara retreats on Senshin’s weekly services—Chanting at Senshin—The impact of Kinnara’s decidedly more traditional Japanese-style services on Senshin’s extant and potential congregation.
Kodani’s father’s death and his mother’s move to Gardena after Kodani’s return to Los Angeles—His relative isolation in Kyoto during the turbulent days of the Vietnam War—Buddhist sites he visited during his travels after leaving Kyoto—His interaction with Rinzai Zen master Joshu Sasaki-roshi in connection with the first Kinnara retreats—Demographic changes in Senshin’s congregation during Kodani’s years as a minister there—A historical view of Senshin—Background to the development of the chanting at Senshin that sparked the founding of Kinnara—Early elements that determined Kinnara Taiko’s repertoire and presentation style—Profile of Kinnara Taiko’s members—The profusion of women involved in American temple taiko groups—Kinnara’s interaction with Japanese taiko groups Ondeko-Za and Kodo—Kinnara’s early efforts making their own taiko drums—The decidedly non-hierarchical structure of Kinnara and other temple-related entities and activities—Kodani’s ministerial predecessors at Senshin—The beginnings and eventual growth of Kinnara’s influence in the greater community of Japanese American Buddhist temples—More on Kinnara’s interaction with Ondeko-Za when they first came to L.A.—Learning and performing as part of Kinnara Taiko—Difference between Buddhist temple and non-Buddhist temple taiko groups—Contrast between American and Japanese approaches to playing and performing—Kodani’s experience of playing gagaku and learning to play the hichiriki—His personal feelings about playing and performing with Kinnara—The importance of music as an integral part of life—Impact of the experience with Kinnara’s art forms on Kodani’s life and world view—He is appointed head minister at Senshin in 1978—The challenge of “letting go.”
Kinnara’s evolution from being goal-oriented to simply enjoying life for its own sake—American Buddhist temple taiko compared with taiko outside the temples—The tradition of gagaku in Nishi Hongwanji temples—Kinnara Taiko is turned over to the younger generation—How Senshin handles its approach in appealing to younger-generation Japanese American and all non-Japanese American members—The challenge of making Jodo Shinshu’s point of view appealing to modern Americans—The decrease in membership at Jodo Shinshu temples—Senshin’s relations with its surrounding community—Jodo Shinshu’s egalitarian history—Senshin’s relationship with other Buddhist communities in L.A.—How Kinnara Taiko increases Senshin’s visibility around L.A.—How the spirit of Senshin and Kinnara can be continued after Kodani’s departure from them—Qualities needed in new Jodo Shinshu ministers—Plans for Senshin’s facilities—Continuation of the Japanese American community’s presence at Senshin—Non-Japanese interest in Senshin and Kinnara—Prospects for contemporary American Jodo Shinshu Buddhism—Non-Japanese and female clergy in Jodo Shinshu—Senshin’s unique requirements for a new minister—Why coming to the U.S. is appealing to Japanese ministers—Younger Japanese people’s feelings upon encountering cultural and artistic expressions of their country upon coming to the U.S.—Kodani’s appreciation of his own “peasant” background in relation to his involvement with Jodo Shinshu Buddhism—The future of Jodo Shinshu in present-day Japan—Some dedicated regular supporters of Kinnara—Kinnara’s and Kodani’s lack of a desire to have their activities better publicized—Kinnara’s relishing of its own lack of professionalism—The importance for everyone of playing music and making art—Thoughts about being Japanese American—Problems with being a minister.