Oral Histories

Interview of Noriaki Ito

Immigrant from Japan and minister of Jodo Shinshu lineage. Head minister at Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in the Little Tokyo area of Los Angeles.
Many Branches, One Root: Buddhist Traditions in the Los Angeles Area
Asian American History
Biographical Note:
Immigrant from Japan and minister of Jodo Shinshu lineage. Head minister at Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in the Little Tokyo area of Los Angeles.
Cline, Alex
Ito, Noriaki
Persons Present:
Ito and Cline.
Place Conducted:
The Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple of Little Tokyo in Los Angeles.
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, series coordinator, UCLA Library Center for Oral History Research; musician; member, Order of Interbeing, Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism, ordained 2009 by Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared a timed log of the audio recording of the interview. Ito was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content but made no changes.
5.25 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The Many Branches, One Root series traces the histories and practices of a range of Buddhist traditions and communities in the greater Los Angeles area. Beginning in the early twentieth century, a succession of Buddhist traditions have put down roots in Los Angeles, each one providing spiritual support and a sense of community for the tradition’s immigrant population. By the late twentieth century many of those traditions had extended their reach beyond their original ethnic base to include an American-born, often largely Anglo, constituency. The series seeks to document the ethnic and immigrant roots of these traditions, as well as the changes that have resulted as traditions have accommodated to an American context. Series participants included monks, nuns, and lay people from Buddhist traditions from Japan, China, Tibet, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam and a mixture of immigrants and American-born practitioners.
Born on island of Kyushu in Japan— Father’s background as Jodo Shinshu Higashi Jonganji priest— Mother’s background in Ito family in Tokyo— History of married Shin Buddhist clergy— Diminishing number of Buddhist temples— Family relocation to L.A. in 1955— Moving to Higashi Honganji Temple in Boyle Heights— Adjustment to new home and learning English— Diversity of Boyle Heights— Congregation of temple— Temple and neighborhood’s connection to internment camps— Attending Occidental College in 1967— Changing majors until redirection to Buddhism— Experience with different religions— Studies leading to interest in Shin Buddhism— Ito’s teen social life— Interactions with other Japanese communities in L.A.— Dr. Franklin Joselyn’s comparative religion class.
Working hard to catch up to other Occidental College students’ education— Inspiration of both counterculture and family’s background— Participation in civil rights and antiwar protests— Growing identity as an Asian American Buddhist— Long hair and style create controversy in congregation— Continuing education in Japan in 1971— Moving temple to Little Tokyo— Factors in choice of Buddhist temple— Deciding to seriously study family’s Pure Land tradition— Becoming president of Buddhist Temple Association and instigating dialogue between Japanese Buddhist traditions— Practicing zazen— Becoming Buddhist campus advisor at Occidental— Language challenges at Otani University in Kyoto— Relocating to Kyoto with first wife— Studying Enshuju tea ceremonies in Kyoto— Language challenges limit ability to pursue academic work— Divorcing first wife after return to U.S.— Moving to Tokyo with second wife— Working as interpreter and translator in Tokyo— Returning to U.S. to practice as a priest— Father’s death and the relocation of Higashi Honganji to West Covina.
Training of Jodo Shinshu ministers— Ordination levels known as Kyoshi— Adaptations to Western traditions and name changes— Family moves to temple in Little Tokyo— Establishment of Young Adult Buddhist Association— Offering Buddhist teachings in English— Relationships with other Japanese Buddhist denominations— Approach to ritual in Higashi Honganji tradition— Changes away from weekly Sunday service— Non-Japanese participation in temple programs— Temple’s increasingly political stances and female leadership— Ito’s involvement in Buddhist-Catholic Dialogue— Becomes bishop of local district in 2011— Education and publishing with Shinshu Center of America— Scholarship of Shin Buddhism— Importance of sharing Buddhist teachings— Traveling to Vatican as part of Suffering, Liberation, Fraternity conference.