Oral Histories

Interview of Frances Nakamura

President of Koyasan Betsuin Shingon 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:
President of Koyasan Betsuin Shingon Buddhist Temple in the Little Tokyo area of Los Angeles.
Cline, Alex
Nakamura, Frances
Persons Present:
Nakamura and Cline.
Place Conducted:
Nakamura's home in Gardena, 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, 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. Nakamura was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content. The corrections made were then entered into the text by the Center for Oral History Research staff.The third session of the interview has been sealed and is currently not available to the public.
4 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 in Los Angeles—Father, Seytsu Takahashi, builds Koyasan Beikoku Betsuin—Father is taken by FBI after Pearl Harbor—Family is taken to the Santa Anita racetrack and relocated to an the internment camp in Rohwer, Arkansas—Takahashi family returns to Los Angeles after the war and Bishop Takahashi resumes leadership of Koyasan—Nakamura tries to learn Japanese but instead learns English in public school—Attends the University of Southern California (USC)—For social reasons becomes Christian, like many of her Japanese American school friends—Travels to Japan with father in 1960 and meets family—Father thinks the bombing of Hiroshima is U.S. propaganda, then later oversees the temple sending care packages to Japan—Nakamura is close to her father and becomes the only member of her family to continue with the temple—Graduates from USC in biological sciences in 1962—Meets husband, Robert Nakamura, at USC —Doesn’t see much change in the Little Tokyo area of L.A. until the 1970s—Sees change as a member of the Little Tokyo Historical Society—Sees most Americans’ perceptions of Buddhism as being very limited—Koyasan attracts large crowds for its New Years celebrations but fewer attendees for its regular services.
Nakamura's father, Bishop Takahashi, is the typical family patriarch—Sees significant demographic changes in her old neighborhood, the Seinan district—Mother works as a seamstress and does piecework—Parents move to the Sawtelle area in West Los Angeles in 1970—Nakamura’s attendance at Koyasan temple decreases during her college and married years—Learns about the influx of Japanese investment in Little Tokyo during its redevelopment—Buddhist temples in Little Tokyo are affected by the dispersion of the Japanese American community—Japanese cultural identity supersedes Buddhist denomination for community activities—Ministers in Buddhist temples assist students of religious studies from local colleges and universities—Father dies before realizing his aspiration of spreading Shingon Buddhism to Europe—Women’s ability to serve in Shingon temples remains limited—Nakamura becomes Koyasan’s first president but has no aspirations to function in a religious capacity—Nakamura decides not to send her own daughters to Japanese language school—Koyasan provides access to training in traditional Japanese arts and cultural activities—Many Shingon temples have not survived into the present day—Funding for the temple operations—Few non-Japanese people attend services at Koyasan—Nakamura teaches Koyasan’s Sunday school classes—The Young Buddhists Association (YBA) at Koyasan—Changes in Koyasan’s services over the years—Fire safety laws limit Koyasan’s monthly fire rituals (goma)—Changes in the Seinan neighborhood and reflections of those changes in Nakamura's Dorsey High School class reunions.