Home About Us Reverend Kennryu Tsuji

Reverend Kennryu Tsuji

Reverend Tsuji was the first American citizen to serve as Bishop (Socho) of the 105-year old Buddhist Churches of America, which is the largest Buddhist religious body within the Japanese American community, headquartered in San Francisco.

Reverend Tsuji was born in Mission City, British Columbia on March 14, 1919, and graduated from the University of British Columbia. Desiring to enter into the Shin Buddhist ministry, Reverend Tsuji attended Ryukoku University in Kyoto, Japan and received religious ordination from the Nishi Hongwanji sect of Shin Buddhism just prior to the start of World War II.

While completing his studies in Kyoto, school officials sensed the oncoming of hostilities and insisted that Reverend Tsuji immediately the leave country on what would be the last ship to leave Japan for Canada before World War II began. Upon returning to Canada, Reverend Tsuji was appointed the minister of the Hompa Buddhist Temple in Vancouver BC. However, this was to be a short assignment. Due to the war, all Japanese Canadians living on the West Coast were forced into concentration camps like their Japanese American counterparts.

In October of 1942, Rev. Tsuji was sent to the Japanese Canadian internment camp at Slocan, British Columbia, where he was appointed principal of the Bayfarm Elementary School which served 500-interned Japanese Canadian children for the duration of the war.

In 1945, with the end of the war, and little more than the clothes on his back, Reverend Tsuji left the internment camp and resettled in Toronto, Ontario, Canada where he worked on a mushroom farm, washed dishes and worked in a chemical factory to make a living. As most Canadians of Japanese ancestry left the internment camps, many decided not to return to what had been their homes on the West Coast provinces and instead chose to re-start their lives in Toronto, where very few Japanese Canadians had previously lived.

Later in 1945, with a growing Japanese Canadian population Reverend Tsuji and other devout Shin Buddhists founded several Buddhist churches in Ontario and Quebec, Canada. Rev. Tsuji also helped to develop curricula for Buddhist religious education.

In 1958, Rev. Tsuji accepted an appointment as National Director of Buddhist Education for the Buddhist Churches of America in San Francisco. Rev. Tsuji would organize the BCA Buddhist Bookstore, which was probably the first Buddhist bookstore in America. He also introduced the now popular district conferences and seminars held in most BCA districts to this day.

In 1968, Reverend Tsuji was elected the first Nisei (second generation Japanese North American) Bishop of the Buddhist Churches of America and also served as President of the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, California.

During his term as Bishop, Bishop Tsuji criss-crossed the nation many times, visiting all BCA temples, large and small. Innovative person that he was, Reverend Tsuji embarked on a career as a film director and produced several Buddhist films to expand his fellow Shin Buddhists' knowledge and understanding of the Buddha's teachings.

In 1981, Reverend Tsuji accepted a new challenge in his life of the Buddhist ministry to organize the first Shin Buddhist temple in the Southeastern portion of the United States, in Springfield, Virginia. Together with devout Japanese Buddhist patron, the late Dr. Yehan Numata, Rev. Tsuji started the Ekoji Buddhist Temple in the greater Washington DC area. Following the vision and actions of Shinran Shonin, the founder of Shin Buddhism, Rev. Tsuji traveled throughout the southeastern part of the nation in his later years to share the teachings of Buddhism.

With this Ekoji temple near the center of America's government, Rev. Tsuji was called upon numerous times to represent American Buddhists in a national capacity. He also became the first Buddhist to serve as President of the American affiliate of the distinguished World Conference on Religion and Peace from 1983 to 1989.

In 1986, at the request of a small group of Pure Land Buddhists in Richmond, Virginia, Rev. Tsuji arranged to have a house at 3411 Grove Avenue converted to a Buddhist temple. He once again solicited the generous help of the Numata Society to purchase the building.  Weekly services began in 1986. Rev. Tsuji soon welcomed other Buddhist groups into the temple.  In 1991, a Zen group joined Ekoji, followed by a Tibetan group in 1993, and a Vipassana group in 1994.  In 2006, a non-sectarian group called simply Meditative Inquiry started at the temple. All of these groups continue to thrive at the Ekoji Buddhist Temple in Richmond.

After a long life of service devoted to nurturing the growing Buddhist community in America, Reverend Tsuji passed away in February 2004.

Adapted from http://www.ekoji.org.