During dinnertime at the temple lodgings, she began to talk quietly to the overseas guests, who were captivated by the vegetarian cuisine traditionally served to monks. In fluent English, she told them about the origins of Koyasan; the life of Kukai (Kobo Daishi); and her years of experiences in Koyasan, starting before the War.

 

Born into the family of a local teacher, she loved English as a student at a girls’ school, and threw herself into her studies. Thanks to her parents’ enthusiasm for education, she went on to study at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University, which had only recently been established. She majored in English literature, spending her days immersed in English. In the year in which she graduated and began working for a bank, the Pacific War started. After a while, Tokyo came to suffer air raids, and she returned home. At that time, the temples and lodgings of Koyasan had become billets for the Navy, and were apparently overflowing with young military trainees who were preparing to launch suicide attacks. The girls’ school hoped that she would become a home economics teacher, but although she dearly wanted to teach English, this was out of the question in a period in which it was censured as an “enemy language.” She turned down the request.

 

Finally, after Japan’s defeat, she married into Rengejoin Temple at the age of 25. During this period, when one era was suddenly being replaced by another, occupation forces came to Koyasan, and she was able to put her valuable English-language abilities to great use. Before long, novice monks from overseas and foreigners drawn to esoteric Buddhism started to knock on the doors of Rengejoin Temple. As she interpreted repeatedly for her husband, the chief priest, standing at his side, the temple became famous in the US.

 

Her eldest son, the current chief priest, now explains the morning and evening religious services in English. The communication that she initiated, and which has grown and developed over the years, is now reaching the world.

 

Kiyomi Soeda

Born in Wakayama Prefecture in 1920, she moved to Koyasan shortly after and spent her childhood there. In 1936, she graduated from Hashimoto Girls’ High School, and in 1941, from Tokyo Woman’s Christian University. She married the then chief priest, Takatoshi Soeda, in 1946. Her most recent work is “Life in Koyasan at 97 years old: with thanks to the person I am now” (Takarajimasha).

Translation: Media Research, Inc.

This article originally appeared in “Shinsei” magazine, August 2017 issue, published by RINRI Institute of Ethics. Partially rewritten to update for this internet release.

Spirit and Spine
‘Kitohone’

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