By JON KAWAMOTO
Editor, Wheel of Dharma
When the coronavirus pandemic’s shelter-in-place (SIP) order went into effect throughout California in March, it shut down virtually everything — but it couldn’t stop the music by one Sacramento father and his 15-year-old daughter.
Instead of performing at temples, including their own Buddhist Church of Sacramento, Brian Koichi Mizushima and Ellie Mizushima have taken their singing online — posting videos on Facebook and YouTube.
And, in the process, the Mizushimas have expanded their fanbase and have key people in the Buddhist Churches of Amerca raving about their music — including BCA Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada, and Salt Lake Buddhist Temple’s Rev. Jerry Hirano.
The Mizushimas — a close-knit father and daughter — have been creating videos for several years, but stepped it up during the pandemic. One notable video of theirs is “Quarantined” — where they both sing and act outside their home and out in the neighborhood.
“It is so wonderful to be able to sing with my daughter at home,” Mizushima — aka Koichi — said in an email. “It is so wonderful to share something like music together. It’s just something we both enjoy.”
Ellie said in an email that performing with her father “makes me feel extremely happy, and it makes me feel closer to my dad. It gives us a connection that not everyone else has. It’s something I know we can always do together, and that also makes me very happy. It’s always fun to sing and perform together.”
Both Koichi and Ellie realized they immediately had more time to create the music videos because of the pandemic, which upended the entire Mizushima household.
Koichi, the Center for Buddhist Education’s youth director, had to postpone speaking engagements in March and April. He also had to cancel several Jr. YBA conferences and events and said one of the “most disappointing cancellations” was the Jr. YBA year-end Disneyland trip. He’s now organizing virtual CBE events.
Ellie, a student at C.K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento, began staying at home from March 13, distance learning online from her teachers.
And Janet Mizushima, Koichi’s wife and Ellie’s mother, has been “busier than ever” working from home as a state employee, Koichi said.
Koichi pointed to his father, Henry Mizushima — a Sangha member of the Buddhist Church of Sacramento — as his biggest influence as a musician.
“He has been singing in the community ever since I was a child,” Koichi said. “We used to sing at bazaars and other community events together for as long as I can remember. He and his best friend used to perform at weddings, banquets, and events all over town. Music has always been a part of our lives, and it brings us so much enjoyment.”
Ellie said that music has always been part of her life.
“Ever since I was little, our house was always filled with music,” she said. “I was always singing as a little kid. My dad and my grandpa always loved music, and I did too. I like listening to music and singing.”
Koichi said they usually pick a song they like and sometimes are inspired by friends or YouTubers.
“We hope our singing can put a smile on a person’s face even for a few moments,” he said. “When we see/hear other people perform, it makes us feel good. We just want people to feel good … nothing more than that.
“Music is the one language that is truly universal,” he continued. “It can convey a feeling … or create a memory … or just be a moment of entertainment. Harmonies in particular are the most beautiful because they can’t be sung alone. You need more than one voice to create a harmony. It shows the importance or working with others … and how you can create something so much more when you are not alone.”
Janet Mizushima is a big, big fan. “I think it’s so special that as father and daughter they are able to share singing as something they both enjoy and are good at,” she said.
“Ellie Mizushima is an amazing talent and has been singing since she was a little girl,” said the BCA Bishop Harada in an email. “She and her father, Koichi, have sung numerous duets together, and with their help, we were able to start ‘musical offerings’ at the Sacramento Betsuin, which really enhanced the service and was loved by everyone.”
Salt Lake Buddhist Temple’s Rev. Hirano, who raved about them on a May 16 Facebook post, is another big fan.
Koichi spoke about what the family misses about not being able to go to the temple for Sunday Dharma services.
“The biggest thing we miss are the people,” he said. “Just seeing everyone’s face, and being able to talk to them and find out what’s going on in their lives is what we miss the most. But fortunately, we still remain relatively connected through social media and phone calls, so it’s not as bad as we thought!”
He also reflected on what he’s learned during this time at home.
“The greatest lesson I have learned is how fortunate we are in our lives,” Koichi said. “I feel a tremendous sense of deep gratitude for all that I have …. I am so fortunate that my family is together safe at home.”
And he noted another lesson he’s learned during the shelter-in-place order.
“The other greatest lesson I have learned is how similar we all are as human beings … and at the time how we fundamentally differ,” he said. “We all want this to end. But we all think about it quite differently. This shelter-in-place order has tested us as a nation. And some of us have more patience, and care for others … while some of us are selfish and small-minded.
“We all have differing views on what we perceive to be the truth of the world,” he continued. “And I hope as Buddhists, our goal is always to live a life with eyes wide open, and see the world as it truly is, not just as we wish it to be.”