Keizo Norimoto, also known under the pen name Ippei Nomoto, passed peacefully surrounded by family at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 27. He was a husband, father, minister, writer, artist, educator, and student.
Born in Maesawa, Iwate Prefecture, on July 7, 1932, he was the child of Sokushin and Yuriko Norimoto of the Gannyuji Buddhist Temple. After studying at Ryukoku University in Kyoto, he traveled to the U.S. as part of a delegation of Japanese Buddhist ministers celebrating the 70th anniversary of Buddhism in America. This trip was a pivotal moment in his life as he was exposed to the freedoms and opportunities this country provided.
He emigrated soon thereafter to become a minister with the Buddhist Churches of America. He served for over 33 years in this capacity, first at the Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple (1963-1976) and then at the Fresno Betsuin Buddhist Temple (1976-1997). During 17 of those years, he served as rinban (head priest) of the Central Valley Region.
Norimoto was also a prolific writer and author of many books during his life. Writing in Japanese under his pen name Ippei Nomoto, he was particularly interested in reflecting upon the Japanese experience in America as told through autobiographical vignettes and profiles of prominent Japanese Americans. During his life, he published six books and was a regular contributor to Japanese-language publications including Bukkyo Times, The Rafu Shimpo, TV Fan, and The Hokubei Mainichi.
His books include “America Nikkei Kijinden” (1990), which profiled unique Issei pioneers, and “Hashi to Fork no Aida” (1996), a collection of essays on cultural perceptions between Japan and the U.S.
At the age of 65, Norimoto retired from the Buddhist Churches of America and became CEO of The Hokubei Mainichi, at the time the second-longest-running Japanese American newspaper headquartered in San Francisco.
In 2010, he received the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays, a medal of honor from the Japanese government, for his work in the promotion of Japanese-language education in the U.S. and the welfare of Japanese nationals in the U.S.
“Mr. Norimoto has designed numerous Japanese textbooks and has also facilitated discussion and exchange between Japanese language teachers in the United States,” the Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco said at the time. “Mr. Norimoto’s enthusiasm for language studies has had a tremendously positive effect for students of Japanese in the United States.”
His warmth, wit, intellect and ability to express the most profound thoughts in the simplest of terms in his writing will be missed by all.
He is survived by his wife Toshiko; children Kana and her husband Takeshi Koyama and Tamon and his wife Yukiko Hatanaka; four grandchildren: Nanae, Emi, Keishin and Maya.
A private funeral service for the family is planned. A memorial service will be held at a future time when everyone can safely gather and celebrate his life.