By JON KAWAMOTO, Wheel of Dharma Editor
BCA Minister Emeritus Rev. Hiroshi Abiko, the son of a Japanese Buddhist minister who himself served as a BCA kaikyoshi minister for 42 years, was fondly remembered for the example he set that embodied the Buddha-Dharma — through his energy, positive outlook, leadership and mentorship.
Rev. Abiko, who was 81, passed away on Oct. 6 in San Francisco at his home with his family present. He was diagnosed with bladder cancer two years before and received treatment at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.
At the Oct. 27 memorial service at the Buddhist Church of San Francisco, BCA Minister Emeritus Rev. Masao Kodani, the longtime minister at Senshin Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles, delivered a brief and touching eulogy via Zoom.
“Rev. Hiroshi Jokai Abiko was born and raised in a Buddhist family infused by the experience called Buddhism,” Rev. Kodani said. “Buddhism is not about faith in a Western sense of religion. Ironically, this is especially true of our Jodo Shinshu form of Buddhism. It is to experience, to wake up to reality. Not our normal self-created reality, but to that which simply is, or more correctly, that which simply is-ing.”
Rev. Kodani first met Rev. Abiko in Kyoto during the 1960s and said Rev. Abiko “connected his Buddhist experiences without being ego-self conscious about it, and definitely did not wear it on his sleeve.
“He was truly adventurous, not from trying to prove something, but because he was really curious about things, and wide open to them. And his experiences made him naturally want to share them. He knew what normal was, but also knew somehow what natural was. I don’t know how else to explain this about him.”
Rev. Hiroshi Abiko was born at the Japanese Hospital in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles on March 13, 1941, the second son of Rev. Yoshitaka Giko Abiko and Mrs. Hiroko (Shibata) Abiko. Rev. Abiko’s elder brother is Koki Abiko.
With the outbreak of World War II in December 1941, Rev. Yoshitaka Abiko, who was one of several ministers assigned to the Los Angeles Betsuin, was arrested by the FBI and sent to a U.S. Justice Department detention camp in Santa Fe, N.M., along with other Buddhist ministers and leaders of Japanese American communities.
Hiroko Abiko and her two sons were initially detained at the Santa Anita Park race track in Arcadia, before being sent to the Jerome, Ark., concentration camp. After approximately a year, they were transferred to the Tule Lake camp, where they were reunited with Rev. Yoshitaka Abiko.
After the war ended, the Abiko family was transferred to Japan. They returned to the Abiko family temple, Shokoji, in Shiga Prefecture.
Rev. Hiroshi Abikoʼs interest in taiko began during his elementary school days in Japan, when he watched his cousins playing the temple taiko and making rhythmic sounds in the Hondo and in the courtyard in preparation for Bon Odori.
The family moved to Hiroshima, where Rev. Yoshitaka Abiko served as the first school principal of a Hiroshima music school, and then moved to Sapporo Betsuin.
In 1954, the family returned to California, where Rev. Yoshitaka Abiko became a BCA minister at the Buddhist Temple of Alameda. He was later assigned as rinban of the Buddhist Church of Sacramento and last served as minister of Enmanji Buddhist Temple in Sebastopol.
Rev. Hiroshi Abiko attended Porter Junior High and Alameda High School, where he became the school’s hornet mascot. His college years at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, were cut short when his father became seriously ill while serving the Sacramento Betsuin, and his mother needed help in caring for his father.
He transferred to California State University, Sacramento, where he graduated with a degree in philosophy and a minor in art. Soon after his college graduation, he left for Kyoto to enter the masterʼs program at Ryukoku University to further his studies in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. He received his masterʼs degree, and received tokudo, kyoshi, and kaikyoshi from the Nishi Hongwanji. He also received certification in completing his training in the art of flower arrangement.
Before returning to California to visit his parents and to await assignment by the BCA, Rev. Abiko traveled around the world, visiting Buddhist and historical sites throughout China, Southeast Asia, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, as well as Europe.
Rev. Abiko served at San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin, Palo Alto Buddhist Temple, Buddhist Church of San Francisco, and Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple (Nishi Hongwanji). He also served as chairman of the BCA Ministers Association.
His first temple assignment was the San Jose Betsuin in 1971. He married Misaye Kamigaki of Brentwood in 1974, having met her at a San Jose Betsuin choir concert. Rev. Abiko was a tenor in the San Jose Betsuin Choir led by Yumiko Hojo. He also became a member of the Palo Alto and San Francisco temple choirs in subsequent years.
Rev. Abiko was one of the three original founders of San Jose Taiko, whose premiere performance occurred in 1973.
“In Mahayana Buddhism, the taiko is the symbolic voice of the Buddha or the Dharma,” Rev. Abiko said. “It is the far-reaching and eternally majestic sound, which calls all living beings to the Truth and the reality of the Dharma. The natural joy of being shown the Truth of what one is, no matter how uncomfortable the case may be, is the joy of awareness of being embraced in the Truth, or in Amida Buddha.”
In 1983, Rev. Abiko was assigned to the Buddhist temple in Palo Alto, where his son, Ryo, was born. During his 18-year tenure in Palo Alto, he also became the first Buddhist chaplain for the Palo Alto Veterans Administration. He always looked forward to meeting veterans, hearing their stories and counseling them.
In 2001, Rev. Abiko was assigned to Buddhist Church of San Francisco (BCSF). During his tenure, he was able to help set up the BCSF’s Ministers Assistant Program (MAP).
In 2009, he became rinban of the Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple. He retired in 2013 to Sebastopol.
Rev. Abiko’s impact on BCA ministers was profound, and cited by both Rev. Harry Bridge of the Buddhist Church of Oakland and BCA Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada.
“Rev. Abiko was a very significant figure in my life — he gave the first Dharma talk I ever heard,” Rev. Bridge said in a Facebook post after attending Rev. Abiko’s memorial service.
Rev. Bridge recalled visiting a friend in the Bay Area in 1990 and, at the urging of his friend’s mother, attending a memorial service for his friend’s grandfather. Rev. Abiko was the officiating minister for the service.
“I wouldn’t go up to do incense offering — I had no idea what was going on! But something about the Dharma talk captured me. It was the proverbial lightbulb going off above my head. To this day, I have no memory of what he (Rev. Abiko) talked about,” Rev. Bridge said. But later, Rev. Bridge told his friend’s mother that the Dharma talk was interesting.
“So she gave me some books and journals, all over my head at the time. But, a few years later, I dug them out, discovered the existence of the Institute of Buddhist Studies, and the rest is history,” Rev. Bridge said. “So thank you, Abiko Sensei — your impact on me was immeasurable, and I’m sure that can be said for many others besides me.”
Rev. Harada said: “Over the many years that I have known Abiko Sensei, I never heard him complain about his workload or even show that he was tired or on the verge of being burned out.
“He was always upbeat, positive, and energetic, even when he was serving at busy places like the Los Angeles Betsuin. Whenever I saw him, he always had an enthusiastic greeting, ‘Hey Marv, how you doing?’ Or something of that nature. His energy was quite infectious, and even if I myself felt a bit tired or worn out from a busy work schedule, after seeing Abiko Sensei, I would feel energized or uplifted.”
In his retirement, Rev. Abiko pursued projects with his hands at the Sebastopol country home. He built vegetable boxes for his wife and made them as gopher-proof as possible. He loved to garden, rake autumn leaves, clean gutters, and repair fences and gates.
His favorite thing to do was to drive his riding mower through the field to cut weeds and flatten down gopher mounds, according to his family. He also enjoyed golf games with his minister and Sangha friends, and he tried practicing his putting skills using gopher holes as targets, but with little success. He pruned the apple, plum and persimmon trees and hoped for a better harvest the following year, and even tried making apple pies.
As a retired minister, Rev. Abiko was grateful to be given the opportunity to help at the Enmanji Buddhist Temple by sharing Dharma talks, conducting services and providing guidance as needed.
Rev. Abiko’s survivors include: his wife, Misaye (Kamigaki) Abiko; daughter, Kaori Abiko, and her husband, Chris Le; son, Ryo Abiko; and older brother, Koki Abiko, and his family. He is predeceased by his parents and sister Nariye, who died at 17 months in 1946 in Japan.
He was proud of his children and grateful for their love and support together with his wifeʼs loving care. He was elated to be a part of the wedding ceremony for Kaori and Chris in July.
“Hiroshi Jokai — His names mean, ‘Broad and expansive like the purity of the ocean.’ Way to go, Hiroshi, and thanks for everything,” Rev. Kodani said in his eulogy. “May the Nembutsu say all of us, too. NamoAmidaButsu.”
Rev. Abiko’s family said: “Hiroshi now remains in the comfort of the ʻother shore,’ giving care to earthly beings who have not yet reached the ʻother shore.ʼ”
The Abiko family, led by Misaye Abiko, and BCA Minister Emeritus Rev. Masao Kodani, Rev. Harry Bridge and Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada contributed to this article