By BRIAN NIIYA
A familiar presence at Manzanar Pilgrimages and many other community events for decades, Rev. Alfred Tsuyuki led the Konko Church of Los Angeles for nearly 40 years.
Rev. Tsuyuki was born in Los Angeles on June 8, 1941, the eldest son of Rev. Taiichi Tsuyuki (1912–85) and Yoshie Tsuyuki. Rev. Taiichi, who had been the assistant minister of the Konko Church of San Francisco, had moved to Los Angeles a year earlier to take over leadership of the Los Angeles church.
As with the vast majority of Japanese immigrant religious leaders of “Japanese” religions, Rev. Taiichi was arrested and interned after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, first taken to the Tuna Canyon detention facility, then to a succession of internment camps run by the INS or Army. Yoshie and young Alfred moved to San Francisco to join her family, from where they were sent to the Tanforan Assembly Center and the Topaz, Utah, concentration camp.
The family was eventually reunited in January of 1945 and the Crystal City, Texas, camp and were released back to Los Angeles in March 1946.
During the war, a Latino family had taken over the church in East Los Angeles and held their own services there and returned it to the Tsuyukis upon their return. Rev. Taiichi was named head minister of the Los Angeles church in 1949.
Alfred grew up in Boyle Heights, attending First Street Elementary, Hollenbeck Junior High and Roosevelt High School, graduating the latter in 1959. He also studied judo with Tatsuo Inouye.
He began studying for the ministry that fall at the Konko Ministers’ Seminary in Okayama, returning to the U.S. in 1961. Ordained as a Konko minister that year, he studied at Claremont Men’s College and University of Southern California, finishing a master’s degree at the latter, while assisting his father at the church. He would complete a second master’s at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago in the mid-1970s.
He married Michie Fujii in 1978 and the couple had two daughters, Alyne Nagisa and Cheryl Sumire.
Upon his father’s death in 1985, Rev. Tsuyuki became the head minister of the Los Angeles church. For nearly 40 years, he ministered to his congregation, holding regular services and officiating weddings, funerals, and many other important events. He was called on frequently to conduct purification ceremonies for grand openings and ground-breakings, whether for such community institutions as Nisei Week or for private businesses or homes. He was also part of the Nikkei Interfaith Group, representing the Konko Church in the context of many other faith groups.
Close family friend and Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition leader Kyoko Oda recalls his purification ceremony for Tuna Canyon “and countless other times after that that he helped” and “that brought the injustice during the war into perspective.”
Rev. Tsuyuki was also a key part of Manzanar Pilgrimages for many years as part of the inter-faith ceremony. Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey wrote that he “made invaluable contributions to Manzanar as well as contributions to our community” and that he “led by example, an example of caring for the greater good, to have respect and honor as we all work for a better, more harmonious world.”
Though slowed by deteriorating health over the last few years, he continued to work as much as he was able before his untimely passing at the age of 81 on Nov. 21, 2022.
Despite his physical passing, his family has a message for all to remember, “Rev. Alfred Tsuyuki’s mitama, or spiritual essence, lives on in each of us. Allow us to carry forth the torch of his life’s efforts into the next generation, to serve humanity with an open heart, a love and appreciation for life, and a broad smile.”
Brian Niiya is the content director for Densho and editor of the Densho Encyclopedia. Formerly a curator and administrator for both the Japanese American National Museum and the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai’i, he edited two print editions of the “Encyclopedia of Japanese American History” (1993 and 2001). This article originally appeared in the program of the 2023 Manzanar Pilgrimage.
friends since 7th grade. He will always be my brother, my friend.
Love you, Jerry