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American Shin Buddhist Minister Retires with Final Message on Gratitude

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From sandiegouniontribune.com

Rev. Dr. Kenji Akahoshi, who spent his early years in a World War Two internment camp for Japanese Americans before becoming a dentist and finally a Shin Buddhist minister at the Buddhist Temple of San Diego, has retired. Akahoshi, aged 79, has announced that he will be retiring from his second career and will return to San Jose to be near family.

For his retirement, temple congregants threw him a drive-through farewell party. Reflecting on his eight years as a minister, Akahoshi said: “It’s been greater than I thought it would be.” One retirement gift he received was a book with photos and messages from his congregation. “I started leafing through it and I started crying,” Akahoshi acknowledged. (The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Inside the Buddhist Temple of San Diego. From buddhisttemplesandiego.org

Now that he is retired, Akahoshi plans to spend more time with his two grandsons and his wife’s 101-year-old mother. He also hopes to lead workshops around the country and to write a book on gratitude, a topic central to Shin Buddhism.

Akahoshi became a minister at the age of 71, after a long career as a dentist—a profession he chose as he saw others of his generation working to obtain status in American society in the hope that it would ensure that the internment endured by his family and fellow Japanese Americans would never happen again. “All the children were going to be doctors and lawyers, because if you had a higher position in society, perhaps this wouldn’t have happened,” said Akahoshi. (The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Akahoshi was a newborn in 1942 when his family was sent to Camp Amache—the Granada Relocation Center—for three years during World War Two. He remembers little from that time, although he does recall the sandstorms that would hit the camp and his family rushing to seal gaps in doors and windows to keep out the sand and dust.

Like many of their generation, his parents didn’t discuss the war and internment much, instead focusing on rebuilding and ensuring a better life for their children. “This was the mood of that generation,” he explained. “They just didn’t talk about it.” (The San Diego Union-Tribune)

So Akahoshi dutifully pursued a career in dentistry. He spent more than 30 years on that path before retiring in 2007. From there he went to Berkeley’s Institute of Buddhist Studies to work toward a master’s degree and then became ordained. Later, he went to Japan for his Kyoshi certification, making him a certified teacher in the Shin tradition. In 2013, after years of retraining for a second career, Akahoshi was appointed resident minister of the Buddhist Temple in San Diego.

In his time as a minister, Akahoshi has deepened his practice of Buddhism. Shin Buddhism teaches faith in Amida Buddha, who has created a Pure Land for devotees. Shinran, the founder of Shin Buddhism, is said to have strived for many years for enlightenment before he finally gave up and opened himself to receive the Dharma into his heart and mind. In addition to chanting the nembutsu (念佛) or salutations to Amida Buddha, practitioners today are taught to practice deep self-reflection and to see the teachings of the Dharma throughout everyday life.

Shinran Shonin. From wikimedia.org

Akahoshi’s next goal is to continue his practice—in particular, cultivating a deep sense of gratitude for all that he has in life. Last year, he wrote an article on gratitude for the Tricycle, which became one of the magazine’s top articles of 2020.

See more

Kenji Akahoshi on his retirement as a Buddhist minister and why gratitude plays an important role in his life (The San Diego Union-Tribune)
Buddhist Temple of San Diego
Shin Buddhism, An Introduction (Buddhist Churches of America)
Shin Buddhism: A Path of Gratitude (Tricycle)

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