In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Issei Buddhism in the Americas
  • Justin K.H. Tse (bio)
Issei Buddhism in the Americas by Duncan Ryuken Williams and Tomoe Moriya (eds.). Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2010. 216 pp. $25.00 paper. ISBN 978-0-252-07719-7.

Issei Buddhism in the Americas makes a unique contribution both to Asian and Asian American studies. The authors premise Issei Buddhism in the Americas as a final stage in bukkyo tozen, the eastward-moving transmission of Buddhism from India traditionally thought to have ended in Japan. Their work is thus a contribution to Asian studies, both in terms of how Japan entered a global age and of extending the analysis of a Japanese religious form to the Americas. Following Eiichiro Azuma, the editors and their colleagues demonstrate that Issei Buddhists lived "between two empires," as their experiences of dislocation from Japan and relocation during the American internment transmitted Buddhism farther into the American interior. This volume's particular strength is in the authors' extensive usage of Japanese language sources, a method that transcends the contemporary historiography's over-dependence on Nisei Christian sources. That said, most of the essays also position first-generation Japanese forms of Buddhism in relation to versions of Christianity found in the Americas. Indeed, using the migrants' own language gives voice to the Issei actors who negotiated the politics of Buddhist [End Page 235] theology and practice in the Americas. This book thus fills a gap in the Japanese American studies literature with its emphasis on the agency of Japanese religious practitioners who were not simply victims of colonization but actors with complex motives and relational networks in the Americas.

This book is divided into four sections with two essays in each. The first section explores the dynamics of local and translocal Japanese Buddhist identity formation in the Americas. Cristina Rocha argues that the fusion of Soto Zen and Roman Catholicism by Japanese Brazilians is best understood as "creolization" (as opposed to "syncretism") because it emphasizes identity formation as a continuous multi-generational process of negotiating Brazilian religious vogues and the integrity of Zen. Masako Iino demonstrates through Japanese-language Nisei publications that Issei bukkyokai (Buddhist worship centers) in British Columbian Japanese communities in the 1900s-1930s produced Nisei who saw their Yamato-damishii (Japanese spirit) as contributing to their sense of Canadian citizenship, not detracting from it. Unique to this section is its emphasis on the Japanese migrants' agency in relation to American nations outside of the United States where Issei and Nisei Buddhists were not simply colonized by their destination nations but active in creolizing their religions and cultures.

The second section illustrates the spillage of intra-Japanese conflicts over Americanization into the American legal system. Noriko Asato addresses the Hawaiian Japanese language school controversies that led to their suppression in 1919 (reversed by the Supreme Court in 1927): her Japanese sources reveal that the 1919 crisis overflowed from Japanese Christians attempting to saturate the educational system in order to prevent Buddhists from owning language schools. Among Issei Buddhists themselves, Michihiro Ama demonstrates that the 1917-1918 split within the Jodo Shinshu community in Los Angeles (when the Nishi Honganji tried to consolidate their bukkyokai) was largely due to a misuse of the American legal system to suppress the insubordinate Rev. Izumida Junjo. Such internal contestation reveals that when Japanese Buddhists in the Americas exercised their agency, their actions shattered the image of a universally harmonious Buddhist migrant community.

The third section considers the idea of Buddhist universality by examining the transmission of Issei Buddhist teaching to the Americas through global Anglophonic print culture. Lori Pierce locates the English-language periodical The Light of Dharma as a Jodo Shinshu missionary effort to construe Buddhism as a universal religion in order to disrupt global Anglophone Orientalist perceptions of it. Tomoe Moriya presents a doctrinal account of "Americanized" Buddhist theology in the work of D.T. Suzuki, Yemyo Imamura, and Kenko Imamura [End Page 236] to show that the process of Americanization reformulated Issei Buddhism as a democratic, cosmopolitan, and pacifist religious tradition with universal ideals. Both of these accounts reveal that Buddhism had to present itself globally and that the...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 235-238
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.