The Buddhist Women’s Association (BWA) or Fujinkai is a lay organization of the Nishi Hongwanji-ha branch of Jodo Shinshu, headquartered in Kyoto, Japan. Many Jodo Shinshu temples in Japan, mainland United States, Hawaii, South America, and Canada have BWA chapters. The honorary head of the World Buddhist Women’s Association is the Lady Ruzumi Ohtani, spouse of the 25th Monshu of the Nishi Hongwanji-ha, Kojun Ohtani.
Lady Takeko Kujo (1887-1928), who dedicated much of her adult life to giving a greater voice to Buddhist women, is credited with co-founding the Fujinkai in Japan with her sister-in-law, Kazuko Otani. Lady Kujo was the daughter of Koson Ohtani, the 21st Monshu. She also founded Asoka Hospital, one of Japan’s first modern medical centers. She died in Tokyo, Japan after contracting an illness during her charitable work in the city’s slums following the Great Kanto Earthquake. (For further details about Lady Takeko Kujo, please reference this article by Rinban Kenshin Fujimoto). BWA chapters were established in every Jodo Shinshu temple in Japan, and later in the United States and other overseas areas as many Japanese began emigrating in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
Lady Takeko Kujo
After World War II, Lady Yoshiko Ohtani (1918-2000), spouse of the 23rd Monshu, Kosho Ohtani, revitalized the Buddhist Women’s Association by visiting many temples in Japan and overseas. She was the first to institute Japan-wide and worldwide conferences, so that diverse BWA chapters could better communicate and learn about the various cultural traditions of each region where BWA chapters are active.
Lady Yoshiko Ohtani
The BWA is important for the vitality of temples, particularly in the preservation of Japanese and Japanese-American Buddhist traditions and oral history. Starting in 1961, the members have participated in several World Buddhist Women’s Conferences, Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) Federation of Buddhist Women’s Associations Conferences, and Coast District Buddhist Women’s Conferences. A world conference of BWA chapters is held every four years. The 14th World Buddhist Women’s Convention was held in May 2011, in Kyoto, Japan.
The San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin BWA was first organized in 1908. A detailed history is not available as all records were destroyed before the members were relocated to various internment camps. During the time of the Reverend Tokujo Tsumura’s leadership (1930-1934), the BWA grew with the encouragement and leadership of Mrs. Fumiko Tsumura, and its scope of activities widened.
In 1948, upon the return of many members from these camps, the BWA was reorganized with 152 members. The BWA and its members encountered many difficult times in the past: the pre-World War II depression era, relocation during World War II, and the post-war years of uncertainty. From 1949 to the present, the membership has continued to grow. That they have overcome these hardships is an eloquent testimony to their deep faith in the Way of Nembutsu.
In 1973, Reverend and Mrs. Ejitsu Hojo wrote and composed the San Jose Fujinkai no Uta. This song, which is the San Jose Buddhist Women’s Association song, proclaims that the women who live in the Dharma, even faced with the hardship of daily challenges, are steadfast.
Today it is the most viable and well-organized of the many affiliated Betsuin organizations. Originally, composed of married women, the membership has changed. Women, married and single, are active participants. Over the years, the members have contributed generously in both finances and effort toward various church projects and building undertakings, toward maintenance and refurbishing of the office, sanctuary and annex building, and annual donations to Betsuin-sponsored organizations. They have undertaken many fundraising drives in order to help reach their goals. They are staunch supporters of the Dharma School and youth programs, and much involved in the propagation of the Buddhist religion and the practice of the Buddhist way of life.
The objectives of San Jose Betsuin BWA are:
- To promote and cultivate appreciation of the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist teachings
- To propagate the Buddha-Dharma in association with the BCA and the BCA Federation of Buddhist Women’s Associations
- To participate in social welfare services in gratitude for the Amida Buddha’s compassion
- To promote the betterment of our family, church and society
BWA activities include:
- Special services and events throughout the year
- Attendance at Coast District, Federation and World Buddhist Women’s Conventions
- Fundraiser with botamochi and chirashi-sushi sales
- Participation in Nikkei Matsuri
- Colma Hakamairi – visitation to the Colma Cemetery
- Participation in the Betsuin Obon Bazaar
- Omigaki – cleaning of brass altar pieces of the Betsuin onaijin
- BWA Outing
- KeiroKai celebration to honor members age 80 and over
- Memorial Service for deceased BWA members, Eshinniko, Kakushinni and Lady Yoshiko Ohtani
- Omimai – visitation to patients in convalescent homes
- General Meeting and BonenKai – end of year party and new member welcome
- Assisting with church-related food preparation, as requested by the Temple
- BWA representation at monthly Betsuin Board Meetings
Updated: January 16, 2017
Excerpts taken from the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin centennial book, 1902-2002 Our First Hundred Years, copyright 2003, and Wikipedia entry on the Buddhist Womens Association. Photograph of Lady Kujo is from Nishi Hongwanji website (http://international.hongwanji.or.jp). Photograph of Lady Yoshiko Ohtani on her wedding day is from the estate of Ryuzo and Yoshie Santo. Photograph of Tsumura family is courtesy of the late Rev. Junjo Tsumura and family.