By Masago Asai
Masago Asai was born and raised in Nagasaki, Japan. She moved to Honolulu in 1986 to study at Hawai‘i Pacific University where her future husband, who originally came from Bangladesh, was also studying. After their graduation, they married and had two daughters. Masago, who is a second-generation A-bomb survivor, currently is engaged in activities to create and enhance “inner peace” in her community.
Examples of her pursuit for peace are the “President Obama’s Peace Prayer Project (POPPP)” in 2009 where she forwarded a petition for the President’s prayer for peace at Hiroshima and Nagasaki Peace Memorials to the White House, with signatures from more than 2,500 people and supporting letters from 40 religious organizations. In 2014 she also organized the “A-bombs Exhibit for Peace ~Face the Past to Heal the Present~” that brought over 1,000 visitors including 700 students from middle, high schools, and colleges during a 9-day, admission-free, educational program. Two years later, furthermore, a letter from President Barack Obama arrived in mail as a reply to her “Thank You” note for his official visit to Hiroshima on May 27, 2016.
Since childhood, Masago had listened to her grandmother’s chanting of “Shoshinge” every morning, sitting next to her grandma in front of the home altar. Upon the occasion of developing depression at the end of her teenage years, moreover, she also became attracted to a Buddhism word “as it is (あるがまま).” Yet an event where she was most eager to learn Buddhist teachings was upon the sudden illness and the passing of her father who had never failed to chant the Rennyo Shonin’s “White Ashes” on every New Year’s Day before the family breakfast.
What Masago had been dreaming about for a long time after marriage was to bring her parents to Hawai‘i. However, on the very day on which her 10-year-dream was about to come true, her father fell in ill during his visit to celebrate her second daughter’s 1st birthday in May 2000. The doctor diagnosed his illness as “terminal pancreatic cancer” with his life expectancy of 5 months. There was no other choice but for her father and mother to go back to Japan immediately.
“I couldn’t do anything but read the Buddhist Scriptures every night after laying my two daughters down to sleep”, Masago said. “My mind was telling myself to accept the situation because every chapter of every book was advising me to do so. Knowing the right answer though, my heart was still rejecting my father’s death and struggling in letting my dream go,” she added.
Masago’s husband, two daughters, and herself visited her father in Nagasaki, and that happened to be two weeks before his death. Since Masago, in her younger days, had already encountered the deaths of cancer patients among her A-bomb surviving relatives, she could instantly sense at the hospital that her father’s life wouldn’t last much longer. Her Buddhism book reading intensified even more after she came back from the trip to Japan. She had been suffering from a sense of powerlessness for the past 5 months already.
Then an unforgettable moment came to Masago two days before the death of her father. She described, “one late night, suddenly a ray of brightness struck me from up above during my reading; that’s the moment of my realization of the existence of the invisible power that I had never believed in before for certain, but that moment convinced me at last in a flash. I felt like a child surrounded by the loving warmth from all of humanity’s PARENT who had been instructing me with candid advice that finally led me to my acceptance of reality. Simultaneously, a strong sense of gratitude toward the presence of this unconditional being continuously encouraged tears to gush from my eyes like a waterfall. It was that very last moment of behaving as a father’s child who soon had to start her first step into being a matured adult without him beside her.”
At her father’s funeral in Nagasaki in late October of the year 2000, the Buddhist priest of the ceremony had recommended Masago to go to Palolo Hongwanji in Honolulu as he was a friend of the resident minister of that temple. She visited Palolo Hongwanji with her family for her father’s 100th Day service in February 2001. Shortly she started her volunteer work in translating the dharma talk on the newsletter, and made many friends with the members of this temple and of Higashi Hongwanji Hawai‘i District as well.
She concluded her story saying, “in losing the life of my father, I’ve received blessings of countless opportunities and relationships that help build my inner growth and strength. These contributed not only to my recovery from my father’s passing, but also to my own spiritual development. In fact, my volunteer work that started at Palolo Hongwanji 17 years ago has extended to the Buddhist community in Hawai‘i, which expanded to the interfaith dialogues after 9/11, and that ultimately carried me to opportunities of my own peace activities for the purpose of creating peace within ourselves. These are the best gifts in my life brought from the holy existence that I am most grateful for. The community service I’m involved in is my commitment in order to repay this existence of wisdom and compassion that had been sent, is sent, and will be sent down to me throughout my life.”
A version of this story first appeared in Higashi Honganji’s “Dobo Shinbun, Living Now, the World,” volume 3, October 2015.