Other Friday evenings found Whalen and Snyder in Berkeley for the study group with Rev. Kanmo Imamura and Jane Imamura at the Berkeley Buddhist Temple. Together the Imamuras were descended from the most important old families of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, yet they welcomed the young men, going so far in the subsequent years as to turn their little church publication—the Berkeley Bussei—over to the artist Will Petersen for a time. Snyder, Whalen, Ginsberg, and Kerouac all published early poems in its pages. The benevolent Imamura family gave both Snyder and Whalen their first contact with people actually practicing Buddhism instead of purely discussing its philosophies and traditions.
—David Schneider, from “Lives Well Shared: The Friendship of Philip Whalen and Gary Snyder“
Philip Whalen and Gary Snyder were just two of the countless American Buddhists Jane Imamura touched in her life. An influential figure both in the Japanese-American community and the American Buddhist community at large, Jane Imamura passed away on December 26 due to complications from Alzheimers.
Jon Kawamoto, who never met Imamura but was “deeply saddened by her passing,” remembers her remarkable life here:
A special, exceptional and charismatic woman slipped into history over the holidays, and her passing went virtually unnoticed by the general public.
A memorial service was held Jan. 7 at the Berkeley Buddhist Temple for the legendary Jane Michiko Imamura, who died Dec. 26, 2011, at the age of 91.
Imamura was well-known in the Japanese American community for her contributions to the temple and to the Buddhist Churches of America, and particularly in California, Hawaii and Japan.
Her passing marked a milestone of several memorable periods in the Buddhist Temple’s history. Her life encompassed the emotional upheaval when Japanese American families were uprooted from their homes and sent to internment camps to the harsh resettlement period immediately after World War II to the temple’s explosive growth in the 1950s, when thought-provoking discussions about Buddhism attracted Beat Generation icons such as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder, the Pulitzer Prize winning poet, to Berkeley.
Even though I never met Imamura, I felt her immense influence and was deeply saddened by her passing. I’ve been researching and writing the text for our temple’s first 100 years and, along the way, have learned so much about the contributions of Jane Imamura, her late husband, Rev. Kanmo Imamura, and her late mother, Mrs. Shinobu Matsuura.
Individually and collectively, they helped to advance the serious, intellectual study of Buddhism to Westerners, non-Buddhists and to the academic world in Berkeley and beyond. When they began holding Buddhism study groups in the late 1940s and 1950s, few institutions of higher learning had courses in Buddhism. Nowadays, it’s commonplace for colleges and universities throughout the United States to have religious studies devoted to Buddhism.
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