Interview with Aiko Uchiyama
Shunryu Suzuki’s littler sister
with Hoitsu Suzuki
to interview index
SFZC City Center Memorial for Aiko - includes brief bio and photo
Interviewed by DC
Translated by (find
names) - two Japanese women who worked with me back then when I was doing
research for Crooked Cucumber. Will put here soon.
DC’s questions and
comments not included with one exception. Probably I just started it off
and let them go.
Need to put this into more natural English
Aiko: I was born on January 4, Meiji 44 (1911). I'm 83. Shunryu-san was 6 years older than I.
Gyakushitsu Sojun was not Sogaku's father. I don’t remember his family name. (Aiko's father, Sogaku was a dharma heir of Gyakushitsu Sojun )
We, three children of Butsumon Sogaku, were all born at Shoganji. The land of Zoun'in was originally a national property. So, my father asked the government to sell it to him. But Matsui objected which made Gyakushitsu Sojun leave the temple. That's how we moved to Shoganji. I don't know if there's any relation between Zoun'in and Shoganji. My father might have sold Zoun'in (some temple land or building – or maybe a figure of speech) and bought Shoganji.
So-on became a disciple of Sogaku and succeeded to the abbotship of Zoun'in. Shunryu became the disciple of So-on and went to Zoun'in. Sogaku was not related to So-on. Sogaku's family name was Suzuki, and So-on's too. Sogaku was looking for a boy to become his disciple, and someone introduced So-on to him. When he was still a boy, So-on came to Sogaku.
Hoitsu: Shunryu, Tori, and you were born at Shoganji. Shunryu went to So-on in Zoun'in from Shoganji.
Aiko: So-on sometimes came to visit Shoganji.
On the day of Kanto Daishinsai (the great Tokyo earthquake) in Taisho 12 (1923), Shunryu was supposed to return to Shoganji. But, he didn't turn up. My parents wrote to Zoun'in but heard nothing from there. So, Sogaku walked all the way to Zoun'in. They were worried Shunryu might have been killed in a train accident, a landslide. (I think there'd been a tunnel cave in)
Shunryu went to Zoun'in straight after finishing elementary school (koto shogakko) in Kanagawa. He was 12. (This could be 11 in American way of counting. In Japan you’re one at birth)
Hoitsu: After elementary school, brighter students went to middle school (chugaku) while others went to koto-ka for 2 years before going to chugaku. Some chugaku students skipped grades and entered a koto gakko (high school).
Aiko: When Shunryu was at Zoun'in, So-on didn't give him tabi (socks for zori) to wear and made him do kitchen work, cleaning and so on. Perhaps, that was why he didn't do well at school then. He failed the entrance exam of Shizuoka High School, which made our parents angry and they called him back to Shoganji. He went to Kaisei Chugaku from there. He walked all the way to Hiratsuka with gaitered legs (eg wraps used for monks’ travel and begging).
Hoitsu: He went to Zoun'in at age 12 in Taisho 5 (1916), and stayed there until Taisho 12 (1923). After finishing Kaisei Chugaku, he went to Komazawa Yoka (preparatory school), and then to Komazawa University (Soto Zen University in Tokyo).
Aiko: As a college student, he acted as an interpreter for Miss Ransom. Even when he was still at Kaisei Chugaku, he was so good at English that he was asked by a doctor to be a live-in tutor for his son, so he went to chugaku from there. He was the second best student at Komazawa University. Mr. Araki was the first. The college president, Kaiken Nukariya, ran a kindergarten, too. (as Shunryu founded two after the war)
Hoitsu: He became the abbot of Zoun'in nominally when he was still at college. Sogaku came back from Rinsoin to Zoun'in as inkyo (retired master) after Shunryu had become its abbot. Butsumon Sogaku died in Showa 8 or 9 (1933-34). So-on went to Rinsoin in Taisho 7 (1918).
It seems So-on's wife (mistress) was hard on Shunryu at Zoun'in. Neighbors took pity on him, and a woman living in the neighborhood made two or three kimonos for him. They were patched kimonos with a different pattern on each sleeve. He went to chugaku perhaps in Mitsuke.
Aiko: He must have felt small at school, too, wearing such a kimono. But, he did well at Kaisei. He was highly spoken of by the neighbors of Shoganji. He was given a greater donation when he went to recite sutras at a danka's (temple members) home, than mother was given for her sutra recitation. The family running a liquor shop down below Shoganji was especially kind to Shunryu.
While he massaged his mother's shoulders, he used to say to her that he would build a zoo on Shoganji property. He loved gardening. Once he brought a big tree home, carrying it on his shoulder with his friend. It snowed a lot there. As soon as he came back from school, he would go around, still carrying his school bag, clearing snow from branches of trees in our garden. He would also swim or go float in a tub (boat?) with friends in a pond in our garden. He seemed to be having a lot of fun in those days.
When he was at Zoun'in in Mori, he would go on yamaban (patrolling a forest) in the mountain owned by Yoshikawa-san, one of the danka of Zoun'in. He tutored the son of Yoshikawa-san. When he fell ill, the Yoshikawas took care of him at their home. It was they who had him hospitalized when he developed tuberculosis. He was a college student then. I remember him saying "I've had all sorts of illness."
Hoitsu: He suffered from a stomach disorder.
Aiko: When he was tired, he would drink sugared hot water. He used to keep a can of sugar secretly -- even Mother didn't know about it. He was a favorite with our parents. He was served meals different from us. Perhaps, our parents felt pity for him, as they thought they had made him have a hard time at Zoun'in.
Hoitsu: When he fell ill in the States, he asked his doctor if it was a pneumonia or tuberculosis. But he was told it was a cancer. The cancer spread from his gall bladder to his liver and then to his lung.
Aiko: I was in Taiwan when the war broke out in Showa 16 (1941). I went there in Showa 14 (1939) and came back to Japan in Showa 17 (1942). I heard from Tori-san (Uchiyama's older sister and Shunryu's younger sister) who had been staying at Rinsoin when Japan's surrender was announced that Shunryu-san had gotten furious at the announcement and had hurled everything he could such as unopened sake bottles.
Hoitsu: I remember him hurling a book Tori-san's son was reading another day. There must have been so many things in his mind like what he had seen in Manchuria and people who had been killed in the war. He might have been angry at the war itself.
You’re father was pretty strict, wasn’t he?
Aiko: I don't remember if our father was strict as I was too little to notice then, but he was precise in manner. When he came back home, he would put his bag down and bow, saying "Tadaima kaerimashita." (I've returned) I don't think he was strict. When it snowed, it was always Father who came to our school to walk home with us. Mother had to stay at the temple to teach sewing. Also, he would put cold water in a tub for us to bathe when we got home in summer.
Hoitsu: Your mother was kind, wasn’t she?
Aiko: Perhaps Mother was stricter than Father. She had lots of students she taught sewing at the temple, so she wanted her own children to appear good to them, that is we should be well-behaved and do well at school. My father once bought us the most expensive ribbons regardless of the length of our hair. People who did our hair had a hard time trying to tie our hair with those ribbons. Our mother didn't go out so much. First, she taught Japanese dressmaking at a hoshu gakko (supplementary school for those who were not able to go to high school), and then taught at our temple. I remember her studying hard with textbooks to learn dressmaking. Father used to play igo (go) with people like a doctor who visited the temple often.
Even when he was a young boy, Shunryu was good at taking care of slow children and they improved. He didn't just teach them English but took general care of them. He liked doing that kind of thing.
Hoitsu: He taught us English, but he was so strict that we came to dislike English. Perhaps, it was different for him to teach his own children than to teach other children. He must have thought, "Why don't my children understand such an easy thing!" He was extremely impatient at certain matters while he was extremely patient at other matters. He never scolded us in the presence of others though I was often scolded by him.
Aiko: When Father died, we were busy with this and that. Shunryu-san scolded us (his younger sisters) fiercely, when we didn't bring zabutons to guests promptly. But he was totally indifferent to o-saisen (offerings).
I think he lived in Zoun'in for 2 years or so. So-on-san was having an affair, so he treated Shunryu-san as a nuisance. So-on-san had to leave Zoun'in when his affair was exposed. That's how he came to move to Rinsoin.
Hoitsu: A previous abbot of Rinsoin had sold several things from the temple, and the temple became dilapidated. So, Shumucho appointed So-on-san to take over Rinsoin as they knew about his resourcefulness, though it might well be that So-on-san declared himself to succeed the abbotship there.
Aiko: When Father moved back to Zoun'in as a retired master, we moved there, too. I think I was in the second grade at high school then. Tori-san and I lived there until we got married. Father died after we had gotten married.
Tori was living with Mother's older sister in Nakanomachi near Hamamatsu and went to koto jogakko (girls' high school) there and changed to another koto jogakko in Mori when I was 15 or 16.
Hoitsu: That means Shunryu's family moved to Zoun'in in Mori in Showa 1 (1926) or 2. So-on-san had moved out to Rinsoin. (1926 is the year that Shunryu became abbot of Zoun'in)
Aiko: We lived farthest from school of all the school children in that area. So, when we dropped in at a friend's house on our way home, we were often asked by the friend's parents to have supper with them. Local people there were kind to us. I liked sewing and used to teach children sewing. I liked our cat and had it here on my lap. That made my kimono tattered.
Rinsoin got 220 pyo (bales) of rice and the wife of the owner of Marushichi rice shop (So-on’s mistress) demanded 20 pyo from Rinsoin. Shunryu-san was grumbling about it. Zoun'in got only 50 pyo.
When So-on-san died, his wife [lover] didn't come to the crematory. She stayed at Rinsoin, doing ikebana. She moved back to Mori. A monk came to see my parents at Zoun'in to give So-on-san's koromos (robes) which were given to them by So-on's mistress.
Hoitsu: My father went to visit So-on-san's wife (mistress) whenever he went to Zoun'in. I remember being taken there by my father when I was 12 or 13. She was quite old then. I hear their son, Michiji-san, was very ambitious. He tried to be a member of the National Diet. Some members of the Diet came to his mother's funeral which was about 20 years ago (1953). He seemed to be a sort of political wirepuller.
Aiko: Shunryu lost his watch every time he went out with one. He also lost a cloak and countless umbrellas while he was a Kaisei Chugaku student. In the end, he wrote his name on his watch, but still he lost it. He was a poor drinker. After three small sake cups, he would fall asleep in a bathroom. He had someone else such as his wife carry his wallet so as not to lose it. When he went to see Moriyama pottery (Mori Seison) shortly after the end of the war, he saw a child crying for something, so he gave the child all the money he had. Then he went to ask the Moriyama pottery shop to lend him money. When he had lost something, he would say, "I don't mind losing it because somebody must be using it."
Lots of his friends used to come to our temple on New Year's Day. My mother cooked kimpira gobo and asked me to slice gobo. I sliced them thick because it was difficult to do it thin. But they liked it very much.
Hoitsu: When I was a young, a friend of his from his days in Mori came to see my father. But my father couldn't remember him. He stayed with us overnight but my father seemed to be having trouble understanding what that person was talking about. However, before he died, he said a number of times, "I wonder how Yoshizawa is now."
Aiko: I know one friend of his who was also a member of the boat club and drowned when they were at Kaisei Chugaku.
(Here, Uchiyama called Shunryu, Toshi-san, at other times, Shunryu-san)
I've never heard that he did anything mischievous.
When he was moving garden stones around in Zoun'in, he broke his foot and the old temple-caretaker carried him on his back.
DC - He had to lie down for three days after moving a huge stone at Tassajara.
Aiko: If our mother had heard that, she would have scolded him.