Rev. Shodo Okano – The Founder President of Kodosan
Rev. Shodo Okano was born on February 24, 1900 in Ibaraki prefecture. In 1919 he became a Tendai Buddhist priest. After spending about two years at its headquarters on Mt. Hiei, he realized that the priesthood and the secular world could be separated from each other. Thinking thus, he decided to leave Mt. Hiei.
Though Rev. Shodo Okano left Mt. Hiei, he did not renounce the priesthood. Still remaining a priest, he lived a layman Buddhist’s life for the next fifteen years and continued his studies of the Lotus Sutra. After completing his studies in the mid-1930s, he propounded the doctrine of the Ripened Lotus Sutra—the Mature Religion, Minoru Hokekyo Jukueki Shoho, and founded the Kodo Association, the precursor of Kodo Kyodan on August 15, 1936. In 1940, the Association built a temple near the modern Yokohama station. A new temple was constructed in 1946 in nearby Rokkakubashi. The same year Kodo Association was given the name of Kodo Kyodan. In July 1947, Shoho, the precursor of the Kodo newspaper was launched. Soon thereafter, many organizations and groups like the Kodo Youth Group, the Kodo Women’s Association, and the Kodo Boys and Girls Scouts were set up to carry out propagation and philanthropic activities.
To meet the requirements of the fast growing number of Kodo Kyodan members, a new temple was built at Mt. Torigoe (the present temple) in July 1952. Enryaku-ji, the headquarters of Tendai Buddhism, recognized the Dharma activities of Kodo Kyodan and presented a portion of Lord Buddha’s Holy Relics the same year to it. Dengyo Daishi, the founder of Japanese Tendai Buddhism had brought these Relics from Mt. Tendai in China. In April 1960, Enrayku-ji also presented Dengyo Daishi’s Inextinguishable Flame to Kodo Kyodan.
Rev. Shodo Okano conducted extensive tours to all parts of Japan to spread the teachings of Buddha. In the 1960s and 70s, he also traveled to various parts of the world. For his indefatigable zeal and untiring efforts to spread the word of Lord Buddha and to promote friendship between Japan and other countries, the government of Japan honored him with the Academia Award in 1963. He was the first Buddhism priest in the history of Japan to receive this prestigious award. Many countries such as Brazil, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Nepal also recognized his contribution in spreading goodwill among nations and presented him with many honors and awards. Rev Shodo Okano established the International Buddhist Exchange Center (IBEC) in 1968 to promote friendship and goodwill among Buddhist priests and scholars from all parts of the world. Since its inception the IBEC has been holding annual symposium and lectures.
Rev. Shodo Okano passed away on August 15, 1978.
Rev. Kimiko Okano – Co-founder of Kodosan
The co-founder of Kodosan, Kimiko Okano, was born on October 27, 1902 in Kagoshima prefecture. She was married to Rev. Shodo Okano in 1924. When Rev. Shodo Okano was working in a radio company in Osaka during the late 20s, she worked for a German company. At the time when her husband was engrossed in his Buddhist studies and spiritual practices during the early 1930s, she was engaged in ascetic practices.
Tokyo Radio began broadcasting Rev. Kimiko Okano’s sermons on “Kodo Kyodan and Buddhism” in 1953. A few years later, they were also broadcasts from Brazilian Radio. In 1957, she attended Lord Buddha’s 2500th birthday celebrations in Sri Lanka as a special representative from Japan. For the propagation of Buddhism, she toured Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Vietnam, Taiwan, and the USA. The government of Japan honored her with the Academia Award in 1965. Many overseas governments also recognized her contribution to promote friendship between Japan and other countries.
Mrs. Kimiko Okano was the Vice Chairperson of IBEC and also served as a director of the All Japan Women’s Association and a Vice President of the Japan Women’s Buddhist Federation. She made history when Enryaku-ji, the head temple of Tendai Buddhism, conferred the title of Archbishop on her. She was the first lay woman in the history of Japanese Buddhism who was elevated to the title of Archbishop, the highest position in the Japanese Buddhist hierarchy.Rev. Kimiko Okano passed away on December 21st, 1976. A memorial tower in her memory was erected on Mount Hiei. She devoted all her life to the propagation of Buddhism and relieving the miseries of human beings.
The Second President—Rev. Shokan Okano
The Second President of Kodo Kyodan, Rev. Shokan Okano was born on December 22nd, 1925. He graduated from Waseda University, Tokyo, in 1951 and undertook a special course to master the ancient scriptures of Tendai Buddhism at the Center of Buddhist Culture and Religion in Kyoto for eight years. The course was comprised of special tutorials, in which the teacher orally transmits the scriptures to disciples. Rev. Shokan Okano received ordination at Mt Hiei in 1955. Between 1963 and 1967, he studied Comparative Religion at Claremont University in USA. On the establishment of the International Buddhist Exchange Center, IBEC, in 1968, he was appointed its first chairman. He became the Second President of Kodo Kyodan in January 1975.
Rev. Okano began lectures on Buddhism for the benefit of a larger number of people. He also began holding English seminars on Buddhism for foreigners living in Japan. Rev. Shokan Okano’s sermons were published in a book Mayoi Koso Jinsei Nari (“Enlightenment Inheres in Illusion”) in February 1980. His latest book, Bukkyo ni ‘Ikikata’ wo saguru (Seeking a Way of Life Through Buddhism), was published in 2002.In 1986, Rev. Shokan Okano added a new dimension to Kodo Philosophy by introducing the Maitri (compassion) Movement. To bring the best out of each member of Kodo Kyodan, he has established and nurtured many groups as well as building many facilities for their convenience.
The Vice-President—Rev. Rinko Okano
Rev. Rinko Okano, the Vice President of Kodo Kyodan, was born in Tokyo in a noble family on July 20, 1937. Her Buddhist training began at a very early age. During the early 1940s, she stayed at Eiheiji temple, the headquarters of the Soto Zen School of Buddhism. She graduated from the Sacred Heart School, Tokyo in 1957, and studied Sociology at San Mateo College in the U.S.A. She was married to Rev. Shokan Okano in 1959. She spent about four and half years in the U.S.A when her husband was engaged in the research of Comparative Religion.
Mrs. Rinko Okano’s sermons began being broadcast on radio in 1974. She became the Vice President of Kodo Kyodan in 1979. With the Second President, she co-authored the book Mayoi Koso Jinsei Nari(“Enlightenment Inheres in Illusion”) Volume II in 1980. In 1989 the Chinese Cultural University conferred an honorary doctorate degree on her. Rev. Rinko Okano is the principal of the Kodo Kindergarten and the chairperson of Sango-kai, an association to honour Mahakala, the god of Happiness and Wealth. Mrs. Rinko Okano is the epitome of Japanese culture. Not only well versed in classical Japanese music, she is also good at the japanese art of flower arrangement, tea ceremony and traditional Japanese dance. She is very enthusiastic to spread the teachings of Buddhism and to acquaint foreigners with Japanese culture. She was appointed as the Chairperson of the International Buddhist Exchange Center in April 2007.
The Third President—Rev. Shojun Okano
The third President, Rev. Shojun Okano, the eldest son of the Presidents, was born on Nov. 28, 1960. He graduated from the Department of History, Keio University in 1984. In June 1994 he received a doctorate degree from Oxford University in the United Kingdom in the field of the Sociology of Religion for his thesis on Laymen’s Buddhist Activities in the Modern Japan. He taught Comparative Religion at the State University of Vermont in America for a year. Later on he taught Japanese Religion and Culture in the Department of Japanese Studies at Hong Kong University.
Rev. Shojun Okano returned to Japan in 1999 and devoted himself to the activities of Kodosan. He was married to Miss Karen Leung in March, 2000. In December 2002, they were blessed with a son, Kensho Okano. He was appointed as the 3rd President of the temple on June 13th, 2006. Rev. Shojun Okano is also head of the Kodo Kyodan Youth Association and a Managing Director of the International Buddhist Exchange Center. In his capacity as the Managing Director of the IBEC he is responsible for organizing lectures and seminars. Progressive and innovatative, he has been introducing new changes to temple activities with special emphasis on youth problems in contemporary Japan and spreading the teachings of Lord Buddha among the youth.
Mrs. Karen Okano
Mrs. Karen Okano was appointed as the Vice Principal of Kodo Kindergarten and a Managing Director of IBEC in April, 2007.