Buddhism has been a missionary religion from its beginning. Japan was among the countries where this “foreign” religion arrived and was assimilated, adapted, and reshaped into new forms specifically connected to the new geographical and cultural environment. Buddhism traveled long distances from India through China and Korea, bringing with it flows of people, ideas, technologies, material cultures, and economies. More than ten centuries after its arrival in Japan, the first phase of propagation of Japanese Buddhism started and was linked to the history of Japanese migrants to Hawaii, North America, and Brazil since the 19th century. This was a history of diaspora, a term that implies not only the physical—and often traumatic—dispersion of people who left their homes for unknown places, but also a reconfiguration of their identities through the adaptation to these new places and their cultures. The main role of Buddhist priests sent from Japan was to assist and provide comfort to the newly formed communities of migrant laborers, who very often experienced racial discrimination and lived under harsh conditions. Temples became important loci of Japanese community life, as well as centers for the preservation of Japanese culture. Diasporic communities felt the urge to keep a bond with the homeland and a reconnection with some past traditions, while, at the same time, striving toward integration in the new society. Japanese Buddhist denominations in diasporic communities had therefore to accommodate different needs and adjust their teachings and practices to better suit their host cultures. Some of them underwent substantial changes, while others placed more emphasis on some practices instead of others. Moreover, Japanese Buddhist schools had to find a way to balance between their traditional role in Japan, which was—and still is—closely related to funerary rituals and memorials, and the new stimuli and requests coming from the new generations of Japanese migrants (nisei and sansei) and the non-Japanese spiritual seekers, the latter mostly interested in meditative practices and not in funeral Buddhism. In short, what needed to be done was to overcome a status of “ethnic” religion without, however, losing its own identity.
The Imamura families primarily refer to Emyō Imamura (1867–1932) and Kanmo Imamura (1904–1986), who each made great contributions to “American Buddhism.” Although a definition of American Buddhism is open to discussion, it began to develop at the turn of the 20th century because of the efforts of Euro-American Buddhist converts and ethnic Buddhists. While serving the Nikkei (persons of Japanese descent) Shin Buddhist community in Hawaii, Emyō introduced Buddhism to a group of Euro-Americans and a member of the royal Hawaiian family. Emyō maintained traditional Japanese temple practices and the political ideology of imperial Japan for the Issei (the first generation, referring to Japanese immigrants), emphasized Buddhist education for the Nisei (the second generation, referring to the children of the Japanese immigrants), and created a Nisei ministry program. He related Buddhist egalitarianism to American democracy and pluralism, which allowed him, together with his congregation, to oppose discriminatory and oppressive policies of the then territory of Hawaii. Emyō defined Buddhism as a form of cosmopolitan religion and spread the universal aspect of Shin Buddhist doctrine. For him, creating American Buddhism was inseparable from redefining Shin Buddhism. Emyō Imamura’s progressive Buddhist vision and conservative Buddhist practices were supported by his family. His wife, Kiyoko Hino Imamura (1884–1962), helped him in his ministerial duties and led the largest association of Buddhist women in Hawaii. Their first son, Kanmo Imamura, served a Buddhist community in Berkeley, California, and promoted the interaction between Japanese American Buddhists and Euro-American Buddhist converts in the Bay Area during the 1950s and 1960s. Kanmo was greatly supported by his wife, Jane Matsumura Imamura (1920–2011). The Buddhist propagation of Emyō and Kanmo exemplified the practice of a Shin Buddhist temple family by which husband and wife work together to promote Shinran’s teaching and the father is succeeded by the first son. At the same time, their efforts created a tension between a sectarian form of Buddhism that persons of Japanese descent practiced in America and a Universal Buddhism that Euro-American Buddhist converts sought. As leaders of the largest ethnic Buddhist organizations in the United States, Emyō and Kanmo responded to the needs of fellow immigrants and Japanese American Buddhists and Euro-American Buddhist converts and sympathizers. The demand of Euro-American Buddhists, together with the strong presence of Christianity and the sociopolitical conditions in the United States at the time, caused Emyō and Kanmo to maintain, redefine, and transform Shin Buddhist practice.
“Naikan” 内観 is a self-reflective form of meditation founded by Yoshimoto Ishin 吉本伊信 (1916–1988), who developed it from a lay Shin Buddhist practice called mishirabe身調べ. After Yoshimoto used it to help prisoners in the 1950s, psychiatrists in the 1960s started to use it as a psychotherapy. Today in Japan it is the most popular psychotherapeutic method that originated in Buddhism. Naikan involves self-reflection on three questions: What have I received from a significant other? What have I given back to that person? What troubles and difficulties did I cause that person? People doing Naikan ask themselves these questions in relation to a family member or some other person during particular times in their lives. There are two types of the practice: intensive Naikan (shūchū naikan集中内観) and daily Naikan (nichijō naikan日常内観 or bunsan naikan分散内観). The former is done continually for a week at a Naikan training center, of which there are about twenty-five in Japan and several outside Japan in Austria, Germany, and the United States. During intensive Naikan, those doing Naikan report individually eight or so times a day their answers to the three questions to an “interviewer” (mensetsusha面接者). Daily Naikan is done as part of a person’s everyday normal routine for as short as a few minutes or as long as two hours a day. Intensive or daily Naikan is offered as a therapy at about twenty medical institutions in Japan and another fifteen in China. Intensive Naikan is commonly done for one of four reasons. First, it is done to solve a specific problem, such as alcoholism, gambling addiction, a psychosomatic disorder, or a bad relationship with a family member. Second, it is used to train employees so they can interact better with customers and colleagues. The Toyoko Inn, for example, which has over 230 hotels throughout Japan, requires all its full-time employees to do intensive Naikan. Third, it cultivates greater self-awareness with regard to, for example, how our minds work. Finally, it is done to discover the true nature of our lives through a spiritual awakening, which commonly entails the realization of how we live due to the care of others and how we suffer because of our own self-centeredness. This final purpose is in accordance with Yoshimoto’s view of Naikan as a method for learning how to live happily regardless of one’s life circumstances. Those who do Naikan for non-psychotherapeutic purposes sometimes use the term “Naikanhō” 内観法 (Naikan method) to distinguish their aims from Naikan therapy (Naikan ryōhō) 内観療法, which is used to solve a particular problem. But regardless of whether Naikan is done for self-developmental, spiritual, or for therapeutic reasons, the Naikan method of reflecting on the three Naikan questions is the same.