Takamori-sensei’s dramatic 70-year reunion with the daughter of a benefactor from his student years

While Takamori-sensei was studying at Ryukoku University in Kyoto, he lodged for 8 years in a guest room. The daughter of his landlord gained a bond with Buddhism thanks to a single flyer. Her name is Michiko Kitayama and she lives in Joyo City, Kyoto. Takamori-sensei was so astonished and delighted to hear the news, and had an emotional virtual meeting with her for the first time in 70 years. It must be all due to the workings of Amida Buddha. How this happened will be explained below. (Reported by Takashi Watanabe)

The first encounter

On 20th Feb 2020, at a city hall in Joyo City, Kyoto, Mr. Naofumi Miyazaki, a Buddhist teacher, was preparing for a lecture. The mornings at the time were still chilly, though Spring was just around the corner. The lecture was going to start at 10 a.m. Soon a petite and refined woman, who Mr. Miyazaki had never seen before, came to the lecture hall. She took her seat and listened to the lecture quietly. However, during break time, she went right up to Miyazaki-sensei and asked, “Do you happen to know Kentetsu Takamori-sensei?” She spoke in a beautiful Kyoto dialect. Mr. Miyazaki was surprised as he was not expecting this question, but replied, “Yes, Takamori-sensei is my teacher.”

Then she continued with a smile, “He lodged in a room upstairs in my house long ago.”

“Really?! Takamori-sensei stayed at your house in the past?”

“Yes. He stayed upstairs in our house for 8 years.”

Mr. Miyazaki recalled what he had heard Takamori-sensei say about his time spent lodging and asked, “If I may ask, is the lavatory located in the inner part of your house?”

“Yes, it was located in the innermost part of the verandah.”

It must be true!

When Mr. Miyazaki asked how she knew Takamori-sensei's name, she said, "I've often seen Takamori-sensei's name in adverts in the newspaper. Each time I thought, 'Oh, that's got to be the young man who once stayed at our house! He is teaching so actively, isn’t he? If my father heard of this, he would definitely be delighted.”

She said she came to this city hall after seeing a flyer. This woman’s name is Michiko Kitayama (née Ito), aged 81. In 1945, Japan was defeated in WW2. After coming back from harsh training, Takamori-sensei stayed in Kyoto as a student at Ryukoku University. Michiko Kitayama was a daughter of the landlord whose house Takamori-sensei was lodging.

“I was just a 2nd year student in primary school, but clearly remember Takamori-sensei was studying diligently.”

“Oh, really? How amazing!”

“One time, Takamori-sensei made tea for me. It was bitter, but he also gave me a delicious sweet.”

“Takamori-sensei’s parents visited him, and I received a souvenir from them.”

She talked about the past longingly.

She listened to the latter half of the lecture, and before she went back home, she said, “This was indeed a wonderful opportunity. I will come again.”

Something very special had just happened!

Immediately, Mr. Miyazaki reported everything to Mitsuharu-sensei via email. The following day, 21st Feb, Takamori-sensei made a phone call to Miyazaki-sensei.

“This is big news! I have been looking for her for 70 years. I thought I could never see her again in this life.”

“What brought her there? How could she remember me even though she was just a little girl back then?”

Takamori-sensei’s feeling of great delight practically radiated through the telephone.

“I owe so much to her. By all means, I would like to express my thanks to her in person.”

Takamori-sensei also said, “Where is she living now? Shall I go and see her in Kyoto?”

After an energetic conversation with Takamori-sensei that lasted about 1 hour, Mr. Miyazaki became so excited about what had happened. Quickly Mr. Miyazaki shared with Ms. Kitayama that Takamori-sensei had phoned him and fondly remembered Ms. Kitayama, saying that he was wishing to visit Kyoto to see her. Ms. Kitayama replied with deep gratitude, “I am so pleased to hear that!”

Ms. Kitayama is currently living with her husband. When Miyazaki-sensei invited her to Toyama, she said, “My husband is ill and I cannot leave him alone. And…” She continued awkwardly and ashamedly, “At that time, I was a 2nd year student in primary school… I have changed so much now, and I feel embarrassed about him seeing me.”

Takamori-sensei called for Mr. Miyazaki so he could ask him questions about Ms. Kitayama directly.

“I had thought I would not be able to see her again in this life. It is indeed a wonder to hear about her now. I cannot help but think this comes from the workings of Amida Buddha. Thank you indeed for letting me know.”

“I will visit her. How can I go there? How long does it take to get there by car?”

Mr. Miyazaki felt his emotions throng in his heart to know how deeply Takamori-sensei felt a debt of gratitude to Ms. Kitayama, as things moved far more rapidly than ever before.

Later, Mr. Miyazaki visited her to deliver some books by Takamori-sensei that he had been entrusted with on a previous day. Her house was about a 15 minute walk from the city hall where she had listened for the first time. In the delivery box, there were the books You Were Born For A Reason, Unlocking Tannisho, The Petals of Shinran, CDs and DVDs, and Something You Forgot... Along The Way, etc. She said, “He has written so many books, hasn’t he? I would like to send a thank you letter to him.” So Mr. Miyazaki passed Takamori-sensei’s address to her. But what had made Ms. Kitayama talk to Mr. Miyazaki that day?

She explained, “When I listened to the lecture, I wondered if he studied at Ryukoku University. If so, I thought he may know about Takamori-sensei. That is why I talked to you during the break. My father often called Takamori-sensei’s given name, which is why I remembered his name. Around 6 or 7 years ago, I would frequently see his name in newspaper adverts, and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s him! How excellent he has become!’” The advertisements in the local Kyoto Newspaper became her precious bond with Buddhism.

The great benefactors of all Shinran Students

At the end of February, I (Takashi Watanabe) had a meeting with Takamori-sensei at the headquarters of Shinrankai. Starting from the topic of Ms. Kitayama, Takamori-sensei solemnly talked about his student life.

“It was just after Japan’s defeat in WW2. Resources were scarce and no-one could get anything, so everyone was suffering. At that time, Mr. and Mrs. Ito took really good care of me. They were so thoughtful and considerate. To be honest, I wish I could say thank you to them face-to-face. I visited the place where they lived a few times when I went to Kyoto, only to find the house had been demolished.”

He also said, “My time as a student in Kyoto is what enabled me to focus on conveying Buddhism afterwards. My study at that time is the foundation of all that I do to share Buddhism.”

Whilst listening to Takamori-sensei, I thought this:

I learned that Takamori-sensei had dedicated himself to studying so diligently for 8 years of his time as a student. If this is the basis of his great Buddhism-sharing activities afterwards, Mr. and Mrs. Ito, who supported his studying, would surely be the great benefactors of all us Shinran Students.

At the same time, I felt an appreciation for Ms. Kitayama welling up within me, even though I had not met her yet. Suddenly, Takamori-sensei said to me, “Would you visit her in Kyoto on my behalf?”

“May I beg your pardon, but ME visiting Kyoto?”

“Yes. I have something to convey to her, so I am wondering if you could do it for me.”

I had been hoping to meet her someday, so how marvellous it was to receive a request from Takamori-sensei to visit Ms. Kitayama!

What a likable person she is!

At noon on 7th March, I was in Kyoto. It was a sunny spring day. The new coronavirus pandemic was causing panic across the world, so I drove myself to Kyoto so as not to have contact with anyone. Joyo City, where Ms. Kitayama lives, is in the south of Kyoto Prefecture, almost located right in between Kyoto City and Nara City, with a population of 75,000. The city was bright with spring sunshine pouring down warmly. After meeting up with Mr. Miyazaki, we visited Ms. Kitayama at 1:30 p.m. At the front of the house there were many potted flowers.

Ms. Kitayama welcomed us with a cheerful voice.

“Welcome! It must be a long way from Toyama. Please come in.”

When I passed the box of sweets from Takamori-sensei to her and she saw her name handwritten by Takamori-sensei, she happily gasped, “Wow!”

She made delicious green tea for us. Having tea with her, we had a lovely and lively conversation. Ms. Kitayama said, “Takamori-sensei has indeed become exceptional. If my father were alive, he would be so pleased.” She herself was expressing her feeling of delight from the heart.

“At that time, I was very quiet and spoke little. When I brought some sweets to Takamori-sensei, I just said ‘Here you are’ and returned to my room.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Since then, I have become the talkative person that I am now,” she said with laughter. She had become someone who enjoys conversation.

Using a tablet, we listened to a part of a dialogue between Takamori-sensei and Shinran students. After listening, she said “It is so easy to understand Takamori-sensei’s lecture. I also liked his parable, and could understand well.”

“He does talk slowly. Well, I remember he talked in the same way when he was a university student.”

The topic of our conversation went to a toilet in the old house of Ms. Kitayama, where Takamori-sensei lodged. I had often heard Takamori-sensei talking about his lodging in his student years.

“The house was located nearby Ryukoku University, and the landlord was a good person, so everything was perfect, but the one thing I had an issue with was the toilet. Due to the structure of the house, I could not reach the toilet without going through the bedroom of Mr. and Mrs. Ito.” Takamori-sensei thought he would have to walk away without taking this opportunity. However, Mr. Ito said “No worries, please do not hesitate to go through our bedroom,” which made Takamori-sensei so grateful. Ms. Kitayama said,

“Yes, it is true. But I do not think he ever crossed the bedroom at night. I was thinking that he went to the toilet at school and refrained from using the toilet in my house.”

"By the way, Takamori-sensei actually tried not to drink any water in the evening. He thought that the only way to avoid going to the bathroom was to avoid drinking. Still, once or twice a year, he couldn't resist and quietly walked through the room.”

“Wow. I see. I was asleep between my mother and father. I was so sound asleep that I didn't notice.” We both laughed. The time passed quickly with our pleasant conversation, and the next thing I knew, two hours had passed.

“Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with me.”

I thanked her sincerely and headed for Toyama Prefecture. On the way back to Toyama, I was driving and thinking back on our conversation, thinking what a nice person she was. After returning to Toyama, I reported the conversation with her to Takamori-sensei. Takamori-sensei looked really happy and nodded as I talked about the conversation between her and me. He responded to me enthusiastically, saying, "I see, I see!" and, "You were there for two hours?”

Mitsuharu-sensei goes to Kyoto

On March 21st, Mitsuharu-sensei sent an email to Mr. Miyazaki. "Takamori-sensei has told me that if I ever go to Kyoto, he would like me to go and see Ms. Michiko Kitayama. I would like you to make arrangements so that I can meet her then.”

When Mr. Miyazaki told this to Ms. Kitayama, she said she would like to meet Mitsuharu-sensei as well, and we decided to visit her around 5:00 p.m. on April 5th.

And finally, a dramatic reunion!

On April 5, at the appointed time, Mitsuharu-sensei parked in front of Ms. Kitayama’s house, and Ms. Kitayama immediately came out of the door.

“I'm Takamori-sensei's son. I'm here on his behalf.”

“You are the spitting image of Takamori-sensei when he was younger!” she said, her voice full of nostalgia as she greeted Mitsuharu-sensei. She also exchanged warm greetings with Mitsuharu-sensei’s wife.

“How long have you lived in this home?”

“After my husband and I got married, we moved to Nagoya, Kagoshima, Kumamoto, etc. and now we have lived in this house for 47 years.”

After Ms. Michiko Kitayama got married, her parents moved from one apartment to another, and in their later years, they lived with her. Her father was frail and had several surgeries. He was not wealthy, but he found a good doctor and was able to have free surgeries. However, he died of bronchial cancer 30 years ago, at the age of 74. Ten years later, her mother also passed away in a nursing home.

“So this was the first time you came to the nearby lecture hall after seeing the flyer?”

“Yes. When I listened to Mr. Miyazaki's lecture, I guessed that he graduated from Ryukoku University. If Mr. Miyazaki was a Ryukoku University graduate, he might know Takamori-sensei, so I asked him during break time. I remembered Takamori-sensei's name.” She also looked back on the time when there was no food.

“Until about the third grade, my family could not afford to eat white rice. We boiled potatoes and sprinkled salt on them, and boiled sweet potatoes and ate them like dumplings. It was a time when wealthy children had white rice in their lunchboxes and ate it at a distance, out of consideration for everyone else. I think Takamori-sensei had a hard time too, because everyone was living in inconvenient conditions.”

“My father has fond memories of those days and would like to meet you.”

When Mitsuharu-sensei told her this, she said, “I am glad that he remembers me so fondly.”

Then Mitsuharu-sensei took out his computer and said, "Actually, you can talk to him right here.”

Through Zoom, Takamori-sensei and Ms. Michiko Kitayama were able to meet virtually for the first time in 70 years while still in Toyama and Kyoto respectively. On the computer screen, Takamori-sensei spoke with a beaming smile.

“Hello. Michiko-san. It's nice to finally meet you again.”

“Well, Sensei, I have missed you.”

Ms. Kitayama also had a big smile on her face.

“How have you been?”

“I'm doing well. You, Sensei, are looking well. Thank you very much for the gift you gave me today.”

“You're welcome. I've been looking for you for a long time.”

“I visited the boarding house in Kyoto several times. The first time, the building was still there, but the second time, it was gone. I had no idea where your family had gone, and there was no way to find you.”

“I've been here and there for a while, but I've been here in Joyo City for almost 50 years now.”

“Your parents have passed away, haven't they?”

“Yes. My father passed away 30 years ago.”

“I was very grateful for their help for those eight years after the war was over. It was a terrible time until my second year of studies at Ryukoku University. After losing the war, everyone was in need of food.”

“That's right. There was nothing. We were always saying we were hungry.”

“There were times when I was really hungry in the middle of the night, so I cooked the rice my parents sent me with an electric heater and ate the rice with salt.”

“Did that ever happen to you?”

“It was a difficult time, but your parents were really nice to me. They were great people.”

“Oh no, we hardly did a thing. But my father was like a buddha to me, always living for the sake of others.”

“That's right. They were really nice. That's why I didn't think of changing my boarding house for eight years. I will never forget my debt of gratitude to them. I can't thank them enough. I had been thinking that if your parents had passed away, I would at least like to meet with you and thank you.”

“Thank you very much. It's really nice to see you.”

“If you hadn't talked to Mr. Miyazaki at the venue, we wouldn't have been able to meet like this.”

“It's a really marvelous connection.”

“I'm glad we had a connection.”

“Now that I’m seeing you like this, Sensei, the image of your younger self is shining through.”

“Is that so? You're just as cheerful and cute as you used to be.”

“Well, thank you very much!”

“If you do not mind, let's talk again via Zoom!”

“Thank you. Definitely!”

“Please be very careful about coronavirus.”

“Yes. I try not to go out too much. Please take care of yourself too, Sensei.”

The conversation lasted about 20 minutes, but what an exciting exchange it was.

Ms. Kitayama sat perfectly still, gazing intently at the screen.

She seemed to be so absorbed in this special one-on-one meeting with Takamori-sensei.

Mitsuharu-sensei and his wife watched over Ms. Kitayama and listened intently to their conversation.

Now at last, Takamori-sensei was able to directly converse with someone that he had been searching for for a long, long time, and it was as if 70 years of time had been condensed into this one moment.

Later, Mitsuharu-sensei’s wife sent a thank you letter to Ms. Kitayama.

In it, she wrote that we are able to listen to the true teachings of Master Shinran from Takamori-sensei now because Ms. Kitayama’s parents took care of Takamori-sensei when he was a student.

Soon, we received a reply from Ms. Kitayama in beautiful handwriting.

In her letter, she said,

“It was marvelous to talk with Takamori-sensei through the screen. Memories of those old times came flooding back to me. I was so nostalgic and filled with emotion that I was about to cry.”

I wish I'd met you ten years ago.

At Ms. Kitayama's house, Mr. Miyazaki held a lecture by Takamori-sensei for the first time. She listened intently to the lecture and recalled her life during the break.

“When I was in my thirties and forties, I wondered why I was living even though life is so painful, but I could not find the answer. I asked my friends, but they could not give me the answer either. It's great to have a child, but as they get older, you worry more. I had given up, thinking that this is just how life is. It's hard when I see people suffering, and yet when I think that I am more blessed than others, I feel at ease. There is nothing to look forward to in the future.” Then she said to Mr. Miyazaki as he was leaving, “I knew that Takamori-sensei would be a great teacher. I wish I could have met him ten years earlier.”

If my father were still alive…

July 12 

Ms. Kitayama visited Kyoto Fushimi Shinran Center, and she gradually became acquainted with the other Shinran Students. When she listened to a video lecture by Takamori-sensei, she was surprised and said, “Takamori-sensei has good posture.”

Mr. Miyazaki replied, “He was trained in the special attack corps, you see.”

“Is that so? I didn't know that about the special attack corps. I heard that Takamori-sensei's family home was a temple, is it still a temple?”

After Takamori-sensei graduated from Ryukoku University, he founded Shinrankai in 1958. Mr. Miyazaki briefly explained that since then, Shinrankai has made rapid progress, and finally the 2000 Tatami Mat Hall was constructed and is in use today.

“In the meantime, Takamori-sensei was continuously looking for you, Ms. Kitayama.”

“There were no telephones in those days. Two times, my husband’s kind nature was exploited and we were scammed, so we had a terrible time. I was desperate.”

“If my father were still alive, he would have been really happy to see Takamori-sensei again,” she said repeatedly.

My heart seems to be transforming.

October 18: Ho’on’ko

Ms. Kitayama visited the nearby lecture hall again. When Mr. Miyazaki called from another lecture hall, she said with her usual cheerful voice, "I visited because I was feeling well and my husband was feeling well too. When Takamori-sensei gives lectures, he speaks slowly, so it’s easy to understand. It seems to linger in the mind rather than in the ears.” She is currently borrowing the animated movie series “Light of the World: Master Shinran.” After watching volumes 1 and 2, Ms. Kitayama said, "The animation is easy to understand.”

Mr. Miyazaki told her, "It took three years to make the first volume, and Takamori-sensei put his heart and soul into every detail, from the script to the facial expressions to the way voice actors said their lines.”

“Wow, what amazing passion!” she said.

“It is Takamori-sensei’s desire to share the teachings of Master Shinran in any way he can. Takamori-sensei said repeatedly that he is able to do this now because in a time when everyone was struggling, your parents let him stay at your home and looked after him while he studied hard.”

Receiving Volumes 3 and 4 of the animated movies, Ms. Kitayama said, “It must have been a difficult time for Takamori-sensei when there was not enough food to eat. He was studying diligently. I'll watch the animation over and over again!"

Recently, Ms. Kitayama said, "I think my heart has been transforming because I’ve been listening to Buddhism.”

Due to the immense nurturing light of Amida Buddha, Ms. Kitayama is now listening to Buddhism energetically.

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