|Born||April 3 1901|
|Died||April 23 1996|
|Birth Location||Hiroshima, Japan|
Nitten Ishida (1901–96) was the archbishop of San Francisco's Nichiren Howkke Buddhist Temple and a revered master calligrapher who taught the art of calligraphy for over sixty years. He was the seventh and youngest son of a farmer and was born on April 3, 1901, in Hiroshima, Japan. Upon graduating from grammar school with honors, he moved to Tokyo to continue his education, studying at Myōjuji Temple where his brother was the chief priest. He became a temple apprentice disciple while in high school, and eventually took his initial vows to the priesthood. In 1923, he entered Waseda University in Tokyo, graduating with a degree in political science and economics in 1925. Instead of continuing on the political science path, he decided to enter a graduate theological institute, while fulfilling his required military service, becoming an army officer.
In the mid-1920s he returned to his brother's temple, which sent him to Taiwan for an extended residency, during which he established three churches. Deciding that he wanted to travel more, Ishida immigrated to San Francisco in 1931, where he gave lectures while traveling up and down the West Coast. Upon returning to San Francisco, he was asked to help found the Nichiren Temple at 2016 Pine Street, where he began teaching calligraphy classes to community members. That same year, he also married Chiyoko Ishida (tea name Soren Ishida), who was also a master artist and teacher of the Omote Senke School of Tea for over many decades. With Mrs. Ishida's support, a formal Japanese tea room was built in the Nichiren Temple in the 1950s.
In the years leading up to the war, Ishida and others in the community had collected money at the onset of the Pacific War in support of Japan, which placed him under immediate suspicion. When Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japan, the FBI came to Ishida's home in San Francisco where they questioned his wife, took personal papers and belongings and later arrested him. On December 11, 1941, Ishida was sent to to the Department of Justice camp in Fort Missoula, Montana, where he was forbidden to communicate with his family (who had been moved to a War Relocation Authority camp in Topaz, Utah.) On April 10, 1942, Ishida was moved to another camp in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, then to Camp Livingston, Louisiana, where he remained detained for a year. He was next transferred to a federal facility in Santa Fe, New Mexico for six months and finally reunited with his family in Crystal City, Texas on February 26, 1944, where they lived for two years.
At the end of the war, instead of being released from camp, Ishida was placed on a list for deportation to Japan. However, because his children were American citizens, he was able to avoid the unwanted repatriation. The Ishida family temporarily relocated to a government housing project in Richmond, California, where Ishida worked as a gardener, before moving back to San Francisco in 1947. Restoration of the Pine Street temple took several years as well, to repair the looting and damage that had defaced the building during the war.
In 1953, Ishida became a naturalized American citizen and that same year, was appointed to be the Nichiren archbishop for the United States. He continued to work with his brother, who was then chief abbot, to establish a relief organization for Japan and sponsored young farmers from Japan to study farming in the United States as a goodwill project. Throughout the '70s, Ishida was a major figure in San Francisco's Japantown, working with community members on multi-generational issues such as housing for the aged and poor, and helped to establish the Nihonmachi Terrace complex and Hinode Tower, a senior and low-income housing center. For these efforts, he was honored by both the Japanese government and by the city of San Francisco.
He died at age 95 on April 23, 1996, having suffered from Parkinson's disease for many years.
In 2013, his grandson, poet Brian Komei Dempster published a volume of poetry that includes a poem entitled "Your Hands Guide Me Through Trains", which imagines Reverend Ishida's experiences endured during World War II.)
For More Information
Chang, Gordon H., Johnson, Mark Dean, and Karlstrom, Paul J. editors. Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970, Stanford University Press, 2008.
Obituary, San Francisco Chronicle, May 1, 1996. http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/OBITUARY-Archbishop-Nitten-Ishida-2983748.php.
- Pacific Citizen, Jan. 1, 1954, 2. Accessed on Jan. 12, 2018 at http://ddr.densho.org/ddr-pc-26-1/.
- Brian Komei Dempster, "Your Hands Guide Me Through Trains," accessed on Feb. 4, 2015 at http://briankomeidempster.com/2013/07/your-hands-guide-me-through-trains/.