Leaders are people we all tend to gravitate towards. For Isamu and Yukiko Higa, their dedication to the Mountain View Buddhist Temple and their family are immeasurable.
Naomi Higa, their youngest daughter says it well,
“The definition of a leader is someone who provides inspiration and guidance and exhibits courage and commitment. The traits of a good leader are compassion and good communication skills. An effective leader lives by strong values that guide their decisions and behaviors. I credit my dad for my successes through his example of Buddhism. When I was young my dad lectured me about how life was not fair and, in order to succeed as a minority (way back then), I would have to work twice as hard. As a child, I did not like what he said, but quickly learned what he meant.
My Mom is from Okinawa and a survivor of WWII. She was a housewife which I had no clue was, and is, the hardest job in the world. She cooked every meal from scratch, did all the household chores, drove three girls to different activities, worked 365 days a year without a vacation or complaint, meditates daily and participated in the BWA volunteering with the Chicken Teriyaki and Mochi Tsuki Fundraising, and making sushi for the Obon Bazaar Dining room. My Mom embodies the Dharma of Buddhism, wisdom, kindness, patience, generosity, and compassion. I credit my mom for all my wonderful relationships that I have had throughout my life.”
MEETING & FAMILY
If we rewind a few decades earlier, Isamu and Yukiko’s family were both originally from Okinawa, prefecture of Japan located on the Ryukyu Islands. Okinawa Prefecture is the southernmost and westernmost prefecture of Japan. Isamu was one of 13 children – the 11th oldest with five brothers and seven sisters. Yukiko Higa was one of six children – the 3rd oldest with three brothers and two sisters.
The two met while Isamu was working as a contractor for Philco Ford for the U.S. Air Force. He was assigned to the Naha Air Force base and met Yukiko when she was working as a cashier at the Officers Club in 1959.
Together they had three daughters:
- Cynthia Hamblin (oldest daughter) married to Mr. Chuck Hamblin and they reside in Idaho. They have two children: Rachelle and Julie.
- Kathleen LaMore (middle daughter) married to Mr. Jay LaMore and they reside in Wisconsin.
- Naomi Higa (youngest daughter) lives in Hawaii.
PAST & PRESENT
Isamu and Yukiko resided in Sunnyvale since 1962. Early in 2021, they moved to Idaho to be closer to their daughter Cynthia in Eagle, Idaho. A town approximately 10 miles northwest of Boise.
Isamu explains, “Idaho is a beautiful place, the weather is similar to California. It’s a bit colder, but not too cold. There is lots of water and everything is very green. Compared to California, it is not as hot and dry. Close by, there are lots of things to do and see including many natural landmarks like waterfalls and national parks. Yellowstone National Park is about six hours away. I have noticed that many of my neighbors were originally from California.”
WORK & MVBT
During his working years, Isamu was a Senior Manager as an electronic engineer while Yukiko was the homemaker.
The Higa’s first encounter with the Mountain View Buddhist Temple was through the Japanese Language School, a place for children to learn Japanese. All three of their kids attended school at the Temple. As parents, they got to know the other families attending the same language program. After three years, they decided to join the Mountain View Buddhist Temple as members. Isamu recalls the program as a good place to connect with the community and while having a place for his kids to learn the Japanese language.
Isamu recalls “Our children went to school there, figured I should help out. I always thought maybe because in my day job I was a supervisor of many people, it translated well to my volunteer life at the Temple. I started a few small companies in my time and I guess I communicated well with folks. It was natural for me to be active along with my family. Temple work was easy compared to my day job! For my children, I did the best I could and helping the Temple out was one way of helping them.”
LEADERS AT MVBT
ABA. The MVBT Sangha relies on the collection of members working together harmoniously to preserve the many assets, traditions and organizations that have been created over the years. The Adult Buddhist Association (ABA) was started in 1972. Ray Murakami was the 1st President. Isamu became the 2nd president starting in 1973 serving until July 1975. In addition, Isamu was Zone 7 Chairman for over 20 years.
Zone Chair. Bob Yamanaga, current Zone 7 Chairman recalls,
“I took over the Zone Chair from Isamu in 2010. I tried to continue his way of communicating with the zone members. Each year he distributed a list of Zone 7 member information and service donation reminders for the coming year. Isamu maintained the Temple membership database, including the assignment of a zone to new members. He turned over that function to me in 2002.
I remember Isamu welcoming me when my family joined Temple in 1987. Both being from Hawaii, we had talks about island life. Isamu and Yuki were always inviting me into their house whenever I dropped something off and usually gave me a treat of some sort.”
Maintenance. During a recent phone interview, Isamu remembers, “A few of my fondest memories were when we had to paint the ENTIRE TEMPLE GROUNDS in 3 days! (over a Friday – Sunday period). We started on Friday and had 99% of the work done by Sunday. On Monday, the garden crew came and helped do touchups since they were usually off then. Thankfully we finished most of the work in three days or else we would have run out of labor.”
Obon Festival & Bazaar. Many fellow members recall both Isamu and Yukiko volunteering and helping out as much as they could. One of Isamu’s important tasks was overseeing all of the toys purchases for the Obon Festival & Bazaar. All of the Bazaar game booths have various prizes and toys as giveaways. Today, fellow Temple member Donna Okubo oversees the task of managing toys for the Temple.
Donna recalls that:
“Over 30 years ago, I started to work with Mr. Higa with ordering Animal Pitch prizes. This gradually moved into ordering all the prizes for the Bazaar and managing the prize warehouse. He had a knack for ordering the ‘hot’ prize. His secret was asking his grandkids! He was a great teacher and let me learn to make a few mistakes too. One year I said ‘Batman was hot. Let’s get a bunch of them.’ He wasn’t very enthusiastic, but he let me buy them. Somehow, he knew! Batman was in the warehouse for at least 4 Bazaars. We eventually downgraded Batman to a Hoop-La prize. Throughout the years, he mentored me about what plates for animal pitch to look for at the thrift stores (rimless) to how to pack up the warehouse to be ready for the next year, and insights into working together with all the Temple members.
Mrs. Higa was also a wonderful teacher as well. She greeted you in the Sangha Hall kitchen with her welcoming smile and also fixed a few of my ‘exploded’ sushi rolls during maki sushi rolling!”
Temple Policy. One important accomplishment was Isamu’s assistance in implementing the Temple’s Sexual Harassment Policy. He recalls that, along with 5-6 other committee members, he helped create the Sexual Harassment policy for the Temple. The committee prepared documents with an attorney that were incorporated into the Temple’s policies and procedures.
BWA. Marie Ochi-Jacobs recalls “Back in 2000, when Allan and I were beginning to attend services at MVBT, they were welcoming and befriended us. Mr. Higa recruited Allan on some fixit (minor) chores around the Temple and I was with Yukiko in the BWA. Yukiko used to prepare the sashimi (from Sam Sugimoto) for the Obon Bazaar. For a couple of years, I assisted her on this project. I recall having to store the prepared plates of sashimi in the walk-in fridge. When Yukiko went in to fetch a tray of plates, she would walk out with her thick glasses all fogged up! Amusing image that remains with me. I was always grateful for the couple’s friendship and acceptance. I admired Yukiko’s spirit of getting things done without fussing.”
The years will come and go however the memories and traditions of every generation stay forever.
Daughter Cynthia remembers fondly,
“One of my favorite memories of growing up in the Temple was the Obon festival. Obon is like coming home after you have been gone for a while. You get to see family, friends, and eat a lot of home cooked food all in one weekend. When we were young, my sisters and I played all the games and danced in the Obon. As we got older, we worked in the game booths and loved eating our way through all the food stands with our Sunday School friends, while our parents were busy working. Chuck and I, even before getting married, would go to the Obon and bring friends every year to support my parents since it was such an important Temple event, and they were so proud to be a part of it. It was always nice to see the smiling faces of the church members that I grew up with year after year.
A generation later, our girls looked forward to going to Obon every year. They loved all the games, especially trying to win a goldfish, visiting their Grandpa in the warehouse with all the toys and seeing their Grandma in the kitchen and getting to eat yummy udon noodles. They loved playing BINGO, eating shave ice, corn on the cob, and chicken and beef teriyaki.”
Daughter Kathleen states, “As a child, church was a family thing. We participated in church activities especially with my parents. As an adult, I realized my dad used his knowledge and skills to hold leadership roles with the church. My mom developed relationships which she continues to nourish to this day. It was important to my parents to be involved with the church. I’m so proud of what they accomplished and experienced over these years along with their dedication to the church.”
Julie Ushiba, a fellow member explains,
“I have known Isamu and Yukiko for over 40 years. During the Temple activities, we talked and laughed for silly and general subjects. Nothing about personal matters. Isamu-san was very active for Temple activities for chairing many events. He is from Hawaii, so he is very easy going, and we had fun to talking to him. My husband, Kinji, talked to him about koi since he had a koi pound in his backyard. We were the zone chair so we did visit them.
Yukiko-san was the chair for Zone 5 of the BWA. Since Yukiko-san and I have been BWA members for over 40 years, we are friends. As I said before, we chatted really silly stuffs always. She is wonderful and fun loving with big heart.”
The list of activities the Higa Family have been involved with goes on and on:
- Changing the rugs in the hondo for the first time ever,
- Regular ECHO contributors,
- BBQing for Sasaki Golf Tourney every year and
- Mochi Tsuki just to name a new.
Let us celebrate here in the New Year, all the contributions the Higa family have and continue to make towards our Sangha. We wish Isamu and Yukiko the best from California and those of you looking to travel in 2022, we all know who to call if you find your way up to Idaho!
Did you know the Mountain View Buddhist Temple was not always our original legal entity name? The original legal name was Mountain View Buddhist Church. Isamu noticed that many members used Temple instead of the word Church. So along with a small group of members, they filed a formal entity name change with the California Secretary of State to change it to Mountain View Buddhist Temple, our name as we know it today.
Namo Amida Butsu —
With Kindness and Gratitude beyond words.