About Spreading Japanese Culture
by Ronnie Seldin
Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the
subject of Japanese Culture, and its spread into American Society. In
large part this has been due to the support of Michael Yuge, who has encouraged
me to write this article, as well as agreeing to be the organizer of the
program in which I will be the moderator during the upcoming Tenri Forum
from July15 - July 17, 2006, at O-jiba. The name of the program I am to
moderate is “Tenrikyo and its Promotion of Cultural Activities.”
In addition, in this week’s weekly New York Japanese Newspaper,
there is an article and photograph of me in my Shakuhachi studio. So,
please bear with me while I do my usual rambling!
For those of you who do not know me – a brief introduction:
1. I first became involved in Tenrikyo in 1973 (33 years ago). I have
considered Tenrikyo my exclusive spiritual path from every moment since
2. I also became quite dedicated to the study of the Shakuhachi at the
same time. Within two weeks of my beginning to study, I felt (and told
everyone) that this was what I was going to do the rest of my life.
3. Originally a Kosha, my Fellowship – HON NEW YORK (under Soryo
Bun-Kyokai, and Tohon Dai Kyokai), became an official Fukyosho in 1980.
At present we have over 50 YOBOKU, and over 50 more NAKASEKI (those who
have begun the Besseki Lectures but have not yet finished them).
4. In terms of my activities with the New York Center, as one of the handful
of original members (and Board Members), I was fortunate enough to be
involved in all of the decisions in the first 20 years of the Center.
I also did NISSAN (daily worship) at the Center for 10 years without missing
a day when I was in New York, headed the NY Center Seinenkai (Young Men’s
Association) for 9 years and was a Vice-Chairman of the Seinenkai of America.
Ronnie playing the Shakuhachi
Well, to the point of this article. I have long been involved, as a professional
Shakuhachi player, in all aspects of spreading Japanese culture to the
United States. But, perhaps more than that, due to the way my Ri-no-Oya
(spiritual parent) Kamijo Hideaki-Sensei, taught me (through action even
more than words) that the basis of Tenrikyo was to “give-and-give”, rather than “give-and–take”
(which I was raised to believe). With this idea (basically hinokishin-
the way I define hinokishin), one just tries to do things to make others
joyful (the way Oyasama did), without any thought of receiving anything
back in return.
When I was much younger, there was a very small interest in Japanese
Culture in this country. There were no sushi restaurants, the only authors
translated were Mishima and Kawabata, no manga or anime, no interest in
Japanese music, art, ikebana, tea ceremony, etc. The Japanese language,
while taught at a few universities, was not considered to be that important.
However, in the early 70’s, a number of us felt differently.
In a way we were pioneers, in that we went to Japan and proceeded to study
the traditional arts. We could go for 6 months, even in a city like Kyoto
(where I lived), and not even see another non-Japanese person. In this
pursuit, though, I was similar to the others. What was different for me
was meeting Kamijo Hideaki Sensei. His teachings made me switch the accent
from what I could get for myself to what I could give to others.
With this understanding, I constantly wanted to try to push towards
the foundation of the Tenri Cultural Institute. I am afraid that I truly
did antagonize some members who did not see the importance in the same
way that I did, but I would like to think that my original vision and
persistence had to do with the creation of the Tenri Cultural Institute.
Of course, there were so many others whose efforts were also indispensable.
I even felt so strongly, that at one point I did what only a non-Japanese
could do. I went “over the heads” of my direct superiors and
even set up a meeting with Iburi-Sensei in O-Jiba to plead my case for
the necessity of the Cultural Center. I also remember going out with Rev.
Okui to plead with the Board of Directors at Dendocho for the Cultural
You see, I feel strongly that this should be our prime Mission here
in the United States because, if Tenrikyo is a religion that seeks to
do things for others, it cannot do this by just doing the Service. It
is necessary to “reach out” and help others. Now there are
other ways to do this such as helping homeless people, helping people
in hospitals, but as a musician who performs Japanese Music, I have found
the best way for me.
On a practical level, I am fortunate because my Kami-Sama (shrine) hangs
over the table where I do my daily Shakuhachi teaching, and when I do
my O-Jiba Gaeri once or twice a year (since 1980), I always take back
students who do the Besseki Lectures. Many of them become Yoboku.
And thanks to Kami-Sama, I have been successful in my attempts to
spread the wonderful music of the Shakuhachi. I personally hold two Grand
Master Licenses (Dai Shihan), the most recent one at the never–before-awarded
level of Kyu-dan (Ninth level) from the Shakuhachi Living National Treasure
(Ningen Kokuho - Aoki Reibo). My school, KiSuiAn Dojo is the largest and
most active in the world outside of Japan with about 80 active students,
with four branches, and remote students in 26 states and 6 foreign countries.
Perhaps one of my greatest accomplishments was the conception and production
of the 4th International Shakuhachi Festival here in New York (at New
York University), where we had the largest gathering of non-Japanese Shakuhachi
players in history.
I hope that I will see you all at O-Jiba this July. I would love
to hear what all of your feelings and opinions are on this subject!