In February 1959, Noriko Nakagawa received encouragement from Ikeda Sensei to persevere in her Buddhist practice. Twenty months later, she welcomed him at the New York airport together with other Soka Gakkai members in October 1960. Due to his encouragement, Mrs. Nakagawa helped pioneer the foundation for kosen-rufu in the United States, developed a harmonious family and currently enjoys vitality and health together with her husband, Yoshi, her children and grandchildren.
Noriko, Yoshi, Ken and Emi Nakagawa
Queens, New York
Living Buddhism: Hello, Noriko! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience. It’s incredible to think that 60 years have passed since you welcomed Ikeda Sensei to New York on his first visit to the U.S.
Noriko Nakagawa: Yes, I am filled with appreciation when I think about how much Sensei encouraged me during that time.
We understand that you received encouragement from Sensei shortly before moving to the U.S. Can you share that story with us?
Noriko: Yes, I joined the Soka Gakkai in February 1958, and was promised that if I followed the guidance of second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo morning and evening, and introduce one person a month to Buddhism, all my prayers would be answered. I was married to an American serviceman and already had three children by then.
My main prayer was to stay in Japan for at least a few more years, because we enjoyed financial stability and I wanted to save extra money for my family.
Exactly one year later, in February 1959, my husband was informed that he would be transferred to New York. I took this to mean that my prayers hadn’t been answered, and I decided to stop practicing Buddhism. When I told my sponsor, she brought me to my district and chapter leaders for guidance. I was very stubborn and fully set on quitting. So, my chapter leader told me that he wanted to take me somewhere. All four of us went to the Soka Gakkai Headquarters.
What happened next?
Noriko: When we arrived, many members were gathering for a guidance meeting. My chapter leader mentioned to an event staff member that I would be going to the United States, so they sat us in the front row. When Sensei entered the meeting room, I didn’t know who he was.
During the meeting, my chapter leader told Sensei that I would be going to the U.S., and he immediately asked if I had any questions. I told him that I planned to return the Gohonzon because my prayer wasn’t answered. When he asked what my prayer was, I explained that I wanted to stay in Japan, but instead our family was being sent to New York.
Sensei shared that I had a mission in the United States and explained that the Chinese characters for mission means “to use one’s life.” He assured me with complete conviction that as long as I fulfilled my mission for kosen-rufu, I would definitely be protected and have everything I needed. He also mentioned, “Soon there will be an organization in America, so please persevere until then.”
What did you decide to do?
Noriko: I decided to continue practicing. I was deeply inspired by his conviction in faith. Our conversation lasted just a few minutes, but he put his whole life into encouraging me, and that encounter has sustained me throughout my life.
Ken, you weren’t born yet, but what is your impression of your mother’s interaction with Sensei?
Ken Nakagawa: Let me tell you, my mother is a stubborn woman. Once she has her mind made up, no one can convince her otherwise. I remember her sharing this story with me when I was growing up and thought, Wow, only Sensei could convince my mother to keep practicing! He didn’t convince her because he was widely seen as a mentor, but purely due to the power of his conviction that when you fight to fulfill your mission for kosen-rufu, you will definitely be protected. Sensei’s guidance to her at that time became the foundation of faith for our family.
Noriko, what happened after you moved to New York?
Noriko: Before I left, I made sure that my subscription to the Seikyo Shimbun (the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper) would be routed to my new home in Staten Island, New York. Back then, we didn’t have publications in English. It was a challenge to continue practicing alone, but I treasured each issue of the Seikyo Shimbun and read every article. Every time I heard of other Japanese women in the area, I made friends with them and introduced them to Buddhism. I also started holding weekly gatherings where my new friends and I read articles from the Seikyo Shimbun. Eventually, eight of these women decided to start their Buddhist practice, and they also began to introduce others as well! It was just us. I didn’t know of any other members in the New York area.
You truly created something from nothing. That is very inspiring! What do you remember most about Sensei’s first visit to New York in October 1960?
Noriko: I was so happy to hear that Sensei was coming to the United States. I remember thinking that he kept his promise that an organization would soon be established in America.
On October 13, 1960, I drove to the airport to welcome Sensei with three of my friends, whom I had introduced to Buddhism. When we arrived at the airport, I met several other members. I had no idea there were any other people practicing in New York. I was so happy! One of the members taught us how to sing the Soka Gakkai song Ifu dodo no uta (Song of Indomitable Dignity), and we sang as Sensei and his party arrived. I was so happy that he remembered me, and when I reported to him that I had introduced eight people to Buddhism since moving to New York, he said, “How wonderful!” and really thanked me for my efforts.
On October 14, Sensei visited the U.N. Headquarters before attending the first discussion meeting, where New York District was formed. What do you remember about that gathering?
Noriko: There were so many people. I remember thinking, Where did they all come from? When Sensei established New York District, I remember thinking, This is our starting point.
I also noticed initially that Sensei seemed tired. During the meeting, many of the members shared how much they were struggling to adjust to life in America. The meeting actually became quite heavy. Sensei mustered all his energy to encourage the members, and, after that, he didn’t seem tired anymore. Through his actions, I learned the power of dedicating one’s life for kosen-rufu and encouraging others.
What was your life like in the U.S.?
Noriko: In the early 1960s I faced so many challenges. I had three more children after moving to the U.S., and I was in and out of the hospital with kidney failure and other health issues. After giving birth to my sixth child, I divorced my husband and because I wasn’t a citizen and had health issues, he got custody of our five older children, who moved to Idaho to live with his family. I was allowed to keep my youngest child because she was still a newborn.
My lawyer informed me that I would need to wait until the children turned 12 years old before I could see them again. I fell into a deep depression and started drinking a lot. The one thing holding me together was my Buddhist practice and SGI activities. I really feel Sensei instilled in me the spirit to continue practicing no matter what.
When did your situation start to turn around?
Noriko: In 1968, I married a wonderful man and fellow SGI member named Yoshi. Together, we raised my youngest daughter, Sandra, and chanted to have another child, despite my health complications. We were determined to raise our children into successors of the kosen-rufu movement, and we finally had our son, Ken.
How did you teach your children about faith?
Noriko: I never forced them to chant, but I did bring them to meetings and prayed fervently for them to meet good friends in the SGI. Sandra joined the young women’s Fife and Drum Corps, and Ken joined the young men’s Brass Band, where they made friends in the organization and studied Sensei’s guidance.
When my children in Idaho got older, they started to visit me for certain periods of time and learned more about Buddhism. Four of my children practice Buddhism, and all seven of them support the SGI in their own way. I’m equally proud that all of them have developed into sincere and compassionate individuals, who live their lives based on Buddhist values.
Yoshi, can you share about your journey in faith?
Yoshi Nakagawa: I came to New York in 1957 to live with my uncle after graduating from high school. I struggled so much the first several years with finances, loneliness and many other things. In 1962, I learned about the SGI and immediately started practicing. To be honest, it took me a long time to understand Buddhism, but the more I practiced, the more my life improved.
What Buddhist concept is closest to your heart?
Yoshi: I would have to say the oneness of mentor and disciple. This concept has been so difficult for me to grasp, and 58 years later, I’m still trying to figure it out. Through reading The Human Revolution and The New Human Revolution, however, I’ve learned that it’s the most human relationship that exists between two people. When I study about the first three presidents, they shared deep bonds as human beings and developed a perfect unity with the goal of achieving kosen-rufu. I am so happy when I see the next generation inheriting this practice.
So Ken, as someone who inherited the practice from your parents, at what point did you decide to embrace faith?
Ken: Well, it took me a long time to fully commit to this practice. When I was young, my mother battled with poor health, and I tended to get into trouble. Because we lived in such difficult circumstances, I developed a lot of resentment toward her. But I had incredible young men’s leaders who supported me and encouraged me to join the young men’s Brass Band, which helped me develop a consistent practice.
When did you awaken to your vow as a disciple?
Ken: I would say I found this path in 1996 when Sensei visited New York. I supported his visit behind the scenes, so I didn’t engage with him, but I saw how earnestly he was encouraging everyone he met. When I saw him bowing to the hotel staff, I remember thinking: Wow, Sensei is so warm and humble. He doesn’t act like a big shot at all! I also noticed how much effort it took behind the scenes to keep up with Sensei as he sent encouragement to the members, whether it was preparing countless gifts, treating hundreds of members to snacks that they could enjoy, and the list goes on.
My mother also told me that during the general meeting Sensei attended at the New York Culture Center, she had a wonderful encounter with him. Seating was full in the main Gohonzon room, so she was asked to sit in the satellite room, where they could watch the meeting on a screen. She shared frankly that she was disappointed that she wouldn’t see Sensei in person. But before the meeting began, instead of going into the main room, he first visited the satellite room to encourage the members there. He stood right in front of my mother and bowed to her.
Shortly after the 1996 visit, I realized that, because of my mother, I was able to encounter Daisaku Ikeda, my mentor in life. And because of Sensei’s encouragement, my mother came to New York, and I was born. I felt as if an 800-pound gorilla was lifted off my shoulders, and my resentment disappeared. In fact, it turned into this burning question: How can I repay my debt of gratitude to my mother and Sensei? This is when I fully dedicated myself to striving for kosen-rufu.
Thank you for sharing your story, Ken. We would now like to hear from your daughter, Emi, the third generation to practice in your family. Emi, we understand you’re now in high school.
Emi Nakagawa: Yes, I’m starting my sophomore year. School life has been pretty hectic with the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’re still doing distance learning for everyone’s safety.
Yes, we are definitely living in chaotic times. To you, what was the significance of Sensei’s visit to America 60 years ago this month?
Emi: Well, because of Sensei’s visit in 1960, Nichiren Buddhism began to spread throughout the U.S. If it weren’t for Sensei’s efforts to establish the SGI in America, I wouldn’t have met this practice and may not have even been born.
As a future division member, in what ways do you connect with Sensei as your mentor?
Emi: Recently I’ve been reading a lot of his books, especially since joining the Fife and Drum Corps. Whenever I read his writings, I feel like he is listening to me and personally encouraging me. He always seems to know exactly how to encourage me.
Whenever my friends are struggling, I try to be there for them like Sensei would, and listen to them so that they can feel like they’re not alone.
What is one quote that has recently struck you?
Emi: In You Can Do It! Sensei writes: “We are traveling a path of victory together. I am not traveling this path alone, nor am I telling you to travel it alone either. It’s a journey we are making together. You are moving toward victory together with me, as well as with your good friends and fellow members, one step at a time” (p. 6).
What are some of your goals for the future?
Emi: Some of my interests are writing and medicine. I want to dedicate my life to encouraging others. I also want to attend Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo, California. Whenever I visit the school, I feel safe and comfortable there. I also connect strongly to the ideals of Soka education that Sensei has put into action.
I’m so appreciative to my parents and grandparents for continuing their Buddhist practice and introducing me to the SGI and Sensei’s philosophy.
Noriko: Emi’s determination makes me so happy. Now, all I want is to be able to encourage the youth to stand up. I feel that this is the best way I can respond to Sensei.