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Interview with Mitsu Suzuki, September 14, 1993 by DC

Describing Suzuki-roshi at Tassajara last time. (Hito ase o nagashite) [no pain no gain]. People get things done with sweat, suffering. When he came back he couldn't stand or walk.

He was in the hospital and then he went back and was told he had cancer and he said the examination is over let's go home and I said is it cancer and he said, yes, of the liver, kanzo.

When he brought flowers to Tassajara he paid for them himself. Sometimes when he went to the dentist he didn't ask a student to drive him - he took a bus. Today I'll take the bus, he'd say. He didn't mind using his own money and was hesitant to use the temple's money. People say that monks spend the temple's money and keep their own but he was opposite. He wasn't greedy. When I asked him what kind of desire he had he said he had a big desire to spread Zen in America.

I asked him what I should do when he died and he said to remain and help Zen Center. I don't understand English so how can I help them. You can do it cause you're honest and fair. I asked if I should become a nun. Oh that would be the best thing, he said. I said I'm too old so maybe in my next life I'll become a monk. He laughed at that. I wondered why he said I was honest and fair. Now I realize that he saw me that way. If he'd told me to go home it would have been understandable but he didn't. I'm grateful that he had confidence in me.

One night I told him tonight there is no zazen so please relax and eat and let's talk but he ate in five minutes and started to go off. I wanted to have some conversation with him - some nice things and some difficult. He was never interested in things like that. When he was quiet I asked him what he was thinking about and he said, Zen in America, nothing else. Why don't you listen to me sometime I don't have time for that, he said. Once I said to him why don't you say I love you like people do on TV and he said, "Honey, honey, honey!" and I said that's too much.

Everyone was crying so hard in the crematorium. When I saw the tears in their eyes I decided to stay till the tears dried up. If I'd have left then I wouldn't have known when they dried up so I decided to stay with them till they were well. Their teacher had died so I should stay for a while. On the third year of the memorial I was glad to see that they weren't crying anymore so that's when I started crying. Then you came to my room and asked me why are you crying You said you didn't cry because you'd met Suzuki-roshi and you'd cry if you hadn't and I said that I'm crying because I'm happy that I met him.

In her room Mitsu said that not only did Suzuki-roshi not speak much, he didn't write much. She said that she had nothing that was written by him. [still nothing]

She said she gave a lecture at Zen Center "last year" and that maybe there was a tape of that.

She said, "You know everything I have to say, you know - good priest, bad husband. That's it. There's nothing else. He never talked much. He never said, 'I love you.'"

DC - Well that's Japanese - you don't say that.

Some times I'd ask him what are thinking about and he'd say, 'I'm thinking about American Buddhism. I have no time to think about you or anything else." And then he'd just go off.

DC -Thank you very much Okusan. I'm very happy that I got to meet you. And I'm very sad you're going.

Not dying, just leaving.

Mitsu Suzuki at Page Street Zen Center just before or after Blanche Hartman's Mt. Seat Ceremony (which made her an abbot of ZC) in early February of 96.--DC

I have some names written on the paper. Not so clear:

Iku (aunt) - Mitsu's mom - Toki

Mitsu - Koto (sister)

Hirou (her son-in-law) - second cousin

Harumi - her daughter, married okusan's cousin's son.

Suzuki-roshi's dentist, Hayashi, died.

On Suzuki-roshi's memorial day you came to me and said, "Why you cry" {We talk about that and about me breaking her ribs maybe when I hugged her once.}

Suzuki-roshi and I lived here at Page Street for only one year and a half.

DC - You had a TV here


You had a TV at Sokoji?

No - George Hagiwara maybe brought over the TV and I watched but at that time no Japanese program. Here there was Japanese program. So I buy and Suzuki-roshi said please enjoy but he was very sick so I don't know maybe one time but just listen. But maybe he doesn't watch TV. Very serious time.

Mrs. Seino says that you and Roshi used to go to see her parents, the Matsumoto's, once a week and that you watched TV.

Kennedy. At that time no television. I went to the Matsumoto's house when Kennedy was killed in 63. And some member brought over the television. But all English so I not look. When we were here at Page Street there started 26 Japanese television one day a week.

Yes we went to the Matsumoto's house every week they called - "How about dinner (she pretends she's on the phone talking in a high voice indicating that Suzuki-roshi maybe would call them up and get an invite to dinner.) because on Wednesday the restaurant closed so on Wednesday "how about dinner" "Okay" - Suzuki-roshi. They were very very kind. We just ate and talked - that's all. I don't remember watching TV. There was no Japanese show then or maybe just once a week on Saturday so no TV. Before I came all the time Suzuki-roshi go to Mimatsu restaurant and eat. Very very old - near the Miyako hotel on Post Street. Suzuki-roshi ate there all the time. They were members of Sokoji. Suzuki roshi liked Mimatsu and Honami the store - many nice things - cannot buy but. Mrs. Honami may can talk to you. Two nights ago Mrs. Honami came to Mrs. Katsuyama-san's house - welcome dinner for me. Mrs. Honami liked Suzuki-roshi - all the family liked, but the mother and father already died. Sumi-san. Some days she would come to Sokoji and drive me and Suzuki-roshi - Mrs. Katsuyama a very close friend. [from a brief talk two days before, Sept. 11, 1993: You should interview Mrs. Katsuyama. She came almost everyday.]

In America I slept on a bed. Even at Sokoji. When I came here, Suzuki-roshi bought the very best mattress. He said, "I'm waiting for you - just bought." Very beautiful bed and iron set. In Japan always kneeling on tatami and ironing so he got me an American style iron. Suzuki-roshi said, "Only this I bought, and waiting for you."

I came to America in 1961, the thirteenth of June - by ship - pier 41 I think. Montana Maru.

Are you going to use the name Matsuno?

I married Matsuno but my parents are Sakai. I'm not going to take the name Matsuno again.

My father - Shizuoka-shi no - shikaigin - worked at city hall at Shizuoka.

I forgot my wedding date. Suzuki-roshi was very busy preparing to come to America. 1958 [I tell her - December]. In a half year Suzuki-roshi came to America.

What time did Suzuki-roshi go to sleep?

Maybe ten o'clock. He got up at zazen time.

To Americans Suzuki-roshi was very graceful. To you was he just a normal Japanese man.

Not special man - special priest. Normal exact so - exactly the right word. Complete priest. He was doing it Buddha's way. [I explain graceful and ask if he was graceful. I think she said he was usual or maybe she was saying something in Japanese oh yes - you know meaning a man of unusual ability.] He was a monk - that's the way that monks are. [I read translations of the word and she agrees and I ask was he that way from birth or because he was a monk]. I don't know. When I met him he was graceful. [I say when I met him he seemed graceful, do you feel the same She says yes. I thought maybe it's because I'm American but she says no that's how he was.]

You said when you met him he had a big black umbrella - Japanese.


Was that common?

I don't think so - only bosan (monk). He used it every day.

What did people call him?


Did you ever hear people call him Roshi?

No. Hojo-san. Abbot is hojo-san.

People say roshi in Japan.

I don't know. I say always of course - Suzuki-roshi, Chino-roshi, Katagiri-roshi. Abbot is hojo-san. But priest to priest they say Suzuki-roshi.

Komiya-san was head of the board when you came. He was very old-fashioned.

Issei style. Japanese first generation style. Very kind. All the time going to Komiya's house for breakfast. Good relationship.

When you moved to Page Street he gave us butsugun for the butsudo. He gave the statue to Zen Center for the Buddha Hall - the first one. Suzuki-roshi the next one bought - New York de find (found in New York) and just Butsudo put on side. [did H. Give you furniture or anything] Zen Center. Buddha Hall things like bell and many things came from Hagiwara. Because Hagiwara-san's house very - the father has many things.

When SR was sick he had gas you pressed here. Where...

Not gas - coughing. When he started coughing I pressed here and the coughing stopped. (On the small of the back.) Start coughing very painful so I stopped. Just at the end. And I cried. Front tried not to cry so back cry.

Do you remember his last words?


I sleep until the morning so please don't wake up." [Do you remember it in Japanese] After took bath [with Otohiro] Aiiii kimochi da. (Oh it feels good) "Ato no de konsumeyo[coma] " Then sleep. [And then no words.] No words. [When he died in the morning.] When next I saw him already no words. [When you saw him already what] No words. [His eyes were open] I'm not so much see him cause I was sleeping tatami room. Otohiro took care Suzuki-roshi so Otohiro came to tatami room, "Mother! Father something." So I didn't look to Suzuki-roshi. Right away (motions) [went downstairs]. "Baker!" [So who - Baker came up] Before me - Baker-roshi [he went in] And then Suzuki-roshi gives hand - Baker-roshi gives hand." And then Baker-roshi like this - shinzo no (on his heart). "Okusan, Suzuki-roshi owarimashita (finished)." He said. So I didn't see but he said. Morning I came already died. No words. Baker came up [and felt the pulse] Owarimashita. [So when Baker came up Suzuki-roshi was already dead] Already I don't know - ask Baker-roshi. Lew-san was sitting near the door so, "Lew-san, please Baker-roshi right away. Suzuki-roshi's room," I say. And Baker-roshi [he'd done his morning walk] and returned his [just starting to sit down] Baker-roshi!" [Did Lew come and whisper]I don't know Baker-roshi (quietly took long steps to get out). But last night (the last night) I thought tonight I couldn't change into sleeping wear. In this style of sleeping bag (back) Sleep in the tatami room - so very convenient to the zendo. This style. [Oh - so you didn't change clothes.] Just that night I didn't wear - sleeping bakufu- xxx style (bag Back room) So very convenient to go to the zendo. {I didn't understand what she was saying here I don't think.} If nemaki dattara (if pajamas) pink desho (they'd be pink.) Japanese,[what's that kind of kimono called in Japanese"] and then in English, [you say this style, what is "this style" and she just says nemaki de kaenai de nemashita (without changing into pajamas I lept. Not nemaki de nai - nemaki de kaenai nemashita. (Not that I slept without pajamas, but that without changing into pajamas I slept.)

You told a story of Suzuki-roshi as a young man and said that he would go to bed late because Soon-roshi was playing go. You said that he had to tend Soon's hibachi even when he had haibyo, (it says here pleurisy but that's rokumakuen. What illness did he have as a young man. Did he have tuberculosis which is kekaku?


Rokumaku- pleura-pneumonia

Umhum. Before kekkaku (tuberculosis). (laugh){I think she means that' what you get before kekkaku. Kekkaku - very seriously, rokumaku, sukoshi. I don't know, I just heard, but I don't know exactly when he was young. [You heard from whom] I don't know. Maybe Suzuki-roshi told me. [Did he say he had kekkaku} Rokumaku! Kekkaku is very serious Haibyo is kekkaku. I heard rokumaku. Suzuki-roshi wa rokumaku. Something different. [She didn't know him back then. Hoitsu says it was definitely TB.--DC]

You said after the war that Suzuki-roshi spoke English so that he helped GHQ. Did he translate for them?

Sometimes an American person came to yaizu because Bikini. A boat from Yaizu got the ashes from the (bomb) - the (fishermen) who went through such hardship because of the bomb. You know Bikini! [Oh! Yeh! So!] Yaizu fishermen. At that time many Americans came to Yaizu because of big troubles. [Suzuki-roshi translated then] I don't know, that's just before I went to Yaizu. Just I heard that many Americans came to Yaizu and to the city hall and I heard that Suzuki-roshi went there. Hoichi maybe knows.

Did Suzuki-roshi participate in an anti-nuclear march in Yaizu?

I don't know - it's before I went. [I said he said so and that some people said don't go because there were communists in the march. I don't think Hoitsu knows.]

Did you meet Miss. Ransome?- Ransome English teacher No. Just she used bed I brought here. [Bed means Japanese futon - all silk. I think it's still in that room. I left it when I went to Japan. White silk. I think it was in Suzuki-roshi's storage room. [She used it at Rinsoin on a bed.] Sometimes Takashina-zenji or Yamada-zenji maybe used that futon. It was silk so I used it for guest. Sokoji across the street - Katagiri-roshi living upstairs room but we didn't use - this is guest room. We were living Sokoji the top and this room and this Suzuki-roshi make senmenjo (washroom), a changing room [I think I'm mixed up here.] We changed the tatami. We didn't use our bedroom, just guest room - Suzuki-roshi said. No tatami. So many priests came and not hotel - use - at that time use Ransom-san's futon. [You were talking about washing the face at the semenjo, the sink]

When there's no sink a guest room is a problem (komaru desho). So we put a sink (shinku) in. Suzuki-roshi ask a carpenter friend, "In this room, Zenji-sama dozo - tatami. (prepare it for visiting priests). Since his guests were from Japan, they didn't use beds, they were used to tatami. So in the corner was Otohiro's room and in there was a bathroom, so guests could wash their hands there, their faces, so a sink was attached there so to guests we said please use it. I made their food at Sokoji in the kitchen in back (ura no kitchen) and they slept over there.

This was one room in a big apartment.

Upstairs was our apartment. So Otohiro lived there. And next to that was our bedroom but Hojo-san, without using it, slept at Sokoji, and made it into a guest room. Maezumi-roshi spent his honeymoon in that room.

How big a space did you have? Please look. This much

One room. Before nobody lived there. That is why he said "Window please make. One window. Just two bed and Suzuki-roshi no desk - that's all. [So upstairs one room and downstairs the office and the kitchen Ahhh.]

Something. I don't know.

So you studied tea with Hanamura-sensei? Hanayama. [She was the wife of the head priest at the Shin-shu Buddhist Churches of America place around the corner. She started you on tea, right Did she teach Suzuki-roshi Shodo] No. [Did she teach shodo] No. Katagiri-roshi studied shodo with her. Suzuki-roshi never. No time. Many hippie came. [Yeh, like me.] Cannot study. Just looking dictionary. Must prepare. No go no shodo.

You said that one time Suzuki-roshi gave - you said he was not greedy - he even gave away something I treasured. What? A Japanese cup from Osaka. A very special one. [you know what type Nan-yaki] Ah, I don't know. Kurutami - well anyway, very beautiful. Suzuki-roshi too maybe bought some cup - so I like peony - inaka - design - botan, peony. I like I like. So one day he was visited by a New York lady student. "Here (or-here it is)" I was angry. And Suzuki-roshi said, "Ichiban sukina mono o agenakareba ageta koto ni naranai." (If you don't give the thing you like the best it won't be a gift.) Very difficult to me this word. Katagiri-sensei. Sometimes something I not so like so give you {does she mean Katagiri-roshi here}. That's not truly something that was given. If you give what you like the best it will become a real gift. [Yeh, but he gave away your cup. But that's like Japanese husband and wife.]

You said that danka of Sokoji found Page Street?

Suzuki-roshi mo sukoshi Nihon e kaeranai de kondo watashitachi danka demo oshiete kudasai. Hojo-san go oshieru ...temo, otera ga nakute was dekinai yo. Soshitara George-san koko ni a no sell-shiteru building wa oshiete kudasai.

How did George find it? I don't know. He saw "for sale." Hojo-san wa suki yo na building de suyote George. wa yoku shiteru kara Suzuki-roshi o understand shiteru kara. Suzuki-roshi - omota. Suzuki-roshi went there soon to see it.

Suzuki-roshi had false teeth. Ireba - Dr. Hayashi made them. [Was that upper, lower] Maybe all desho. I don't know. Maybe. [Do you remember when he lost them at Tassajara] No because Dr. Hayashi totemo kuroshitalost. Megane mo ikutsu (always losing his glasses so many times. He also lost his false teeth [Yes. At Tassajara.](She laughs delighted. [I tell her about how he lost them with Lew Welch and how they looked for them on the Tass road looking down the hill.]

Someone told you how we visited Trudy's house. No Baker-roshi driving from here to Wyoming - Trudy very sick. Trudy want wanted to see roshi so driving. Before die. Just before die she was there and she asked Suzuki-roshi to please come and Baker-roshi was driving. Sally-chan and Ginny-san maybe. Two nights stay. [What do you remember} Just Suzuki-roshi and Trudy in a small room sitting and talking and sitting. Maybe one night two nights staying at Trudy's house and she was very glad and we are drive back and that car maybe Trudy's husband drive and come back to. [She died in Wyoming] No. Before die. Just before die she was there. She asked Suzuki-roshi to please look at my home, my ranch. I said, Trudy asked you - go! Trudy was special person. Please accept. [Who said, please accept.] Nother person never go to Wyoming. Trudy asked Hojo-san. [She asked you or Dick or Suzuki] I don't know but anyway, I said please. Very special. And when Dick-san the car. She died at the hospital. Just nakunata I heard and Suzuki-roshi went to the hospital and he recited the Hannya Shingyo. No one else. Only Suzuki-roshi and me. [Mike wasn't there] I don't think so. [She died alone] I don't know. Anyway, we missed her. Already died.

Tsureko-san was Yano's wife. Tsuneko. Hi, Yano Tsuneko. Sometimes she gave me letter. She's alive. Younger than me. Same high school. She's Isobe's daughter. Isobe was Suzuki-roshi's friend. [Was Mr. Isobe danka of Rinsoin] I don't know, maybe zazenkai. [Suzuki-roshi said that zazenkai weren't danka.] Danka wa danka. Zazenkai zazen group.

Is Mrs. Ozawa still alive? Yes. And she still goes to the zazen group? Yes, every month.

Tonaka? Tonaka died. Yakimono friend. [Suzuki-roshi didn't make yakimono did he He likes yakimono. [Seison.] Seison wa friend. Of course Suzuki-roshi likes Seison's work. All yakimono he likes - pottery. Tonaka-san likes yakimonon so all the time. "I bought this," (whispering intensely). They like yakimono. Tonaka sakan - plasterer. Many students. Sakan no toryo. the top person. [Did he have a big company] Not company. It was his own work

When Suzuki-roshi and you left Sokoji, did he have problem leaving? No. [What did he say} He already ten years work - 65 retire age so he finished. And he gave a paper. [There was no problem] No. I said, "Please go back to Japan," but Zen Center said a little more stay. [You said, please go back to Japan] Of course, Suzuki-roshi not so strong. Already 65. Very hard ten years - English, English, English. Teach teach. Too tired. And at Tassajara and going - looks very weak - so I wanted to go back to Japan.

Why was he so tired and weak and sick? Why was he so sick? Because of the war?

Because Suzuki-roshi not so strong man. He'd had the rokumatsu when he was young. Not so strong man. And after Hong Kong flue, coughing, coughing, coughing, at that time he almost died of pneumonia. He cannot enter hospital - no bed at that time. So just I took care. But I cannot (lessen resene) And after coughing coughing coughing. [But you're very strong, healthy.] Because I'm young. So I said go back to Japan.

So he said no?

No, Zen Center said, (with emphasis) please stay.

Did he want to go back?

I think 50\50. Because not so strong. But I don't know Suzuki-roshi's mind. Silas said, if Suzuki-roshi die in America, we buy this building he said.

Soshite Rinso - I went to Japan and asked deshitara Rinsoin de danka wa Hojo-san Hoitsu wa Hojo de okuru so Suzuki-roshi said dozo your feelings wa dikirukara hataraki hataraite mo ii desho te danka wa ii .

1969 koshiteite moved. Sono sugi no toki ni nihon e ite kao o ii yatte soshite. All these years only here at Page Street about a year and a half so very so I stay. I cannot go back. Everybody very sad. Did you want to go back? I can't go back because students crying and crying saying what shall I do. I must help because when Suzuki-roshi died he said please stay here and help so I wasn't thinking of going back at that time - just must help support.


Before I came here Ueda-sensei was very kind to Suzuki-roshi - her husband's family was Sokoji danka. She was working at the tea garden. Suzuki-roshi sometimes went to the tea garden and she took very good care of him.

You were born in Shizuoka, Inomiya-cho. On April 23, 1914?


You said one time Suzuki-roshi was wrong.

He didn't say he was sorry so I said so and then he said gomen nasai but I don't know what it was about.

You said a student asked Suzuki-roshi what is enlightenment -

it's in ZMBM.

She doesn't know about anything he wrote during the war or anything about GHQ and Suzuki-roshi.

You said, "Before his death I said to him you are lucky to have someone to take care of you until the last moment and you say he made some gesture - what was it

...Everything back-shite - go back to Japan he thought.

Some group was using the big hall - band or washigin - some group - at that time maybe shigin group - students group study - so lock and go out. Shigin group. Maybe ten o’clock. Suzuki-roshi was already sleeping - so he didn't know I was locked in. [So not so bad.] Nighttime he come down to second floor bathroom. So he come down and take bathroom and at that time he should have seen that there were no slippers for his wife. But he was sleepy. I didn't knock. I thought he'd notice my shoes were gone but he didn't so it was my mistake. (find not find tameshite aro) In the morning students opened the door and let me out