Memories of Mitsu Suzuki
this page created 1-09-16 for new posts
For prior posts, interviews, photos, links, go to Mitsu Suzuki cuke main page
Send your memories of Mitsu Suzuki Sensei, AKA Okusan, Shunryu
to dchad @ cuke . com. [remove the spaces] They will be posted here.
Obits and Condolences --- Memories
Mitsu Suzuki SFZC Memorial Feb. 27
1-26-16 - Mitsu Film and Photo Slide Show page
1-21-16 - from Shungo Suzuki, step-grandson of Mitsu
Thank you very much for your kind message of condolence .
The funeral has been done by many people solemnly without hindrance.
Mitsu was very proud of the relationship with everyone.
She talked before “I’m happy because I can see my husband again in Nirvana”.
We feel relieved now.
1-21-16 - Linda Ruth Cutts reports on Mitsu Suzuki's funeral with photos.
1-13-16 - from Linda Ruth Cutts - I am in Japan and will go to Rinso-in tomorrow. I will write something about the ceremonies—a Tsuya tomorrow the 13th which they translate as “wake”, and the funeral on the 14th. - Bowing, Linda
From Vicki Austin
Dear David - A couple of people asked me whether you might be interested in creating a part of your site where people could send stories about Okusan... I told them I would ask you.
Shungo Suzuki told Robby Pellett that last night she had been breathing slowly, with longer and longer spaces in between. It was peaceful.
SFZC Wind Bell -
Only Mitsu parts - Vol. 25, #1 - 1991 [all
Mitsu Suzuki in the Wind Bells - 1972 - 2004
From the SFZC Obituary for Mitsu
Central Abbess Eijun Linda Cutts talks about her memories of Okusan:
“One memory which I think about often is how she responded when asked about the ‘secret of her long life’. She said there are three things: Walk every day, do not hate anyone, and have good conversations!
“When Okusan lived at City Center she was quite aware of when someone was having a hard time and would invite them over for tea in her kitchen. I remember being invited, and the feeling of care, concern, and also her way of showing and expressing how to continue to practice in the midst of difficulties. It was very helpful.”
I face west in gassho, beyond the mainland and the Pacific to those gathered about Mitsu Suzuki.
She was exemplary as
a model of how a temple wife supports the head of the family and all
the temple members. I have seen other models in Japan, in
Taigen Dan Leighton sent this message to the SZBA, Soto Zen Buddhist Association email list:
I just received the following from Josho [Pat Phelan]:
When I was a young student at SFZC in the late 70s, and living in
the CIty Center building in the early 80s, Okusan was a constant
steady, quiet presence in the background of our practice. I had the
privilege of taking tea classes with her briefly, before my injured
knee forced me to stop. She was very careful and strict about
details of chado performance, but always wholehearted and kind.
I have been doing practices for Okusan. How do I get to the piece you said I wrote about Okusan.?
I think of her often and have been doing some practices for her safe and kind passing over.
She was always kind and dear to me.
More from Yvonne in abridged Wind Bell Vol. 25-1, p.30
1-09-16 - Here's what I (DC) wrote to Shungo Suzuki hoping it was
[That's a set phrase of condolence. In Japanese, set phrases are best.]
1-09-16 SFZC condolences from
Eijun Linda Ruth Cutts
Thank you very much for writing to us about our beloved Mitsu Suzuki’s passing. We send our deep condolences to you and Hoitsu Suzuki-roshi and all of the family for this loss—our heart is with you. How grateful we feel to know that her dying was peaceful.
Today at City Center, Green Gulch and Tassajara we are ringing the temple bells for her 108 times and are holding memorial services. Please keep us informed about the memorial service that will be scheduled in Japan for Mitsu Suzuki.
Bowing in gratitude for her life,
I want to
express my deep condolences for the passing of the
beloved Suzuki Mitsu sensei.
I imagine these days are not easy for anyone who knew her, and I bow deeply in her memory.Yours, with much respect,
Norman Fischer on Mitsu Suzuki - from Lion's Roar
I did not live at City Center, so did not see the Suzuki’s often. In the 1960’s, Roshi was a regular once-a-week guest speaker at Haiku Zendo in Los Altos, where my family and I were living and practicing. After being around Roshi and listening to him for about four years, I decided I wanted to be ordained.
So I made an appointment and on a rainy night in early 1970, I drove to San Francisco to speak to him about my feelings. When I said, “I would like to be your student,” he did not say a word but instead stood up and went into the adjacent room. For a few minutes, I heard quiet chatting taking place. Eventually, Roshi came back into the dokuson room, now with Okusan. She was carrying a measuring tape and pad and pencil. Without a glance or a word, she started taking my measurements: shoulders, arms, waist, hips, neck-to-heel. When she was finished, she left the room. Roshi said, “Your robes will arrive in six months. Goodnight.”
That’s the way I remember her: quiet, focused, no nonsense, supportive of her husband and his students whenever needed.
From John Steiner
101 - 45 years after Roshi? [Closer to 44]
Re memories — mostly as just a kind, loving, heartful present, wise woman who loved, understood her husband and at times didn’t take him too seriously.
when Mitsu arrived for the first time; there was quiet, and so it remained, even when she left the room. [off Facebook]
My most delightful memories of Okusan, Mitsu, is going out with her and Darlene Cohen for sushi in Japantown. We'd go once or twice a year. Darlene would drive in her usual fast and aggressive manor. Okusan would admonish her and act afraid but Darlene and I both knew she enjoyed it. Okusan would always tell us not to order saki with the meal but we always did. Okusan would get a bit tipsy and sing Japanese love songs out loud. All the patrons of the restaurant would stop talking and listen. They were lovely outings. Diannesan [as Mitsu would call Daya]
Here is my offering with a photo of us on the steps of CC on the way out to something.
Early in 1991 I was offered the opportunity to be Okusan's designated driver. I knew her only by sight but I agreed. At first I mainly took her grocery shopping on Friday mornings and we gradually got to know each other. She began to ask me to take her to some of her many social activities in the Japanese community and sometimes I was included, sometimes not. She often invited me into her apartment for tea and conversation and occasionally a meal, like one memorable Christmas eve during which she sang me famous Italian opera arias in Japanese! I gradually came to realize that she always was polite and kind to me and to believe that she consistently took my viewpoint into consideration before she asked me to do something. The result was astonishing. Finding one of those notes on my door ["John-san, I want you"] my heart would leap up and the response was automatically YES. I would immediately go to her knowing that I already wanted to do whatever she wanted whenever she wanted. Often, meeting her in the hallway, I would experience the most amazing expansion, smiling and bowing and magically feeling absolutely terrific. I totally loved the moment every month at the end of the Suzuki Roshi memorial service at City Center when she would turn to us assembled on the stairs, bow and murmur "Thank you."
We had many interesting conversations, sometimes hilarious in our struggle to make ourselves understood. No topic was off limits. Once she found me at her door, tearfully morose with self-pity over the demise of a long-term relationship. She invited me in, turned off the Japanese soaps on TV, gave me tea and started talking with the aid of her dictionary. She told me, among other things, that I absolutely must not develop hate or resentment toward the other person. She said never to forget that I chose him from among all the others and that had not changed. He was the same person.
As her long anticipated departure drew near she told me that she wanted to be back in Japan for her 80th birthday. She also told me that she wanted her daughter to have the gift of taking care of her mother in old age (!). She also confessed that she was tired of making the mighty effort of speaking English.
Toward the end she told me she wanted to take a ride crossing all 5 bridges of San Francisco Bay in one day. Her schedule was hectic with social activities in Japantown and we never found the time to take this trip.
I was moved to see the pictures of Okusan in recent years, the devastating ravages of time on someone I loved. At first I refused even to believe that the last photo taken by Shunko last October was actually Okusan. I had to look at it a long time to see her there. The same person.
Today I am inclined to say that Okusan was the most significant relationship I had in my 25 years of Zen practice.
from Mary Watson
My memories of Okusan - Mitsu Suzuki Sensei
photo of Mel Weisman with Mitsu Suzuki at 1980 wedding of Mary Watson and Jack Weller.
My first encounter with Ms. Suzuki (Okusan) and with Zen Center was when a friend wanted to show me Tassajara and we arrived in the middle of Suzuki Roshi’s memorial service at his ashes site. There was a small Japanese woman who was crying and crying. Little did I know then, how important she was to become to me.
When I began to study Japanese tea ceremony with Okusan in 1977, I didn’t realize that she hadn’t been a tea teacher for so long. She was learning how to do that as we were learning this terribly complex form of mindfulness called Chanoyu- in the Omotesenki way (that being one of the schools of tea ceremony).
I remember her saying, “You Americans do everything backwards.” We turned the bowl the wrong way, squeezed out the cleaning cloth the wrong way and we just had trouble with basics like sitting seiza on our knees. I forgot a pencil to take notes for my second lesson. Whatever she said, I never did that again. Okusan took extensive notes and I still have mine from the 1970’s and use them- as I have continued with this amazing ceremonial form. However, for a time at Zen Center, it was not felt right to take notes, but just to remember everything spontaneously.
For many years, I was tea partners with Tom Girodot, Heiki-san. In the early years, Okusan would always make an offering in front of Hojo-san’s (Suzuki-Roshi) picture and say something to him. This was on top of a bureau which was in the tea room. We never had the proper sliding doors, so we imagined them and pulled and pushed in various ways- often “backwards.”
I had a feeling that if I thought of something else (than what I was doing), Okusan would know and clear her throat and I’d come back to say, entering a tea room. She would not let us get away with any wrong moves.
There were certain times the head-master of the Omote senki school would come to San Francisco. We would be selected to perform for him. At one such event, just as I was about to enter to make the tea, Okusan was adjusting my hair. I went on to drop the water ladle onto the tatami as I was walking in. I had to go back, wash it. I’ve rarely been so embarrassed. This sort of mistake reflects on your teacher. However, as we were “backward” Americans, it might have been a bit more forgivable.
Okusan came to my marriage with Jack Weller, a student of Suzuki Roshi. I made memorial tea with Okusan after my father died. I was studying with her when I was pregnant- not due for 6 weeks- and felt “gas pains” which was our son, Daniel, deciding to come out early on that day. She loved babies and children, including our Daniel and would hug and cuddle them. She came to the children’s tea we then had every month and introduced the children to making an offering of the sound of the bell.
Our tea group would go out to dinners in Japantown after a special tea gathering. After a bit of saki, I remember Okusan starting to sing songs that she used to teach her kindergarten class. We would try to join in. She loved to sing. She loved people and loved telling stories.
It was an honor to be invited to have tea in her small kitchen. She knew everything that went on at Zen Center and was a mother to us all. Especially, she had opinions about the right behavior of priest’s wives and priests - which differed a bit from the prevailing San Francisco culture of the 1970’s and 80’s.
I remember that Okusan had certain days for certain events. Tuesday was tea teaching day, another was for going to Japantown, for cleaning, etc. Every so often I would be honored to drive her to an appointment and remember doing a special car cleaning first.
After Okusan had an operation, I remember her walking up and down the Zen Center hallways and on the roof. She loved to walk also in Shizuoka where she lived with her daughter. When Jack and I visited and she was in her 90’s, she took us on a walk past an elementary school and many neighbors with whom she had become friends. We went down to the sea and back along a river - not a short walk.
I am honored to have studied tea with Suzuki Sensei for the 16 years I did. She was such an inspiration and a vital spark for so many people. May we carry her spirit with us.
Before Jaku and I went to Tassajara around 1987, we lived at City Center in two rooms at the end of the "holy hallway." This is the second floor of City Center where Mrs. Suzuki lived and the abbot's have their dokusan room. Everyday Okusan would walk briskly up and down the hallway. At the end of the hall in front of the glass doors leading to the fire escape were a couple of sickly potted plants. They were right outside our doors, but we had been ignoring them. One day Okusan said to Jaku, "You must take care of these plants, they are your responsibility." Of course after that we did. It was a good lesson in understanding that when there is a need it is our practice is to respond.
As John Grimes mentioned, Okusan would attend Suzuki Roshi's monthly memorial service in the kaisando at City Center. The stairs in front of the kaisando would be filled with students both going down to the first floor and up to the third floor. Our voices would resonate throughout the building as we chanted the Dai Hi Shin Dharani. When service was over she would come out and stand next to the door and gassho, thanking us. It felt very gracious and also somehow embodied the heart of the temple. Now there is a picture of her making gassho on the wall next to the door where she would stand. These days when I visit City Center and go past the kaisando and bow, it is as if all of us are still there standing and bowing together.
Okusan in the garden:
When my heart remembers her, I can see her in the courtyard where she often went after she washed her hair, toweling and tossing it around to air and dry, dancing, singing, and talking to the finches and plants. She was alone then but I could see her from your window and felt privileged to be a fly on the wall.
I talked to plants too and it helped me not to feel crazy when i saw her doing that too. Even when we visited when my son, Ian, was about 12 years old, Okusan talked to all the plants on our adventure out to Japan town to get sushi, bending at every pansy to say hello. (She was thrilled that my boy loved sushi, took him to her sushi chef friend who made special things we’d never seen before. She complained that her grandson preferred Burger King.)
Alan Marlowe worked in the courtyard garden, with a lot of input from Okusan. He was so tall, she had to bend backwards and look up to talk to him and she laughed about that.
Okusan in the kitchen:
Even when we still lived on Bush Street, Okusan’s kitchen at Sokoji was a wonderful meeting place with Roshi. As students, we interpreted Zen as a kind of austerity but her kitchen was rich, shelves covered in stacks of bowls and tea kettles and laquerware and bamboo steamers, the big wooden table, Japanese cookware, nothing really matching, dish cloths in blues and whites and patterns, wabi sabi. She was so enthusiastic when Nancy Lay, Jeff Broadbent, and I planted a garden in the vacant lot next door and started a compost pile. She was the first to save her kitchen scraps for us and was very attentive to the whole project. They were both there laughing when we brought our first grown vegetable, a rather scrawny daikon. Roshi held it up and said, “Made out of garbage!”
Okusan started my first nuka barrel and taught me how to make pickles.
When we moved into the Page Street building, her kitchen continued to be a “secret” route to Roshi. She was always happy for anyone to come in, when we knocked or rang the little bell. If Roshi was there, she made tea, and if Roshi wasn’t she still often made tea.
Okusan didn’t exactly approve of brown rice, would turn up her nose at our brown rice sushi but was still very available to show us the best ways to fill and roll it, how to fan the rice, how to cut and present it. She had a particular way of scrunching her nose and saying “stinkies” to things we did that weren’t the Japanese way (like how we cooked greens directly instead of first blanching to get out those stinkies). When i became Tenzo, Suzuki Roshi didn’t really want me to be in the kitchen, but Okusan came down often to help and be supportive.
When Roshi died:
I am so very grateful to Okusan for bringing me to Roshi’s bedside in the weeks before he died. For the first time as a student, I started to skip service or the 2nd sitting. She would invite me in, so that we could have some last times together.
Some of us sat on zabutons around his pine coffin all day and night during the week his body was there. I remember Okusan coming every day, talking animatedly with him in Japanese. I couldn’t understand the words but sometimes it seemed she was quite angry with him for dying, for leaving her.
Once during that time she came upon me crying in the corridor. She grabbed me and said, “Do you want Roshi? Here, come. Roshi is here, come talk to him,” and she pulled me into their apartment and pushed me onto a zafu in front of the tea table. I think his picture was there. Her grief felt angry. We sat together.
My favorite story about Okusan:
We had a special opening ceremony and celebration on Buddha’s birthday. I was a new Tenzo at that time, and Roshi asked me to make tea for everyone and bake a cake. Can’t remember her name—was it Susan?—she lived in the building and had a baby and grew up in California, Encinitas. The two of us made a big cake. (It came out terrible, was flat as cardboard—were we trying to make it healthy? macrobiotic? So I apologized to everyone who had to eat that cake.)
Roshi and everyone had gone up. We knew we were supposed to make an offering of the food at the shrine in the zendo but had no idea how to do it. So we knocked on Okusan’s kitchen door and she came down. She showed us how to fold paper for the red lacquered offering trays and how to set up a tiny piece of cake and went down with us to the zendo. We bowed and offered incense and the cake. Then I asked Okusan if there was any special chanting we should do for this occasion. She thought for a moment and then broke into a big smile. “Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday dear Buddha, Happy birthday to you,” she sang and we joined her, the three of us in the zendo singing.
One new year’s eve or day:
We had a dinner in the dining room with sake and entertainment by whoever wanted to. Issan Dorsey got up on the table and started doing a song and dance routine. Okusan, also a bit drunk, got up on the table with him and they improvised a funny act. I wish I could remember the song.
Another Happy birthday:
Had heard that it was Japanese temple custom for people to cook for everyone on their birthday. So every year I made something, cake or apple crisp. At the city center, I brought some up to Roshi and Okusan’s apartment. They came out, and as I gave them the pieces of cake, they both sang together the Happy Birthday song to me. Wish I had a picture of them in that moment.
Flower arranging lesson:
Have studied flower arranging, but the only and best lesson I ever needed was a spontaneous one from Okusan. We were standing in front of a niche that had an arrangement in it she didn’t like. She said, “American flower arrangement,” and then stood very stiff and frowning with her arms tight at her sides and bent at elbows, hands out and very symmetrical. Then she said, “Japanese flower arrangement,” and smiled big, lifted off one foot with her arms and whole body dancing out to one side, grace. Then she “corrected” the arrangement in front of us by lifting the whole thing up out of the water and letting it fall back however it wished to.
When we visited, she told me she’d felt guilty, she’d thought I left Zen Center because she wouldn’t teach me tea (I couldn’t sit seiza). Of course that wasn’t the reason, and she was relieved when I told her. Will always cherish the tea cloth she gave me as a going away gift.