Tuesday, March 29, 2011


by Nat S.
On the 7th day following the March 11, 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami that devastated the Tohoku region of Japan, the Seattle Buddhist Temple conducted a memorial service for those who perished in that disaster.

Further, a memorial service will be held at 5:30 pm every Friday through April 29, which will mark the 49th day of observance, the traditional Japanese period of mourning. The temple is located at 1427 South Main St. in Seattle.

Bonsho,  Seattle Buddhist Temple
Upon our arrival for the first of these weekly memorial services, we walked toward the big temple bell (bonsho) located outside, as the public was invited to ring the bonsho in memory of the disaster victims.

From information provided by the temple in a press release, I’d learned that in “pre-modern rural Japan, temple bells were rung repeatedly as a tsunami warning“.  I reflected upon how short the time was to respond to a tsunami warning in either old or modern Japan.

It was late afternoon, and the gray light of a rainy day was dwindling.  One at a time, each person bowed with hands clasped, placed a pinch of incense onto charcoal that was burning in a small urn, and bowed a second time before approaching the suspended timber used to strike the bonsho.  Upon contact with the heavy timber, the thick walls of the metal bell vibrated, giving rise to a richly resonant tone.

Just inside the entrance of the temple, we stopped to sign a long scroll of paper that lay upon a table.  It will be sent to Japan.  The bell’s deep voice could be heard in the distance as each person who arrived rang it.  I imagined the sound traveling all the way to Japan, connecting us to the victims for whom we all felt sorrow, and to the survivors for whom we all felt concern.

About 200 of us in all gathered in the pews of the temple sanctuary (hondo). When the service was about to begin, the great bell outside tolled several times, and a higher pitched bell inside the temple was rung in reply.

First, a pair of Tibetan Buddhist monks from a local temple offered chants. Then ministers of the Seattle Buddhist Temple* (which is Shin Buddhist) led ancient chants in Japanese, English and Pali.  This was followed by the epistle on the “The White Ashes” in Japanese and English about impermanence.  The 30-minute service ended with Rinban (Chief Priest) Don Castro also giving a Dharma talk in English on compassion.

Afterward, a line formed to offer incense again, this time at urns located near the large, elaborate altar at the front.  Offering incense is an act of purity.  At my turn, I approached one of the urns and bowed. While offering the incense and bowing afterward, time seemed to slow.  The moment opened to a sense of connection to victims and survivors, and to a feeling of gratitude for the memorial service.
Nat S.

* Seattle Buddhist Temple is a member of the Buddhist Churches of America, a religious organization of American Shin Buddhists. Further information is available at their website or by calling (206) 329-0800.

Port of Seattle Candlelight Service for Japan

What:            Port of Seattle Candlelight Service for Japan
When:          Thursday, March 31, 2011, 7:30 p.m
Where:         Fishermen's Terminal, 3919  19th Avenue West, Seattle 98119  •  Covered plaza area near Chinook's Restaurant and Fishermen's Memorial
The Port of Seattle will hold a candlelight service to remember the victims of the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan, and to support the Japanese people, especially those in Miyagi Prefecture home of the fishing ports of Shiogama, Ishinomaki and Kesennuma where we have long-time friends through our friendship port relationship established in 1990.  Members from the local fishing, Japanese and Port community will speak during the service. Candles will be distributed at the service.  Free parking is available at Fishermen's Terminal, follow the event parking signs.


  1. Nat, thank you for this beautifully written, touching, and truly informative post. I would like to attend one of the memorial services at the temple in honor of the victims and survivors in Japan.

  2. thanks Nat. beautifully written. i added the port of seattle candlelight service info you sent to the bottom of your post, so more people can see it.

  3. Thank you Natalie, for your beautiful post. The earthquake and the tsunami have left a huge impact to so many of us. Yes, we need to let the healing begin.

  4. Natalie,your post resonates like the temple bell. Thank you.

  5. A Reminder: This Friday, April 29, is the 49th Day of Observance for those who perished in the March 11, 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami in the Tohoku region of Japan.

    (Check the Seattle Buddhist Temple website or call 206-329-0800 for further information.)