Brian Nagata
Rev. Brian Nagata
Director, BDK America
The Life of Yehan Numata
(talk by Brian Nagata on May 29, 2011)
Yehan Numata
Rev. Dr. Yehan Numata
Founder, Mitutoyo and
Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai
Good morning. This morning I have been asked to talk about one of your BBT members from long ago and who, despite having passed away nearly 20 years ago, is still contributing to the betterment of the Berkeley Buddhist Temple even today. Rev. Dr. Yehan Numata, the founder of Mitutoyo Corporation and Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai, and my original boss was born on April 12, 1897 in Hiroshima, Japan.

Born into a Jodo Shinshu temple family as the sixth of eight children, Numata's family lineage had been Buddhist priests for over 300 years since the 16th Century. His father, Esho was the sixteenth generation of his family to head the Jorenji Temple.

Growing up in the early 1900's when Japan was emerging into the modern age, his temple, and the nation overall was quite poor. The world was being quickly transformed by the industrial revolution, and Japan was eager to join the world scene. Finishing elementary school, which was the only required education at the time, Numata continued his education at a middle school. Then he was selected by the Nishi Hongwanji denomination headquarters to go to the United States to continue his education.

Numata left for America in June 1916, stopping off in Hawaii (which at that time was a separate kingdom/nation and not a part of the United States). He then enrolled in a Hawaiian elementary school, even though he was older than the typical student in his class, to begin his English lessons. He also helped out on weekends at a small plantation Hongwanji temple on Oahu. After two years in Hawaii, Numata came to Los Angeles and attended and then graduated from Hollywood High School. During the time he was in LA, he lived with a Caucasian family, serving as their "house boy," helping with chores in exchange for room and board.

However, he became ill with tuberculosis his second year in California, due to his extraordinary hard work and insufficient rest. At that time, tuberculosis was quite a serious illness, much like cancer is today. Numata became deeply depressed and didn't know what to do. However, in recalling his mother's deep religious faith in the Nembutsu and her words of comfort that the Buddha was always with him, Numata miraculously recovered.

During this time, there was growing anti-Japanese feelings in America, especially on the West Coast. Numata experienced this discrimination and hatred first-hand and was determined to do something to combat these  anti-Japanese feelings.

After graduating from Hollywood High School in 1921, Numata was accepted into Cal, moved to Berkeley and selected statistics for his major.

Upon moving to Berkeley, Numata was befriended by several Berkeley families, including the Otagiri's, the Oda clan and the Kawamoto families, all of with whom the Numata family still retains contact even until this day. And thus too, began his association with his beloved Berkeley Buddhist Temple. If you look at temple pictures from the early 1920's, you can see Mr. Numata in various old time pictures.

On his last visit to America in the early 1990's, I had the pleasure of giving him his final tour of the Cal campus. As we were walking around, I had to chuckle to myself because he told me that so many of the buildings were new and must have been built after he left Cal more than 60 years before. The only buildings he remembered were South Hall and the Campanile. During the early 1920's I am sure there weren't many buildings on the Cal campus at that time.

During these early 20th century years, there was terrible discrimination against Japanese Americans. Japanese American students attending Cal could not live in dorms or frat houses. So, the second generation Nisei students and students from Japan got together and raised $13,000 to purchase a building on Euclid Avenue where Mr. Numata and about 20 others could live and then they formed the Japanese Students Club housed in the dorm building.

Coming from a poor temple family, Numata did not receive any support from his family or the Hongwanji. He would spend evenings cleaning offices or doing chores for a few cents. On Sundays he would do gardening work. During the summers, he would travel to hot, hot Fresno where his older brother was a minister at the Fresno Betsuin temple and he would pick grapes in the Bowles area with the temple members to earn money for his schooling and living costs.

Unfortunately, within a year when Numata was a junior, there was a massive fire in Berkeley in which more than 500 homes were destroyed and the Japanese Students Dorm building also burned down. The next year, Numata was elected President of the Japanese Students Association and in that position, he was determined to rebuild the Japanese Students dorm.

That summer he mobilized all the Japanese students during their summer vacation and asked them to visit Japanese families and American Japanophiles to solicit donations for the rebuilding fund. Numata and Mr. Otagiri led the students in producing Japanese plays and shows and then went around the various temples up and down California to put these shows on for these communities and raised money for this effort as well.

Even today, the widow of Mr. Otagiri, who is 106 years young and resides at the Piedmont Gardens senior home in Oakland, still remembers going with her husband, Mr. Numata and others to put on these "shibai" plays throughout California.

This tremendous fundraising effort raised over $30,000 to rebuild the dorm which would later become Euclid Hall.

It would be these experiences in Berkeley which would help Numata gain the necessary skills, leadership and forethought to help him start his own company in a few years. Numata always cherished the years he spent here in Berkeley and the friendship and kindness which was extended to him from the families of the Berkeley temple.

Determined that he had to do something to show Americans that the Japanese people were not the terrible heathens that the media and anti-Japanese organizations were promoting, Numata and his Cal co-horts decided to publish a magazine/journal called "Pacific World" which would introduce various aspects of Japanese culture, history and Buddhism. They once again turned to the Japanese community to raise funds to print 4,000 copies of this magazine which was then sent to schools, politicians, government officials and anyone who would read it. The first issue appeared in June 1925 but within a year they ran out of money and had to stop this noble plan.

This failure would become the impetus for Mr. Numata realizing that if he wanted to do anything in his future, he needed to have his own funds to accomplish his dreams and not depend on others for their financial support.

Years later, Numata's dream of the "Pacific World" as a Buddhist journal would be revived when the Institute of Buddhist Studies adopted his journal which today has an international readership and took on the responsibility for publishing an annual edition of "Pacific World" which BDK continues to fund to this day as a part of Mr. Numata's legacy with his beloved "Pacific World."

Though Numata was severely handicapped by his limited knowledge of English, he did not let it deter him and was able to graduate from Berkeley in four years. Numata completed his Masters Degree in 1928 concentrating on economic forecasting and business fluctuations, and then set out to see America and Europe before returning home to Japan in 1930.

Upon his return to Japan, he was hired by a department of the Japanese government, however, he soon realized that if he wanted to be able to make a contribution to the world, he would have to strike out on his own so that he could have sufficient financial resources to achieve his ideals and dreams.

So Mr. Numata pondered on a business venture he could start which would not take much startup capital, which could in time become successful and bring him needed financial resources but at the same time, would not inconvenience or trouble anyone who might have already been in the same business in Japan.

He thought about many possible products and Japan's economic situation and abilities. He had brought back several American made calculators and thought that this might be a good product to manufacture in Japan, but then he discovered that another Japanese company was already producing calculators, so he abandoned that idea.

Numata then called upon his good Berkeley temple friend Hike Oda to send him an American made micrometer. After carefully looking at this sample, Numata realized that micrometers might work for three reasons: First, there were a few Japanese companies that had tried to make micrometers but up until that time, no one had succeeded in doing so on a large scale, commercial basis.

Second, the production of micrometers would not require large factories or many employees. And third, micrometers could be made in a rural area, such as a mountainous environment, even perhaps in his birthplace in rural Hiroshima, Japan.

Despite the many friends and associates who advised him that the venture would not work, Numata rented a small space in February 1934 and began making a prototype of a micrometer. In May of 1934, Numata started a company named Mitutoyo, near Tokyo, Japan.

Determined to succeed, Numata was able to convince and receive the support and advice of the University of Tokyo and Tokyo Institute of Technology to advise him in the production of these first micrometers. By the end of 1936, Numata had achieved the production of his first 100 micrometers, of which, only 17 passed the final inspection and were allowed to be sold. The other 83 were given a "funeral" and buried beneath the factory floor. Today, over 75 years later, one of these original micrometers still accurately functioning at the Mitutoyo museum.

In January of 1937, Numata announced to the nation that 10,000 micrometers per month would be produced. Many thought he was crazy and that Japan, which up until that time, had used micrometers from the US, Germany, Russia and Sweden would become flooded with these Japanese-made micrometers. But Numata reassured them that if they couldn't be sold in Japan, then he would sell his micrometers throughout the world. Numata was determined that his micrometers would become the best in the world!

Mitutoyo continued to function throughout World War II, but with the defeat of Japan, the nation was in shambles and the Japanese manufacturing segment was totally destroyed. Thus, with no manufacturing customer base, Mitutoyo had no choice but to shut down most of its operations. However, Numata was determined to keep Mitutoyo going, for someday he knew that manufacturing production would resume. During these early post war years, Numata had employees making hair clippers, razors, film perforators, stone cutters, anesthesia units, and textile machines.

In 1954, Numata came to Philadelphia to introduce his Mitutoyo micrometers to the American market. Displaying his sample wares on a simple table covered with a white sheet, no one paid any attention to these Mitutoyo micrometers. And yet, Numata was determined to succeed.

Around 1960, Mitutoyo was able to halt production of the sideline items and as the Japanese economy entered a new era of growth and revitalization, Mitutoyo would emerge as the leader in the precision measuring industry.

Back on track, Mitutoyo was producing about 10,000 micrometers per month in 1960, and by 1970, they were producing 70,000 units a month.

In 1961, Numata's second son, Yoshiteru, was sent to the United States with no particular instructions of what to do. At this time, what little sales Mitutoyo had, were handled by an agent since there was no Mitutoyo representative in the U.S. at this time

However, thanks to these minimal sales, it was decided to open a sales company here in the United States and Numata turned to his old Cal classmate and dear Berkeley friend James Otagiri for assistance. Otagiri had founded a successful trading company called "Otagiri & Company" with headquarters in New York City. In March of 1963, the first US Mitutoyo office was established in New York City with five employees, using space in Mr. Otagiri's New York office and the first president of Mitutoyo America was Minoru Harada, who was also the New York Branch manager for Otagiri and Company, and was also originally from the Bay Area.

During those days, the label "Made in Japan" usually meant "cheap and poor quality," and it was not easy to get Americans to buy a high quality item which had been made in Japan. Mitutoyo America total sales in the first year was only $217,000.00. However, within one year, Mitutoyo America was able to win its first contract from the U.S. Department of Defense for 12,000 micrometers, thus beginning Mitutoyo's inroad to acceptance in the American market.

After establishing a firm foundation in North America, Numata was determined to establish a foothold in Europe. In 1968, a Mitutoyo company was established in Dusseldorf, Germany and within ten years, Mitutoyo had a 15 to 20 percent market share in Germany and a 15 percent share of the British market. With a widening market share in Europe, Mitutoyo operations would eventually expand and become established in Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, France, Italy and Denmark.

Beyond North America, Europe and South America, new industrial growth was also developing in Asia, so Numata decided to turn its attention to Asia. Mitutoyo Singapore, located in the economic center of the Asian continent was the first to be established. Today, there are Mitutoyo offices and operations in Hong Kong, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, India, China and Viet Nam.

With Japan's continuing economic emergence on the world scene, Mitutoyo also expanded its domestic production and sales operations and soon found itself the premier leader in the precision measuring field in the world.

Estimated worldwide Mitutoyo sales before the most recent economic downturn were at one billion US dollars a year. Major customers today include Toyota, Pratt & Whitney, Rolls Royce, Nissan, Honda Motors, GM, the Berkeley Lab, United Airlines, Intel, the Jet Propulsion Lab, Department of Defense, US Mint and Boeing. Almost everything that is manufactured today using some type of precision measuring instrument or tool made by Mitutoyo.

In 1964 when Mitutoyo celebrated its 30th anniversary, Numata realized his long-cherished dream and established "Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai" - the Society for the Promotion of Buddhism in Tokyo and immediately set out to begin distribution of "The Teaching of Buddha" book to hotels, hospitals, schools, prisons and armed service personnel throughout the world. To date, nearly 8 million copies in 40 different languages of this one book with the orange cover have been distributed to the far reaches of the world. Most recently the books were placed into the rooms at the Beverly Hilton Hotel where every US president stays when visiting LA and where Hollywood hosts several of their major award ceremonies and shows each year.

In the early 1980's Numata decided that as Buddhism was made its way westward from Asia to North America and on to Europe, the teachings of the Buddha should be made available in English. He appointed Rev. Seishin Yamashita as the first director/president of the Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research and entrusted Yamashita sensei to head a project of noted scholars and religious leaders to translate and publish the Buddha's teachings in English. This project is estimated to take several hundred years to complete BUT Numata felt that someone had to begin this massive undertaking and he set up the financial base and workings to make this project work. Today, I have inherited this responsibility from Rev. Yamashita, so I have good job security for the next 200 years or so.

Having attended Cal, Numata realized that the world's leaders come out of the universities and colleges of the world. He then established the Numata Program in Buddhist Studies to assist 15 of the world's top schools in making Buddhist classes, seminars and lectures available to its students, the future leaders of the world. Here in the USA, there are Numata programs at Cal, Harvard, Chicago, Smith, UCLA, Hawaii and the IBS. In Europe, there are Numata programs at Oxford, London, Leiden and Hamburg, Germany.

In appreciation for his contributions of bridging understanding between East and West, the University of Hawaii presented Mr. Numata with an Honorary Doctorate degree in 1989. This was followed by a second Honorary Doctorate from Kyoto's Ryukoku University in 1992.

Ever appreciative of his education at Cal, the Numata family has donated probably over $2 million to UC Berkeley through the years. Today on the Cal campus, there is a Yehan Numata Seminar room in the new East Asian Library, a Numata Lecture Room in the East Asian Studies Department and a Yehan Numata Lecture Room in Dwinelle Hall. The massive Buddhist collection at Cal's East Asian Library, which is second to none in the world, is called the "Yehan Numata Buddhist Collection." And we continue to enhance this Buddhist collection each year with an annual donation to buy additional Japanese language books, mostly on Shin Buddhism., to be used by Cal and IBS students.

Numata was also fiercely devoted to his Shin Buddhist path and personally paid for the establishment of Jodo Shinshu temples in Japan where there were no Nishi Hongwanji temples. Outside of Japan, he built the Washington DC Ekoji Temple, where childhood Berkeley Buddhist Temple member Yukio Kawamoto who is now 91 years old, is an Ekoji member. Numata also directed the building of the Mexico City Ekoji temple and the massive Dusseldorf, Germany Ekoji temple which cost over $45 million to build and maintain. The Dusseldorf temple is an exquisite authentic Japanese temple made by Japanese carpenters and craftsmen and is the city's number one tourist attraction. The $1 million garden is maintained by a crew of Japanese gardeners who come from Japan several times a year to care for the garden.

Dusseldorf is the center of Japanese business in Europe and more than 5,000 Japanese live in Dusseldorf. The Dusseldorf temple sponsors a unique children's nursery school where half of the attendees are German children and half are children of Japanese families living in Dusseldorf. These children are instructed in both Japanese and German and attend morning service every morning in the temple, where all the children are taught to chant and recite various Buddhist recitations.

In the international Buddhist studies scene, Japan still maintains its preeminent position as having the world's best Buddhist Studies programs. Mr. Numata started an international competition each year for graduate students in Buddhist studies to have an opportunity to come to Japan for one year to study under a Japanese Buddhist professor and he would pay all the living and school expenses. Some of the today's best Buddhist scholars are alumni of this program.

Numata also set up a program at Ryukoku University in Kyoto where foreign scholars could come to Kyoto to study and brush up on their own knowledge and understanding of Buddhism. These types of programs exist nowhere else in the academic world today.

In 1984, when Rev. Numata was nearly ninety years old, Mitutoyo celebrated its Fiftieth Anniversary at the Hotel Okura in Tokyo. At this grand party attended by over 800 people, Numata stated "I do not know how many more years I have to live. But as long as my years continue, it is my earnest desire to do all that is in my power to spread the message of Buddhism - the sacred teachings of the Buddha, to people around the world, in order to contribute to the fullest of my ability to the happiness and peace of mankind."

With this heartfelt wish to advance the cause of world peace and happiness throughout the world until his last breath, Yehan Numata passed away on May 5, 1994, after an extended illness.

Who could have imagined that college friendships and kindness from Berkeley Buddhist Temple members some 80 years ago could lead to the development of a world leader in precision measuring? Mitutoyo, BDK, Rev. Yamashita and myself owe so much to this Berkeley Buddhist temple sangha and the Oda family for sending Mr. Numata his first American-made micrometer. This great legacy and the continuing work of thousands of individuals throughout the world in Mitutoyo operations will insure that the dreams of Yehan Numata will continue to live on for generations to come.

I am sure that Rev. Dr. Yehan Numata and all of his old Berkeley temple friends who have returned to the Pure Land are with us today and I know he would be so proud that you have included so many remembrances of him in this celebration. And I am sure he would say that he was only returning the kindness and compassion that Berkeley temple members shared with him so dearly so many years ago.

Okagesama de and thanks to this wonderful sangha, we have been able to hear the Nembutsu teachings at this temple for 100 years. The Numata family is truly honored to have been able to play a small, small role in sharing the wonderful Nembutsu teaching with so many since those good ol' college days of Dr. Yehan Numata.

I can see Yehan Numata placing his hands together in Gassho as he often did, reciting the Nembutsu in gratitude for all of life's blessings he has received and of course concluding with "You've done well Berkeley Buddhist Temple!" ("Yoku Gambatta nah, Berkeley Bukkyo Kai! Okagesama de, Yokkatta nah!") And of course he would end by whispering a "Go Bears!" cheer for his beloved alma mater!

Thank you. Namo Amida Butsu