An Unfolding Story
Yoshiko Isoda describes how her Buddhist practice has enabled her to transform hardship and tragedy into a mission of spreading joy through stories.
When I was a child, my parents would have children from the neighborhood over to our house, and we would read stories and sing together. I have very fond memories of that time. Today, as a storyteller, I feel like I am walking a path that was opened by my mother and father.
I joined the Soka Gakkai when I was 28. It was shortly after my beloved father had passed away. I was looking for meaning in life, and a woman in my neighborhood invited me to a Soka Gakkai meeting. I remember being impressed by President Daisaku Ikeda’s idea that “A great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will enable a change in the destiny of all humankind.”
I was praying to make meaning out of my experience—to ‘turn karma into mission’—and live true to myself
Soon after I joined the Soka Gakkai, I experienced a number of severe challenges. I lost my four-month-old daughter, my first child, to illness. I went into shock and experienced paralysis in my face and bleeding of my kidney, which doctors couldn’t explain.
During this time, the Soka Gakkai members in my local area were continuously by my side supporting and encouraging me over and over again. My mother, who was concerned about me, began practicing Nichiren Buddhism too. Through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo together, little by little I regained my health and energy.
I was praying to make meaning out of my experience—to “turn karma into mission”—and live true to myself, and I decided to join a Soka Gakkai women’s chorus group. Through singing songs I loved, I developed a forward-looking outlook on life again. I also gave birth to my second daughter, my deepest wish, which I had almost given up on. During this period, my husband also decided to start practicing Buddhism too. I took on the responsibility of being the women’s leader in my local Soka Gakkai district and, with deep gratitude in my heart for my friends in faith, did my utmost to support the other women.
One day, I decided to read a story to the children who had attended a meeting. It was such a joy to see the smiles on their faces, and it gave me the idea of starting to do children’s storytelling together with other people in my district. We ended up launching a volunteer song and storytelling service.
Our goal, wherever we went, was to convey the magic and wonder of songs and stories. A highlight was fulfilling a longtime dream of holding a picture book event, which we held in a packed 500-seat venue.
When I was 66 years old, my mother, whom I adored, passed away. At the same time, I was diagnosed with highly malignant breast cancer. I had major surgery for the complete removal of the tissue and lymph nodes, followed by strong chemotherapy.
It was my wish to return even one day sooner to see the smiling faces of the children that became the driving force of my recovery. My doctor was amazed and even remarked, “Mrs. Isoda, your life force is amazing!” Thanks to the prayers of my family and my friends in faith, I was able to fully recover.
In 2020, I turned 80. It has been more than 40 years since the beginning of my journey in storytelling. Recently, at the request of the local community, we held a training workshop and story-telling seminar for over 100 adults.
President Ikeda says the following about the significance of reading and storytelling: “Children sense the warmth of words in the voices of their parents and teachers, and their imagination is challenged to capture a story’s landscapes and dramatic scenes. The modulations of the reader’s voice help children experience and develop a range of emotions.” My greatest wish is for all children to manifest their full potential. With this aspiration in my heart, I will continue sharing the joy of singing and storytelling with children.
Adapted from the December 2020 issue of Daibyakurenge, Soka Gakkai, Japan.