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January 9, 2016


Mitsu Suzuki Passes Away, Aged 101

We are deeply saddened to announce the death of Suzuki Roshi’s widow, Mitsu ‘Okusan’ Suzuki, early Saturday January 9, 2015. The three temples rang the densho 108 times that morning, and each temple held a memorial service to honor her passing and express gratitude for her teachings and her presence in San Francisco Zen Center.


‘A true matriarch of American Zen.’ Mitsu Suzuki outside the Founder’s Hall in City Center, 1993. Photo: Rosalie Curtis

Born April 23, 1914,†Mitsu Suzuki Sensei was a tea teacher in the Omotesenke school, and also a very fine published haiku poet. She was affectionately known as “Okusan”, which was what Suzuki Roshi called her (it means “Honorable Wife” in Japanese). 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.”

Taigen Dan Leighton describes her as “unimaginably important and inspiring for everyone at San Francisco Zen Center, remaining a resident at SFZC City Center for more than 20 years after Suzuki Roshi passed, before she returned home to Japan. She was a strong, kindly, steady presence who demonstrated everyday Zen life for us. She was a true matriarch of American Zen.”

Our photo shows Okusan standing outside the Founder’s Hall†in City Center where students honor†SFZC founder Suzuki Roshi every month with a two-part memorial service, the evening of the 3rd and the morning of the 4th (he died December 4th, 1971). This was Okusan’s last memorial service in San Francisco before she left for Japan in October 1993.

Mitsu Suzuki’s book of 100 haiku, A White Tea Bowl, published last year to celebrate her 100th birthday, contains the following poem:

Birth and death
not holding to even one thingó
autumn brightness

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. richard benton
    Jan 11 2016

    I remember her well. She was so quiet that her presence was infinite. If a person of such character could stand by Suzuki sensei. He must have been doing something right. She had urged him to go back to japan,and let others take over. I think that if he had followed this advice, and promoted katagiri,things would have been much better for zc.women who seek seem to obtain solid wisdom.Perhaps this has something to do with their biological ability to have children. It unwise to put so much power in one person at that time,because zen had not yet put down its wisdom roots. I think they are stringer now.Forgive reb for errors.Remember how roshi defended chogyam trungpa against zen puritans.Always nurture the beat secular side of zen

    • Kathy
      Jan 13 2016

      I very much appreciate your remembrance. It feels reflective of possibilities unknown and aptly imagined wise listening to the feminine in all of us can only benefit.

  2. richard benton
    Jan 11 2016

    Also,can I obtain a copy of this picture for framing?Also,there is a picture of 4 children playing with a bell at green gulch3 girls were inside the bell,and 1 girl was about to land the striker on the bell.The picture so captures the spontaneous spirit of zen that I felt originally as a 14 yr old

  3. John Briggs
    Jan 13 2016

    The photo is remarkable! She looks so young and sweet. What a loss. But what a wonderful person in our world. Blessings for Mitsu’s continuing journey.

  4. Mary Ellen "Mimi" Sullivan
    Jan 13 2016

    One early very cool morning-I think in the late 1980s, my dear friend and I were at the women’s baths at Tassajara. Mrs. Suzuki was there with her friend/attendant. It was just the four of us. Mrs Suzuki smiled at us and when she finished dressing, she performed a little dance for us while her friend gently hummed. We were so honored–we all bowed to each other when she finished and then said goodbye.
    A sweet memory of this remarkable woman. Blessings to Mrs. Suzuki on her journey…

  5. Jan 13 2016

    There is an extensive section on Mitsu Suzuki with history, stories, memories of students, correspondence, photos, being updated daily with new posts including from Linda Ruth Cutts in Japan now for the funeral.

  6. John DesJardins
    Jan 16 2016

    I remember, I remember, I REMEMBER.

    Large tears roll off the faces at Mt. Rushmore.

    Then We Disappear.

  7. Dugald McCullough
    Jan 17 2016

    I treasure the memory of a brief encounter with Mitsu Suzuki, during a short stay at Rinso-in two years ago. On our way back from a trip to the supermarket, Kumi Suzuki (wife of Shungo, Suzuki Roshi’s grandson) took me with her to Mitsu Suzuki’s apartment to leave in some mountain vegetables, bracken shoots. Mrs Suzuki was delighted that someone from the UK was visiting, and with great warmth and enthusiasm, insisted on giving me a present, a new season peach.

  8. Jan 27 2016

    The last time I saw Okusan she mentioned fondly the trip we took; she and Suzuki roshi, myself and Trudy and the Bakers, to Trudy’s ranch in Wyoming in the 60s. It certainly was a unique experience for them. I remember him at the corral and on a horse, quite relaxed and happy among the cowboys… One evening he tried on a full chief’s headdress at the house; he somehow looked right wearing that thing… We set up a little zendo in the main house and sat in the mornings… It was a very special thing for Trudy to have them there at the ranch. Mitsu san, thank you.

  9. May 31 2016

    Rest in Peace, you were a giving and loving person who helped me a lot in my journey to inner peace.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mitsu Suzuki, wife of Shunryu Suzuki roshi, dies at 101 | Sweeping Zen

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