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 thing—
autumn brightness