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The Lotus Skyliners

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In February 1942, during the midst of World War II, more than 120,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes and transported to concentration camps. After the war ended, some of the Seattle residents began returning to their former neighborhoods. They had to quickly look for work and schools so that they could begin the process of assimilating back into the broader community. As many of the families had kids in their teens, there were legitimate fears about their general welfare and keeping them occupied so that they would stay out of trouble.

Church leaders at the Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple had the foresight to recognize that a band might be a constructive way of addressing those concerns. Min Tsubota, who was a dance band enthusiast, was one of the first leaders to step forward and help form a group. Don Kinsley, a young Caucasian music teacher at Washington Junior High School, was picked to organize and lead it. After a lot of hard work and several practice sessions, a combination of twenty musicians and singers blossomed into the Lotus Skyliners.

Over nine years, the band played and entertained at numerous dances and other occasions in the Greater Seattle area. These engagements helped pay for the band’s incidental expenses as well as two extensive West Coast road trips that they took from Washington to California in the summers of 1955 and 1956. “Those of us who were fortunate enough to participate as Skyliners band members now realize how important the band and Don Kinsley were in developing our character, teaching us lifelong values, and becoming successful citizens in society,” said Gary Yamashita, a trumpet player in the band.


“Like blooming lotus flowers, the beauty and harmony of the Skyliners’ music filled the hearts of the Seattle Buddhist Temple Sangha and the greater community with joy. Namo Amida Butsu.” 

– Rev. Katsuya Kusunoki, Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple


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