Rev. Kerry Kiyohara’s life reflects a blend of cultural fluency, strategic thinking, and resilience. Raised in Los Angeles by Japanese American parents, he embraced his heritage, graduating first with a bachelor’s degree in East Asian Languages and Cultures from the University of Southern California (USC). Specializing in Japanese language, he ventured to Japan for five years before returning to USC to receive a master’s degree in business administration.


Kerry’s proficiency in Japanese language and his understanding of Japanese culture caught the attention of an advertising agency eager to attract Japanese clients during the 1980s influx of Japanese businesses into the American market. This role marked the beginning of a successful career in advertising, where Kerry’s language and business skills proved invaluable. Kerry was transferred to Tokyo, Japan, where he lived and worked for 17 years. Later, he moved to Beijing and Shanghai to launch a new advertising network in China as CEO.


Despite his success, a gnawing emptiness began to take hold.



Growing tired of the corporate scene, Kerry moved to Hawai‘i to be closer to family. Deciding to take a year off, he reconnected with his Buddhist roots. He began attending a Hongwanji temple in the neighborhood,  and eventually felt called to become a minister himself. In 2016, he was ordained as a priest of Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, the largest Buddhist denomination in Japan.


For the past six years, Kerry has served as the resident minister of Makawao Hongwanji mission in Hawai‘i. While devoted to his role as a spiritual leader, he sought ways to expand his ability to serve others. This led him to enroll in the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program.


When I first heard about CPE, a couple of respected ministers mentioned how it helped them connect with people in hospitals. They said it would help me adjust my attitude.”  Kerry chuckled, acknowledging a past tendency to be domineering.


The chaplaincy training program exposed him to new ways of offering spiritual support. “It pushed me to expand my way of thinking,” he shared. “But the biggest lesson? Sometimes, just listening is enough.”


Reflecting on his path to chaplaincy, Kerry acknowledges the influence of his upbringing and the constant process of adapting. He transitioned from the fast-paced, competitive world of advertising to the mindful path of Buddhism. His purpose now lies in serving his community and helping others navigate their spiritual journeys.


The most profound lessons, however, came unexpectedly. As part of Kerry’s ministerial training, he began visiting the sick and dying. These experiences forced him to confront his own ego and mortality. He learned the importance of active listening and compassion, a stark contrast to the CEO mindset he previously embodied.


Through these encounters, Kerry discovered a deep sense of fulfillment he never found in the boardroom. He witnessed the quiet strength of people facing death and the unwavering love of families in their darkest moments. These experiences solidified his calling to serve as a minister and chaplain.


“Most people have no idea what a chaplain actually does. They picture the Hollywood version – rushing in to perform religious rites. But that’s not reality.” The reality, as Kerry explains, is far more nuanced. Chaplains provide spiritual and emotional support to patients facing illness, particularly those experiencing existential questions or spiritual distress. “We don’t have all the answers, but we’re trained to help people explore their feelings and fears. Having someone to talk to makes a big difference for everyone involved.”


Pacific Health Ministry (PHM) is vital because, as Kerry emphasizes, PHM helps to develop the skills chaplains need to navigate the complexities of hospital settings and provide effective care.”