Meet Japanese Grandmother of Tibetan Orphanage in India

Tawang, India. I first met Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura, OMD, at a Christie’s benefit for Tibet House at Rockefeller Center in 2010. We began to chat about Japan, where I had once studied, as well as Tibet and the many Tibetans living along the Chinese border in India. What captured my attention was that she had agreed to help build a school at an orphanage for Tibetan children in northeast India, endorsed by the Dalai Lama. As the founder of a network of orphanages around the world, I was captivated.

IMG_4437Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura, Japanese-American grandmother of Manjushree
Orphanage for Tibetan children in India Photo: Stewardship Report.

Although Leila and Hank Luce had been supportive of Tibet House and the Dalai Lama, I had never met His Holiness. To meet someone who had taken on such an important project for the Dalai Lama mesmerized me. I wanted to get to know more about this woman, Dr. Kazuko, which happened quickly. She soon invited me to the Japanese Ambassador’s home to celebrate the Emperor’s birthday, and the next week had me over to her Japanese-style apartment overlooking Lincoln Center where she practices Oriental medicine. I began to learn more about her efforts in India.

IMG_6246Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura with the wonderful children of Manjushree Orphanage.
Photo: Stewardship Report.

Manjushree Orphanage, she explained to us, is in the village of Tawang, located at the foot of the Himalayas where there has long been a border dispute between China and India. The monastery and orphanage sits at the most north-eastern region of India, sharing the border with Bhutan on its west and Myanmar on its east. Over 8,000 feet above sea level, it is situated where winter is long and severe and summer has a three month-long rainy season.

IMG_5903Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura led the effort to fund Manjushree’s academic building, 2015.
Photo: Stewardship Report.
Dr. Kazuko explained why she was so enthralled with her mission:

Nature in Tawang is very beautiful. The land is full of deep forests and high, snow-capped mountains with a great river running through it. This area is very rich in the culture of Tibetan Buddhism. It carries special significance as the birthplace of His Holiness the 6th Dalai Lama and home to one of the most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world. Thousands of Tibetans now reside there.

IMG_1109Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura paying respects at a local Buddhist temple in Tawang.
Photo: Stewardship Report.
Tawang is the place where His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama – today’s Dalai Lama – first found refuge after fleeing Tibet in 1959. He stayed there for a while before he settled down in Dharamsala. The monastery in Tawang honors the great fifth Dalai Lama and has old things such as Buddhist sutras written in pure gold.

IMG_5502Each year, Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura awards Manjushree’s graduates
with an iPad tablet for use in university. Photo: Stewardship Report.
There is a wondrous story about Tawang. When sixth Dalai Lama left his house where he was born, he planted a tree at the garden and said, “I will come back when this tree grows as tall above the roof of the house.” When the 14th Dalai Lama was exiled and got to Tawang, this tree had just gotten above the roof!

IMG_5895The academic building at Manjushree was designed pro bono by
Tibet’s eminent architect living in Delhi. Photo: Stewardship Report.
Dr. Kazuko explained to me about the Tibetans in Tawang:

They are the poorest of all the Tibetans living in India and their health conditions are not good, with many contagious diseases. Many suffer from tuberculosis that medicines don’t cure well. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is very much concerned about this and recently helped to build a new hospital there.

IMG_5841Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura provides check-ups and treatments for the children.
Photo: Stewardship Report.
In 1998, the young Tibetan monk named Lama Thupten Phuntsok founded the Manjushree Orphanage. It was established with 17 children and as now has 180. The Dalai Lama thinks it is imperative to have a new and bigger school building for them. This is Dr. Kazuko’s task: to raise funds in the U.S. and Japan to implement the Tibetan-designed school at a cost of $360,000.

IMG_5565Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura at the stupa construction site adjacent
to Manjushree Orphanage. Photo: Stewardship Report.
Dr. Kazuko’s first trip to the Manjushree Orphanage in Tawang was memorable:

I got on the airplane to Delhi by myself. I arrived there late at night, and then went to domestic airport by bus, where I flew to Guwahati. At Guwahati, I was told that I had to drive over the rugged mountains for three days. I decided to charter a helicopter instead. Helicopter service is dependent on good weather – fortunately it was nice weather.

I flew in the sky over Bhutan, enjoying the beautiful scenery. I flew beside the Himalayan Mountains, and at last arrived at Tawang in the afternoon. I felt very cold up in the mountains, and was dizzy due to the high altitude.

Lama Thupten Phuntsok came to greet me. I was wrapped with a long white kata and I arrived at the orphanage an hour later. Surprisingly, lots of children ran to me and held me. This blew away all my fatigue from the long trip. I went to take a short nap, but slept tight until the next morning.

The next fourteen days became one of my happiest memories in my life.

IMG_5905Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura spinning prayer wheels to bring health and happiness
to her 200+ children at the orphanage. Photo: Stewardship Report.
This Japanese-American physician related her memories to me:

At the 5:30 in the morning on my first day, I woke up with the voice of children chanting. I saw all of them sitting neatly and chanting, aloud and lively, in front of Lama Phuntsok. I was invited to sit down next to Lama Phuntsok, and started chanting Sutra by imitating the 150 children.

Those were very, very cute faces I saw. I couldn’t stop my tears as I watched those children, their eyes closed in prayer for the Dalai Lama’s longevity and the realization of this hope. I felt exactly like I was watching many little Buddhas – some with running noses.

IMG_5646Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura with founder (red) and staff members of Manjushree.
Photo: Stewardship Report.
The reason Dr. Kazuko is so emotionally attached to these children and determined to build their school is the enormous bond she feels with them:

I lived with these wonderful children for two weeks. Much to my surprise, they never fight among themselves despite the small space where they are living all together. Not only don’t they fight, but they also don’t even raise loud voices at one another. They share everything and help each other.

They try to help with anything. They lead each other by taking each other’s hands. It was completely surprising to me. How could it be possible? I cannot imagine this happening in another place. I came to help those children, but I feel I was helped by them.

Who are these wondrous children? They are orphans without father and mother, some disabled. Despite that, they have a mind to help others, compassion, cooperation, patience, with a lack of greed and jealously. Everyone is really happy. It seems like they have found happiness in helping others. They have so many things I could learn. I was full of tears of appreciation for them every day.

IMG_5889Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura with young staff member who graduated
from the orphanage.
Photo: Stewardship Report.
Actor Richard Gere and Dr. Robert Thurman, a professor at Columbia University and father of Uma, founded Tibet House in New York along with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I had met Bob at the Christie’s auction and asked him about Dr. Kazuko’s daunting challenge — and importance — to raise funds for a school in this economy. Bob told me:

It is wonderful what Kazuko is doing for those orphaned children, and Tibet House U.S. is pleased to be helping with the project to build a proper school for them. She is exemplifying what His Holiness calls “Universal Responsibility,” by adopting all those lovely kids.

IMG_5898The view from Manjushree Orphanage at 8,000 feet in the Himalayas on Bhutan
and Chinese (Tibet) borders are absolutely stunning.
Photo: Stewardship Report.
Dr. Kazuko says she is frequently asked, “There are so many orphans in the world – Why Tibetan Children?” She responds:

In my over seventy years of life, I have traveled over 135 countries in the world, seen much and met countless beautiful people and wonderful children. But I must say this strongly, ‘Tibetan people are unique, and Tibetan culture is unique and we must preserve them both, if the what they have naturally can be further cultivated and nurtured in a right environment.’

I think, just like Mozart was born to compose without being taught how to, these Tibetan Children are born with compassion in their DNA. They tend to think naturally to put ‘others before self.’ In this day and age, how is this possible? Maybe because Tibetans are all reincarnations of those with this tradition long, long before? Maybe because it is in their Genes? Or maybe it is due to their mothers’ early attitude and behavior?

IMG_6113Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura poses with a snow lion at a local temple in Tawang.
Photo: Stewardship Report.

Dr. Kazuko continued enthusiastically:

Seeing compassionate behavior on the part of three years olds at Manjushree Orphanage, I was totally puzzled. When I asked Lama Thupten about this he said, “I don’t know myself, because I have not taught them yet.” But they definitely possess this unique character of compassion for others: Om Mani Padme Hum.

When His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, “We must preserve Tibetan Culture,” I think people in general don’t fully understand. He means cultural spirituality. You can learn and preserve painting, dance, music, and food traditions – but these are at the most mundane level. The transcendental aspect of culture is the one the Dalai Lama is talking about.

In this busy world with full of greed and selfishness – this ‘Me First’ environment in which we live – Tibetans’ spiritual culture is unique. Tibetans seem to find happiness in practicing ‘Others before self.’ I believe we need balance on this planet, and Tibetans can give us this equilibrium. I think this is what I saw in the children of Manjushree Orphanage. I want to help these children learn and grow, giving influence to the world.

IMG_5433Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura on a break from two-day jeep ride over nine
mountains to get to Tawang, located 8,000 feet.
Photo: Stewardship Report.
Convinced of her sincerity and understanding of the plight of children in Tawang, I decided to assist Dr. Kazuko. After she showed us her letter from the orphanage director, Lama Thupten Phuntsok, authorizing her to raise funds for the construction of a new school for his orphanage, I agreed to help her. Tibet House U.S. has agreed to serve as fiscal sponsor in the U.S. for contributions. This is the first joint project between the U.S. and Japan Tibet House, under the auspices of the Office of the Dalai Lama in Japan.

IMG_6407Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura with the author and Lama ThuptenP huntsok accepting
a statue of the God of Wisdom, Manjushree.
Photo: Stewardship Report.
As 2010 ends, there are so many bad things we could remember. But I chose to focus on thought leaders and global leaders like Richard Gere and Dr. Robert Thurman. Like Keiko Aoki. Like Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura. Help them connect goodness for the Tibetan children of Manjushree Orphanage in the village of Tawang. As founder of Orphans International Worldwide (OIW), I will do what I can to help.


  1. The Dalai Lama & Dr. Kazuko: A 47-Year Friendship
  2. Tibetan Children’s Village: Step One to Success
  3. India: Great Protector of the Tibetan People
  4. With Incredible Tibetan Orphans, Reflecting on How I Got Here
  5. Meet Japanese Grandmother of Tibetan Orphanage in India
  6. Lama Thupten Phuntsok: Tibetan Monk’s Life Outside Monastery
  7. First Trip to Tibetan Orphanage High in Himalayas
  8. Dharamshala for Americans: His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Hometown
  9. Himalayas: From India/Pakistan to Bhutan & Nepal + Chinese Tibet
  10. Himalayas: Once Greater Tibet, Now Tragically Divided
  11. Meet American Lobsang Sangay, President of Tibet
  12. Dr. Kazuko: Planning Nine Orphanages Globally Through Gaia
  13. Viewpoint: Whatever Faith Tradition, It’s All About Kindness
  14. Orphanage Burns in Indonesia; Matt Luce Pledges to Rebuild
  15. At Fifty, I Gave Away My Wealth; at Sixty, My Possessions
  16. Autumn Elegant Evening to Highlight Charity Efforts Around World
  17. New Look: Stewardship Report on Connecting Goodness at Tenth Year
  18. Luce Leadership Experience Looks to Israel after Greece, Indonesia Trips
  19. Charities at Twenty Confer Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Kazuko
  20. New Look: Orphans International Website Refreshed for 20th Anniversary


  1. On Pilgrimage: Following the Footsteps of Buddha Across N.E. India
  2. Under the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya Where the Prince Became The Buddha
  3. Photo Essay of Bodh Gaya, Where Buddha Became Enlightened
  4. Next Step of Indian Pilgrimage: Vultures’ Peak Where Buddha Preached
  5. Touching the Untouchable in a Rural Indian Village
  6. Rediscovering the World’s First Great University in Buddhist India
  7. Buddhism for Beginners: Insights from a Non-Buddhist
  8. Buddhism and the Universal Concept of Social Responsibility
  9. Help Me to Support Education & Orphan Care in Bihar, India
  10. Most-Photographed Man in the World Prepares to Retire
  11. Yoshimitsu Nagasaka Photo Exclusive: The Dalai Lama in Bodh Gaya
  12. Varanasi: Holy City of Buddhists – As Well as Hindus, Jainists, Jews
  13. On the Banks of the Ganges: Reflections of a Journey in Time
  14. My Pilgrimage Complete: Life Continues Like a Wheel
  15. Pilgrimage Postscript: Pneumonia and Possible T.B.


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About Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens

View all posts by Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce ( writes and speaks on Thought Leaders and Global Citizens. Bringing 26 years management experience within both investment banking and the non-profit sector, Jim has worked for Daiwa Bank, Merrill Lynch, a spin-off of Lazard Freres, and two not-for profit organizations and a foundation he founded. As Founder & CEO of Orphans International Worldwide (, he is working with a strong network of committed professionals to build interfaith, interracial, Internet-connected orphanages in Haiti and Indonesia, and creating a new, family-care model for orphans in Sri Lanka and Tanzania.

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