Back to “About the Temple”

Celebrating 100 Years of Buddhism in Los Angeles
Walking the Path of the Nembutsu

The origins of the Temple trace back to 1904 and the vision of Reverend Junjyo Izumida, the founding priest from Japan. He saw Jodo Shinshu Buddhism as open, not only to Japanese immigrants, but also to all people in Los Angeles and his bilingual skills enabled him to follow through on his idea.

The Temple was eventually located on 4th Street in Little Tokyo and named the Rafu Bukkyokai, originally translated as the Los Angeles Buddhist Mission. It became a Higashi Honganji branch Temple in 1921.

In the roaring 20’s, as the Japanese population grew in response to the coming legal restrictions on Japanese immigration, Rev. Izumida drove  around LA in a Model-T, conducting  howakais (Dharma gatherings) to bring the teachings beyond the downtown Temple into the city’s neighborhoods, enlarging the Sangha.

In 1911, the Temple moved to Boyle Heights and by 1930, with the Japanese population numbering 35,000, the needs of young families grew, and Higashi Honganji’s activities expanded to include Sunday School, day care, and an informal women’s association.  With the Great Depression, when Temple finances were hard hit, the Temple leadership and the membership held together, with the Issei continuing the Japanese tradition of supporting the Temple through individual donations.

During World War II, when the Issei and their families were uprooted and sent to America’s concentration camps, the Temple played a significant role in safe keeping members possessions while they were forced out of their homes. Even from the camps, members still contributed, sending what funds they could to keep the Temple going. Many members went to Manzanar and held services to maintain the Buddhist traditions.

Temple life flourished in the post-War years as Higashi Honganji helped the community get back on its feet, serving as a hostel for members until they found their own homes and starting new activities such as sewing and cooking classes. The Junior YBA (Young Buddhist Association) grew; the Fujinkai(women’s association) was formalized; and the first carnival was held to raise funds for improvements to the temple building. The Issei made plans to keep Buddhism alive for future generations, and the Eitaikyo Fund was established; thereby, endowing the Temple with a long-term, perpetual fund meant to last forever.

As the Nisei grew into adulthood during a period of greater acceptance of Japanese Americans into the mainstream, they were able to play a critical role that furthered this goal.  The kenchiku (temple building) project was created to build, not only a new structure, but also a revitalized program of activities to invigorate the Temple and meet the challenges of the time. Their vision led to the construction in 1976 of the architecturally inspired Temple and garden at its present day location on 3rd Street and Central Avenue.  The Lumbini Child Development Center, named after the garden in which Buddha was born, was included in the building plans.

With the backdrop of the major social change movements in America during the 60’s and 70’s, scholarly developments laid the groundwork that would affect the future of Higashi Honganji. Major sutras and other historical texts from the Jodo Shinshu tradition were translated into English for the first time. Temple leaders planned retreats and lectures on the teachings of Shinran Shonin, incorporating English for those in the Sangha who had grown up in America.

The last two decades of the 20th century at Higashi Honganji were a time of adjustment to a rapidly changing society where Japanese Americans found greater freedom and more choices.  Buddhism in all its forms found broader receptivity, particularly in Los Angeles.

Higashi Honganji remains true to its origins as an open Sangha welcoming anyone who wishes to learn more about the Jodo Shinshu tradition of Buddhism.  It also continues to serve as an active community center where the cultures of Japan and Japanese America co-mingle and thrive.

Looking to the next 100 years, the Sangha has much to anticipate as the teachings become more widely shared through not only more numerous publications but also the possibilities for learning through the Internet and other electronic forms of communication.  The Dharma is characterized by adaptability to different cultures and times, as Buddhist history demonstrates, inviting all to Walk the Path of the Nembutsu.