Higashi Honganji, a Buddhist Temple in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles, was vandalized on 25 February. In security camera footage, an unidentified man, appearing to be white and in his early 30s, can be seen jumping over security fences in front of the temple before breaking two metal lanterns, setting their wooden stands on fire, and throwing a rock through a four-meter-tall glass window near the temple’s entrance.
The Los Angeles Police Department has opened a hate crime arson investigation, amid a rise in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans across the United States. The advocacy and tracking group following crimes aimed at the Asian American and Pacific Islander community (AAPI), Stop AAPI Hate, counted “245 incidents of hate in Los Angeles County” against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders between 20 March and 28 October last year, with Chinese Americans the largest target at 35 per cent of cases. (Los Angeles Times)
Priests and staff at the temple were reported to be upset by the attack, although no one was injured. Rev. Noriaki Ito, 72, a bishop and the temple’s head priest said: “Your first feelings are those of disappointment and sadness to see what happened. I don’t know the motives, but it looks like we were targeted. The only relief I find is that no one was hurt.” (Los Angeles Times)
The traditional Japanese lanterns damaged during the incident were donated to the temple in 1976. The temple has been closed to in-person services since March 2020 due to the pandemic. One priest, Rev. Masa Fujii, was at the temple and was able to put out the fire with an extinguisher. “I’m thankful he was working in the back office and was able to run and put out the fire, otherwise the damage could have been worse,” said David Ikeda, a former temple board president. (Los Angeles Times)
The incident follows several others in recent weeks at the temple, including a couple of trespassers who assaulted a security guard and an unidentified person stealing an iPhone from a temple gardener. “This is going to lead to changes where we’re going to have 24-hour security, at least during the weekdays,” said Ito, who has been with the temple since its founding. “We’ve been here 45 years and this has never happened.” (Los Angeles Times)
Higashi Honganji, founded in the Jodo Shinshu tradition, is the oldest Japanese Buddhist temple in Los Angeles, established in 1904. It was moved several times before the present temple was built in 1976. In addition to the donated lanterns, more than 30,000 traditional roof tiles from Japan and a large Amida Buddha statue were donated for the completion of the building. While primarily intended to serve the religious needs of its community, the temple has also been the home of the first judo-kendo dojo in Los Angeles and has served over the years as an orphanage, a Japanese language school, a host to cultural classes, and as a pre-school and kindergarten.
A fundraiser has been created to support the temple and, as of this writing, had raised more than US$47,000.
Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple
Fire, vandalism rock Buddhist temple in Little Tokyo (Los Angeles Times)
Buddhist temple in Little Tokyo burned, vandalized (KTLA)
LAPD Is Investigating Buddhist Temple Vandalism Incident As A Hate Crime (The LAist)
Buddhist temple in LA vandalized (Pune Mirror)
Buddhist temple in LA’s Little Tokyo vandalized and partially burned (Nippon)