Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple, located in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles, is looking forward to rebuilding and maintaining a welcoming character in the wake of a 25 February vandalism incident. Following the attack, which damaged lanterns and a large window, the temple received an outpouring of support, with an online fundraiser reaching more than US$90,000—more than three times the original goal sought to cover the damages.
The vandalism left charred wood on the concrete steps of the temple, the remnants of two large wooden lantern stands that had been burned. The vandal, a lone male who had climbed over the temple fence, also threw a rock, destroying a 3.7-meter glass window at the front of the building.
The vandalism follows a string of attacks across the United States on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). Several of these attacks have focused on Buddhist buildings, such as Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple. Others have involved verbal and physical attacks on individuals, including the mass shooting that took the lives of six Asian women in Atlanta, Georgia, on 16 March.
This week the temple issued a letter reflecting on the vandalism and the temple’s plans for moving forward. In the letter, by Rev. Noriaki Ito, the head minister of Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple, said: “We will work to repair the damage and to restore the temple. But we need to repair the damage to ourselves as well. Like many others in our AAPI community and beyond, we feel hurt and saddened and even angered by the recent attacks on those of Asian and Pacific Islander descent.” Ito continued: “For many of us, the temple is a second home, and this feels like an attack on our culture, our history, our community, our family. Together we will grieve, and we will heal.” (Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple)
As temple leaders contemplated their future safety, Rev. Ito said that they did not want to turn the temple into a fortress. “It’s a balance of maintaining security, but at the same time being welcoming,” he said. (Religion News Service)
“As a Buddhist temple, we need to be part of the solution,” Rev. Ito noted in his letter. “Shinran Shonin once wrote words which he used to encourage us ‘to realize or to create a society of friends.’ Reiterating his intent to continue to reach out, Ito added: “If we are the only ones here and speak only in Buddhist terms, the temple will be like an exclusive club of people who speak a language only we can understand.” (Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple)
When asked whether the attack should be treated as a hate crime, Ito responded: “It’s just sadness—sadness that something like this has happened. I’m actually even concerned for the person who did it. You know, what was he thinking? Is it because he doesn’t like Asians, or is it something else that triggered this?” (KTLA 5)
The authorities have not yet apprehended the man responsible for the vandalism and have not decided whether to label the incident as a hate crime. Anti-Asian hate crimes increased by nearly 150 per cent in 2020 in the United States, according to a recent study conducted by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism (CSUSB).
The organizer of the online fundraiser, Nikkei Progressives, quickly met an early goal of US$30,000. After reaching US$50,000, they posted a note of thanks from Rev. Ito:
We have been overwhelmed by the support from all of the donors to the GoFundMe campaign established for our temple. We extend our deep gratitude to Nikkei Progressives for setting up the fund on our behalf. We will use the funds to make the necessary repairs and upgrade our security measures. The temple looks forward to engaging more deeply to offer our support to the residents, organizations, and merchants of our community. (GoFundMe)
Bishop Noriaki Ito’s Statement on Our Temple In The News (Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple)
LA Buddhist temple seeking balance between security and welcome after attack (Religion News Service)
Search continues for man who vandalized, burned Buddhist temple in L.A.’s Little Tokyo (KTLA 5)
FACT SHEET: Anti‐Asian Prejudice March 2020 – Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism (CSUSB)
Support for Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple! (GoFundMe)