The Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles is rushing to rebuild and maintain a welcoming character following a vandalism incident on February 25. Following the attack, which damaged lanterns and a large window, the temple received an outpouring of support, with online fundraising reaching over US$90,000, more than triple the original goal to cover the damage.
The vandalism left charred wood on the temple’s concrete steps, the remains of two large wooden lantern stands that had been burned. The vandal, a lone man who had scaled the temple fence, also threw a rock, destroying a 3.7 meter glass window at the front of the building.
The vandalism follows a series of attacks across the United States against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). Several of these attacks have focused on Buddhist buildings, such as the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple. Others have involved verbal and physical attacks on individuals, including the March 16 mass shooting that claimed the lives of six Asian women in Atlanta, Georgia.
This week, the temple released a letter reflecting on the vandalism and the temple’s plans to move forward. In the letter, Reverend Noriaki Ito, Chief Minister of the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple, said, “We will work to repair the damage and restore the temple. But we must also repair the damage done to ourselves. Like many others in our AAPI community and beyond, we feel hurt, saddened and even angered by the recent attacks on people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. Ito continued, “For many of us, the temple is a second home, and it feels like an attack on our culture, our history, our community, our family. Together we will mourn and heal. (Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple)
As temple leaders considered their future safety, Reverend Ito said they did not want to turn the temple into a fortress. “It’s a balance between maintaining security, but at the same time being welcoming,” he said. (Religious News Service)
“As a Buddhist temple, we must be part of the solution,” Reverend Ito noted in his letter. “Shinran Shonin once wrote words that he used to encourage us ‘to realize or create a society of friends.’ Reiterating his intention to continue reaching 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 that only we can understand. Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple)
When asked if the attack should be treated as a hate crime, Ito replied, “It’s just sadness – sadness that such a thing happened. I even worry about 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)
Authorities have yet to apprehend the man responsible for the vandalism and have not decided to classify the incident as a hate crime. Anti-Asian hate crimes increased nearly 150% in 2020 in the United States, according to a recent study conducted by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism (CSUSB).
Online fundraiser organizer Nikkei Progressives quickly reached an initial goal of US$30,000. After reaching $50,000, they posted a thank you note from Reverend Ito:
We have been overwhelmed with the support of all donors to the GoFundMe campaign set up for our temple. We express our deepest gratitude to Nikkei Progressives for establishing the fund on our behalf. We will use the funds to make necessary repairs and improve our security measures. The temple looks forward to engaging more deeply to offer support to residents, organizations, and businesses in our community. (GoFundMe)
Statement by Bishop Noriaki Ito on our temple in the news (Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple)
Los Angeles Buddhist temple seeking balance between safety and welcome after attack (Religious News Service)
The search continues for the man who vandalized and burned down a Buddhist temple in Los Angeles’s little Tokyo (KTLA 5)
FACT SHEET: Anti‐Asian Prejudice March 2020 – Center for the Study of Hatred and Extremism (CSUSB)
Support for the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple! (GoFundMe)