By TOMOKO NAGAI, Rafu Staff Writer
The Koyasan Beikoku Betsuin, a Shingon Buddhist Temple located in Little Tokyo, marked its 110th anniversary in North America with a grand celebration on Oct. 15, featuring a series of events.
More than 50 delegates, led by Archbishop Taishin Imagawa, made the journey from Koyasan, Japan to join in the festivities. Attendees included current and former reverends, as well as representatives from congregations across North America, spanning cities such as Sacramento, Portland, and Seattle. Additionally, temple members from various locations participated in the celebration.
On Oct. 14-15, the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC) played host to the “Kado Koyasan” flower arrangement exhibition in its gallery. The exhibition also featured goeika (devotional chants), shukyo buyo (religious dance), and kado (flower arranging) workshops conducted by teachers from Japan, all aimed at conveying the profound essence of Koyasan Buddhism.
One of the most significant aspects of the celebration was the “Daihannya Tendoku-e” ceremony. This event, involving the recitation of the Daihannya Sutra, left a lasting impression. The sutra was brought to China by the renowned Buddhist monk Xuanzang after a 16-year journey from India, and he then dedicated an additional four years to translating it into Chinese. Xuanzang is known as the inspiration for the character Tripitaka (or Songoku) in the legendary “Journey to the West.”
The ceremony commenced with a procession, followed by the offering of chants, dedicatory dances, a flower ceremony, and incense offerings. The highlight of the event was the “Daihannya Tendoku,” during which monks recited sutras with resounding voices while vigorously shaking yellow sutra scrolls, creating a mesmerizing experience for the audience.
During a subsequent commemorative event, Archbishop Imagawa delivered a message from Abbot Shindo Hasebe of Koyasan Kongo Buji Head Temple. Abbot Hasebe praised the tireless efforts put into spreading Buddhism in North America over the past 110 years and encouraged a commitment to this mission toward the 150th year and beyond.
Kenko Sone, Japanese consul general in Los Angeles, shared his memories of visiting Bodh Gaya while stationed in New Delhi. He discussed the enduring essence of Buddhism, which has been passed down since its inception in the 5th century BC. Sone expressed his gratitude for the role played by Koyasan Betsuin in Little Tokyo, especially during World War II and the post-war period, in serving the Japanese and Japanese American community and promoting their culture and traditions.
The presence of Shingon Buddhism in North America dates back to the establishment of the Koyasan Daishi Church in the Elysian Park area of Los Angeles in 1912 by Rev. Shutai Aoyama. Koyasan Buddhist Temple started in Little Tokyo just a year before the outbreak of the U.S.-Japan war and has continued to be a central figure in the Japanese American community, sustained by over 60 dedicated reverends and faithful church members in the U.S.
Shingon Buddhism, founded by Kukai (Kobo Daishi), is one of the Buddhist schools that has persisted from the Heian period to the present. This year also marks the 1,250th anniversary of the birth of Kobo Daishi.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Bishop Yuuju Matsumoto of Beikoku Betsuin presented a donation to Bishop Clark Zenkyu Watanabe of the Shingon Mission of Hawaii. This donation is intended to support the reconstruction of the Lahaina Hokoji Temple, the oldest temple of Koyasan Shingon Buddhism located in a foreign land, which was recently affected by the devastating wildfire on Maui.
The Daihannya Sutra consists of 600 scrolls. Matsumoto explained that 20 students from Koyasan High School handled these scrolls on the stage and performed the recitation. By running through each of the yellow pages with dynamic flowing motion, it is considered that they went through the entire sutra.
The sutra carried on a tradition that has been passed down for many centuries without any damage due to the infusion of saffron, the yellow factor of the sutra. Matsumoto noted that this sutra serves as the origin of Japan’s 400-character manuscript paper and Ming-style typeface.
The 110th-anniversary commemoration of Koyasan Temple not only showcased the captivating recitation ceremony but also various expressions of Shingon Buddhist teachings, including goeika chanting, which sings the truths spoken by Buddha in poetry, buyo religious dance, which embodies Buddhist practices through movement, and kado, the art of flower arrangement, all designed to convey the profound beauty of Koyasan Buddhism.
The Koyasan Temple in the U.S. aspires to make a significant contribution to the cultural understanding and presence of Japanese Buddhism among both Japanese and non-Japanese communities in Little Tokyo, with their commitment extending into the next 100 years.
Photos by TOMOKO NAGAI/Rafu Shimpo