The present-day Nishi Hongwanji was constructed from 1968 to 1969.

By MIREI KAGAWA, Rafu Contributor

Happy Birthday!

Do you cringe at the sound of these words? Or, do you react with a smile ready to celebrate? Reaching personal milestones certainly is cause for a “toast,” a pat on the back. Even so, with the passage of time comes the creeping reality of the need to maintain and revitalize!

Such is the case with one of Little Tokyo’s landmarks, the Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, fondly known as “Nishi” or “Nishi Buddhist Temple.” In 2019, it will hit a milestone, its 50th anniversary at its present location at Vignes and First.

Nishi Hongwanji’s original location at First and Central, now part of the Japanese American National Museum.

The aging process has taken its toll with the imminent need to address major restorations and repair. In 2014, we embarked on a five-year campaign to meet this challenge in preparation for this auspicious year. There is a new-found surge in commitment to ensure the future of the temple that serves so many of us in many ways.

Back in the ’60s, the Nishi pioneers set out to raise $1 million, knowing that the new city mandate (of widening the street) would drastically affect the old temple in its existing state. By today’s inflation calculations, that would almost be $6.5 million.

When all was said and done — the purchase of land and building construction — it was closer to $1.5 million. It is a fascinating story of an arduous journey that put Nishi Temple on the map at its new site in 1969.

The memories of our grandparents and parents stand as cornerstones of the beautiful Nishi Buddhist Temple. Thanks to their unwavering commitment and dedication, our generation, along with our extended families, friends, and community, has enjoyed and benefited from all its programs, opportunities, and experiences, both religious and cultural.

The completed Nishi Hongwanji in 1969.

As we forge towards 2019, it is our hope that Nishi continues to be the hub of activities, learning, and inspiration, not just for future generations, but the diverse community that is Los Angeles.

On April 18, we carry that same drive and spirit as we transform the gymnasium into a night to remember. Our 50th Anniversary Benefit Dance will feature the live music of Kokoro. Their extensive genre and rhythms are bound to coax everyone on the dance floor, song after song.

With ticket sales going as fast as they are, we are looking towards other enticing events that capture the interest of our community, while realizing our goal for our Nishi Buddhist Temple in 2019.

If you are unable to join us, we hope you open your heart to consider a donation. For ticket sales information, please contact Kenji Hatakeyama at (323) 719-4479.

In the words of Alex Boye, “put away your scritter, faceless and pimpsagram and have a face-to-face…” Come on out and get to know us. The garden, its stone lanterns, statues, building structures, and interiors all carry their stories and history. Keep us in mind as we rebuild Nishi Buddhist Temple to maintain its heritage and place in Little Tokyo for generations to come.

Rimban William Briones contributed to this article.

First and Vignes, future site of Nishi Hongwanji, in the mid-1960s.

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