Above and below: Scores attended the celebration for San Fernando Valley Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, held April 16 after a two-year delay. (Photos courtesy of Toyo Miyatake Studio)

By JOHN MULLINS

On April 16, San Fernando Valley Hongwanji Buddhist Temple (SFVHBT) celebrated its 100th anniversary. Originally scheduled for October 2021, pandemic conditions delayed the event as well as the retirement luncheon for Rev. Patricia Usuki, who completed her 16 years of service as resident minister in 2020.

Both occasions were combined into a joyful gathering of 200 members, guests, and ministers from throughout Southern California and Nevada.

SFVHBT is a Jodo Shinshu temple affiliated with Nishi Hongwanji, the largest school of Buddhism in Japan. In the 1920s, the first generation of San Fernando Valley’s Japanese settlers came together to observe the Buddhist teachings through small gatherings. Two decades later, Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes and placed into incarceration camps during World War II.

Persevering through this difficult period, these families and following generations built and expanded the temple as an expression of gratitude for the Buddhist teachings.  

On the morning of the 100th anniversary special service, the temple facilities were shining with recent renovations from its 100th Anniversary Capital Campaign. With in-person services only recently resuming, this was the first opportunity for many attendees to see the results of a three-year fundraising effort.

In his Dharma message, Bishop Marvin Harada reflected on how society has changed over the past 100 years. He noted that although we still face social conflicts and suffering due to our greed, anger, and ignorance, the temple can continue to be a special place for generations to come together and listen to the teachings. 

Temple President Eric Reardon and Service Chairperson Roger Itaya each movingly expressed their appreciation for the temple and Rev. Usuki, with Reardon saying, “The Dharma brought us into the temple. Rev. Patti is why we stayed.”

Rev. Patricia Usuki

Itaya noted that Rev. Usuki inspired his parents to be not simply “members” but active and dedicated students of Buddhism, and they in turn inspired Itaya to return to the temple after a long absence.

Following service, a festive luncheon was held at the Odyssey Restaurant in Granada Hills. Emcee Aaron Sanwo shared commendations from Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Congressman Tony Cardenas, and Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez. 

During the opening toast, Neil Higashida remembered that in his childhood, all services were held in a single hall that would be subdivided with curtains for Dharma School, while the Fujinkai (now Buddhist Women’s Association) crowded into a tiny kitchen and lovingly prepared meals for everyone.

Kimiaki Chiba appreciated how much he has learned from the temple’s youth as an organization advisor, enthusiastically endorsing their potential to be future leaders. 

The highlight of the program was the 100th anniversary documentary video. Filmed over a period of two years, the 25-minute video was a heartfelt retrospective, featuring rare historical photos and interviews with temple elders, some of whom have since passed away. Produced by Jason Fenton and Jean-Paul deGuzman, the video offered a glowing appreciation of the temple pioneers’ spirit, the cheerful reputation of its present members, and a promising future of walking the Buddhist path together. 

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