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[graphic text] Portland Buddhist Church

[Photo] Portland Buddhist Church
Photo from National Register collection, by Amy McFeeters-Krone
The Portland Buddhist Church stands as an important reminder of the thriving Japanese community once located in Northwest Portland--it was the first Buddhist church founded in Oregon. This modest building served as a religious, social, and community center for many years, offering not only a religious refuge but also a temporary home to many recent Japanese immigrants, as well as those who were displaced by war and disaster. Buddhism, which originated in northern India with the teachings of Siddharta Gautama (563-483 BC), and arrived in Japan via China during the 6th-7th centuries AD. Buddhism in Japan became a multi-dimensional religion, which has 56 primary, formal divisions and more than 170 subdivisions, representing a wide range of philosophical ideas. Early Japanese immigrants to the United States were primarily from areas that were strongholds of the Jodo Shinshu (Pure Land School) sect. That combined with the fact that this sect sent the first priests from Japan to attend the needs of immigrants gave them the first foothold for the Buddhist church in America. Buddhist institutions were formed to create a familiar religious refuge for the Japanese immigrants, who faced anti-Japanese agitation outside their own community. The first Japanese in Oregon were three shipwrecked seamen who washed ashore near Cape Flattery in 1834, and the first permanent Japanese resident of the State was a Japanese girl brought to Portland by a sea captain in 1880. There was no significant immigration until the turn of the 20th century, and it was modest--more than half of the approximately 2600 Japanese immigrants in Oregon lived in Portland, in a segregated district in the northwest part of the city called Japantown, or Nihonmachi. Despite the relatively small community, Portland supplied Japanese workers for railroads, lumber companies, canneries, and farms throughout Oregon and even Idaho, Wyoming and Alaska. In the early years, most of the residents of Nihonmachi were young men, but as they settled and became farmers or small businessmen, they sent for "picture brides" from Japan, who arrived and wed the men, starting families.

[photo] Portland Buddhist Church
Photo from National Register collection, by Amy McFeeters-Krone

On August 10, 1903, Portland's Japanese settlers invited Reverend Gendo Nakai of Seattle to give a sermon in town, which inspired the organization of a Buddhist congregation for Portland. The first Portland Buddhist Church was a rented building at 18 First Avenue, but by 1910 the congregation purchased an old house on Tenth Avenue, razed and built their church. The church quickly became a center for both political and spiritual gatherings--activities in the early years included Fujinkai (women's group) and the Young Men's and Young Women's Buddhist Associations, which enjoyed socials, sports, and handcrafts. The church contained a sanctuary on the first floor with a dais to the rear, a hostel for students and laborers on the second floor, which was originally divided into separate rooms with a common kitchen, and the minister's residence on the third floor. The basement had a social hall and a small kitchen. Joe Maskai Kinoshita, a student in the early 1900s who lived at the temple, recalled that the second and third floors could each accommodate 20 people.

On July 8, 1915 the Reverend Wakabayashi died. His successor, Reverend Keijo Fujii, continued collecting donations to pay off the church building. On June 14, 1940, because it was the only Buddhist church in the State, the Portland Buddhist Church was officially renamed the Oregon Buddhist Church. In May 1942, the church was forced to close as Japanese Americans in States bordering the Pacific Ocean were evacuated to relocation centers by the U.S. government during World War II. A Portland attorney, Neal Crouse, was asked to take care of the church, which reopened after the end of World War II. In 1965, a new church building was constructed on SE 34th Avenue and the old church building was sold. It has been used since as offices for a variety of businesses. The Portland Buddhist Church was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on January 21, 2004.

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