The story of Japanese Buddhism in Hawaii

Japanese Buddhism in Hawaii may be the most unique form of Buddhism in the world. Brought over by Japanese immigrants who came to work on the sugar plantations, the pressure of politics, Americanization, and Christianity helped acculturate the religion in surprising and unique ways. In Hawaii, Japanese Buddhists built Indian style temples, filled them with Christian church pews, and sang modified hymns which praise the Buddha instead of Jesus. It was all done as part of the “American Way.”

Today, however, the religion is fading and the temples are closing. Now there is a rush to save Japanese Buddhism’s history before it is gone altogether. As we talk to the elders of the religion, we discover that Japanese Buddhism played a key role in shaping Hawaii’s religious identity, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and the establishment of Buddhism in America. There is also a movement underway to save the religion – by adding a little aloha into the practice.

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