LaRue: Buddhist temple centennial occasion for fond family memories

Staff WriterMay 3, 2014 

As members of the Tacoma Buddhist Temple celebrate the church centennial, Kosho Yukawa and his family are part of its history.

“When the church was first established, in 1915, there were about 40 members,” Yukawa said. “They rented a little space in a hotel at 15th and Market Street and met there.”

By 1929, membership had grown to more than 400 families, in part because of a young pastor who arrived a year earlier.

The new leader had, according to the written temple history, “a dynamic personality, excellent judo skills, and possessed a charisma new to the area.”

His name was Jokatsu Yukawa. He was Kosho Yukawa’s father.

“This temple was built during my father’s time here, and in 1929 — during the Depression — members raised $40,000 to make it happen,” Yukawa said. “I was born in Tacoma, but I remember nothing of it then. My father was transferred to Los Angeles when I was a few months old.”

The Tacoma Buddhist Temple, constructed at 17th Street and Fawcett Avenue, followed the Jodo Shinshu Nishi Hongwanji tradition of Buddhism, and became part of the community.

Pastors came and went over the decades, each assigned by the Buddhist Churches of America. When the temple was sent its new leader in 1986, the name was familiar:

Kosho Yakawa.

“There were a few older ladies, and some men, who remembered my father,” Yakawa said. “He’d created quite a legacy, and they loved to tell me about all he’d done. It’s unusual for a son to follow his father as a pastor with the same temple.

“I’d come here from Sacramento, one of the largest Buddhist temples on the West Coast, and Tacoma was only about 150 families. They were very open, and I got to know them all intimately. That wasn’t possible in large temples.”

The younger Yakawa spent a decade in Tacoma, performing marriages and funerals, visiting sick members in the middle of the night, holding services on weekends and classes on weekdays.

“I did visitations, consultations, birthdays and anniversaries,” said Yakawa, now 81 and retired. “I trained teachers, worked with the Young Buddhist Association and the board of directors.

“Once in a while, I was even invited to play golf.”

His wife, Michiko, and their three children learned vacations could be canceled at a moment’s notice and that Yakawa was never available on weekends. They all adjusted.

“I loved my time here, and we all became part of a much larger family,” Yukawa said.

That might describe the temple, as well.

Dedicated over three days of celebration ending March 2, 1932, the Tacoma Buddhist Temple has always been more to its community than a church. It has hosted dinners and basketball games, funerals and classes that taught the tenets of Buddhism to young and old.

World War II interrupted all that.

After the outbreak of the war, temple pastor Gikan Nishinaga was sent to the internment camp in Missoula, Montana, along with 32 other prominent Japanese leaders from Tacoma.

The church closed its doors in May 1942

“When our members were told to evacuate their homes, they were allowed to keep only what they could carry,” Yukawa said. “The temple allowed families to store their things as they left.

“When the war ended, people returned to find their homes gone, their jobs gone. The temple — and Christian churches nearby — helped house them until they could support themselves.

“A third of our families did not come back after the war, and membership dwindled.”

Still, when Yukawa retired in 2003, he and Michiko returned to live in Tacoma, near their three grown children. When the temple pastor was called away unexpectedly, Yukawa spent 21/2 years as the temporary pastor.

On Sunday, the temple will hold a special centennial service at 10 a.m. featuring seven former pastors, including Yukawa, and the church’s current leader, Rev. Kojo Kakihara.

“It will be emotional for me, especially because of my father’s history with the temple,” Yukawa said. “There are a lot of photographs in the temple hallways of my father — and a few of me.”

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638 larry.larue@ thenewstribune.com

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