The only information available about the beginnings of the Monterey Peninsula Buddhist Church exists in the pages of a history book compiled by one of the founding members in 1937. This record book, written in concise Japanese, states that on November 2, 1918, over fifty-five years ago, Rev. Seisho Ishiguro of the Watsonville Buddhist Church was invited to the home of Mantaro Yamate at 605 Lighthouse Avenue in New Monterey to deliver a sermon. At that time there was no church building or hall where the members of the Buddhist community could meet. It seems, however, that a need was felt for such a formal meeting place, and the records show that subsequent to that first service at the Yamate home, a house was rented at 570 Lighthouse Avenue. There a monthly service or Howakai was conducted. And thus, began the remarkable history of the Monterey Peninsula Buddhist Church.
As the number of Nisei in the Monterey area increased, so did the necessity of a more organized Buddhist Church. In 1924, a house at 301 Washington Street, closer to downtown Monterey, was secured and a minister from Japan, Rev. Reichi Kusunoki, was engaged to conduct regular services and a Japanese Language School. This arrangement lasted only a year, due to the return of Rev. Kusunoki to Japan.
In May, 1925, the Japanese Language School was moved back to New Monterey, and at the requests of parents, the monthly services were revived. The aid of Rev. Chien Numata of Watsonville was enlisted to conduct these services. On Rev. Numata’s return to Japan in October, 1927, assistance was asked of the neighboring Buddhist Church in Salinas and its minister, Rev. Hideo Shimakawa. The aid lent by Salinas began a long Dharma relationship between the two churches.
CHURCH ALTAR ACQUIRED
In 1928, at the August monthly service the ever growing Sangha decided to obtain a much needed church altar. Ikutaro Takigawa and Rev. Shimakawa were authorized to journey to Fresno where they acquired two altars, a large one for the Sangha, and a smaller one for use at the home services. On August 26, 1928, Revs. Shimakawa, Kenshi Iwao and Jinow Inouye officiated at the Nyubutsu Shiki. With the dedication of the altar, a true spiritual entity of the Monterey Sangha was established.
Through the generous donation of Mr. and Mrs. Setsuji Kodama in memory of their daughter, Rose, another altar was obtained in the Fall of 1932. This altar was in use by the Monterey Sangha until 1965 when the present church building was constructed.
Rev. Shimakawa served the Salinas and Monterey area until the Spring of 1934 when he returned to Japan. In the Summer of 1934, Rev. Yoshihiro Tokuno was assigned as the head minister of the Buddhist Church of Salinas and to administer to the needs of the Monterey Buddhists. Because of Monterey’s reliance on Rev. Tokuno, affiliation was established in 1935 to become a branch of the church in Salinas. This affiliation gave quite an impetus to the local Buddhist group and attendance at the monthly services increased tremendously, requiring the services to be moved to the more spacious Japanese Association Hall.
Mantaro Yamate, F. Yamamoto, S. Teshima, Ikutaro Takigawa and Setsuji Kodama were instrumental in the initial growth of Buddhism on the Monterey Peninsula. Joining these pioneers as active members were: Hikohichi Higuchi, Ichiro Gota, S. Kawamoto, Sekisaburo Hattori, M. Watanabe, D. Yokoyama, Koichi Tanaka, K. Hiyama, Torakichi Tabata, H. Menda and Yagoro Okumura.
Prior to July, 1936, the Sunday School services were held once a month. On the recommendation of Revs. Tokuno, weekly Sunday Services were initiated. Revs. Tokuno, Hoshin Fujikado and Bunyu Fujimura, newly arrived from Japan, took turns conducting the Monterey Sunday School Services.
With the departure of Rev. Tokuno for Japan in 1939, Rev. Fujimura became the head minister in Salinas. In 1940, Rev. Fujimura laid plans for the first Junior Young Buddhist Association. The future of the Sangha looked bright, but its promise was denied fulfillment — at least for the moment — by World War II. The war effectively put an end to Japanese community activities for its duration. The members of the Sangha were scattered to War Relocation Centers from Manzanar, Rohwer, Jerome, Poston to Gila River. Some of the more influential members of the community were interned in Bismarck, North Dakota; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Crystal City, Texas.
In 1946, the second phase of the history of Monterey Peninsula Buddhist Church began with the return of some of the evacuees. Rev. Fujimura returned to Salinas from Chicago in August, 1946. On August 18, 1946, Tajuro Watanabe, Hideo Ito and George Esaki representing the Buddhist community attended a meeting in Salinas regarding the reactivation of the Buddhist services in Monterey. As a result, the first postwar Obon service was held at the Monterey Japanese American Citizen’s League (JACL) Hall on August 25, 1946.
NEW MINISTER WELCOMED
In the Fall of 1957, Rev. Fujimura who faithfully served the Salinas and Monterey Sangha was transferred to the West Los Angeles Buddhist Church. For almost two years thereafter, Monterey was without a minister and during the interim, Sunday School and YBA services were conducted by George Esaki. Then in 1959, Rev. Shawshew Sakow was appointed to the church in Salinas and also became the minister for the local Sangha. Rev. Sakow served Monterey for nine years in this capacity. As Rev. Sakow ministered to the Sunday School and YBA every other week, George Esaki conducted the services on the other weeks.
CONSTRUCTION OF NEW CHURCH
The dream of the members had been to build a church to call their own. Funds for the building were being accumulated through the annual Obon Bazaar held at the JACL Hall. In 1958, the Church decided to incorporate and Attorney Thomas Montgomery was asked to draw up the papers. On January 21, 1959, the incorporation papers were signed by the then president, Eiji Hashimoto and secretary, Tadao Ogawa. Also at this time, the name was designated as the Monterey Peninsula Buddhist Church. The sixteen original Directors named in the incorporation document were: Eiji Hashimoto, Henry Nishi, Satoru Murakoshi, Tajuro Watanabe, Hideo Ito, George Kodama, Yoshio Tabata, Tadao Ogawa, Yoshio Satow, Harry Hatano, Isao Masuda, Archie Miyamoto, George Takigawa, Bill Yokota, Barton Yoshida and George Esaki.
In November, 1958, the Board of Directors after a lengthy search for a suitable location for the church building, finally decided to purchase a two-acre lot in Seaside. The cost of the lot was $12,000.
The purchase of the property intensified the enthusiasm to build. The following were appointed to the building committee: George Kodama, Henry Nishi, Yoshio Tabata, Hideo Ito and George Esaki. It was in 1964 during the term of President Yoshio Tabata, that the committee got the approval of the membership to build. The committee, after interviewing three well known architects, finally chose the firm of Burde and Shaw of Carmel. Groundbreaking was held in the Summer of 1964. Despite understandable doubts that the building of the Church was premature by some of the members, the building committee went ahead confident of their plans. The result is the beautiful church building that was dedicated on June 13, 1965. The cost of the building was $157,000. The year after completion, the building was selected as one of the most esthetically pleasing church buildings in the United States by a convention of church architects meeting in San Francisco. Large color photos of the Church were displayed at an architectural convention in Paris, France.
Because the annual Obon Bazaar is the major fund-raising project, and to relieve the membership from the additional burden of pledges, the building committee decided to expand the Bazaar by holding it at the Monterey County Fairgrounds. The plan was met with much opposition from the general membership. They felt the changing of location would be disastrous. However, the committee stood firm and the Obon Festival at the Fairgrounds has now become one of the special events of the year, not only in Monterey, but drawing people from nearby cities, as well.
When the building was completed, steps were taken to request a resident minister. After numerous conferences with Bishop Shinsho Hanayama, Rev. Toshio Murakami of the San Jose Betsuin was appointed as the first resident minister of the Church in February, 1968. After serving over two years, he was transferred to the Berkeley Buddhist Church. Rev. Akira Ono of the Lodi Buddhist Church was then assigned to the Church. Soon after the completion of the church building and with the mortgage on the Church decreasing at an appreciable rate, a minister’s residence and another lot adjoining the church property was purchased.
Reprinted from the BCA 75th Anniversary Book