ONTARIO(USA) -- Unique Buddhist temple an uncertain future report on 5th July 2009

A unique Buddhist temple with roots in a shadowy chapter of World War II faces an uncertain future, along with this Snake River town's once-thriving Japanese American community.

In a few Sundays, only about 60 people attend services at the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple majority were in 70s and 80s, and a half-dozen are 90 or older than that.

Rev. Joshin Dennis Fujimoto, 57, spiritual leader of the Shin Buddhist membership said that "The backbone of our people is dwindling," and "these are major concerns".

The single-story of brick temple, with stamped wooden doors and a golden altar, traces its beginning to the suspicion that fell on Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

After two months, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the infamous Executive Order 9066 ordering the West Coast's 123,000 Japanese Americans -- including 4,500 in Oregon -- to move inland. Many were forced to move very quick, pennies-on-the-dollar sales of farms, businesses and homes.

They carried out more than what they can carry, and they resettled in 10 internment camps, 18 separation areas or a scattering of "free zones" -- including Ontario and nearby Weiser, Idaho.

Across the Snake River in Idaho, "No Japanese were Allowed" signs were common, and then-Gov. Chase Clark was directly anti-Japanese.

But in Ontario, City Councilman John Gaskill, interim director of the Four Rivers Cultural Center, a museum, art gallery and performing arts theater said that "this area welcomed them to work and develop businesses and build families," where exhibits include a traditional Japanese garden and plans for a tea room this fall.

The area's Japanese American population stuffed practically overnight from 157 at the start of the war to 1,500, according to figures from the War Relocation Authority.

But today, Japanese Americans comprise about 1.5 percent of Malheur County's 31,000 residents, five times the state average, according to Charles Rynerson, an analyst for Portland State University's Center for Population Research and Census.

Cathy Ysuda, the executive director of the Treasure Valley Community College Foundation and a member of the Japanese American Citizen League's board, is among Ontario residents with relatives who were interned during the war and her grandparents were compelled to walk away from a successful Portland produce stand.

Her father, born in Portland, and her mother, born in Hood River, were teens at that time and their families were housed initially in horse stalls at fairgrounds near Portland. Her father's family was then sent to the grim Tule Lake Relocation Center in California and her mother's to the wind-blown Minidoka Relocation Center east of Twin Falls, Idaho."The situation was bad; bitterly cold in the winter and blistering hot in the summer."

Fujimoto, the temple leader, his U.S.-born father, meanwhile, spent the war years in Japan, where he'd gone to study for the Buddhist ministry. Authorities restricted his travel but didn't arrest him, Fujimoto said my parents met and married in Japan, and Fujimoto was born in Tokyo, celebrating his first birthday on a ship to America.

A temporary Buddhist temple was built west of town in 1946 and after six years, the existing temple site was dedicated by the Buddhist lord abbot of Kyoto, Japan, and construction was completed in 1957.

Fujimoto also said that "We still have members today who tell me stories of sand and bricks being carried in wheelbarrows". He was grown up near Sacramento and worked 20 years as a sculptor and artist before becoming a Buddhist minister in 2004. The temple's altar ranks beside one in Seattle as the Northwest's most ornate but the membership has declined from 240 in 1996.

Mary Ann Shimojima said that, Japanese Americans "go off to college, and then they don't come back to Ontario. While in the early period Japanese Americans farmed, later generations often went into business, education or health care, said John Breidenbach, executive director of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

Fujimoto had noted that Shin Buddhists don't proselytize "We see other religions doing that which seems to be so pushy". Plus, he said, some Japanese Americans give up Buddhism as a statement that they are American. Some marry outside the faith and still others "lose interest in the relevance of Buddhist practice in their lives."

Fujimoto said that on the bright side, about 10 percent of those who attend adult dharma services are Caucasian. He also said that, Buddhism deals with difficulty and suffering. He thinks of people as waves in a sea that is the source of all life which must be treated as something precious then.

Fujimoto finally said that "Every single moment is so important," and "Everything becomes of the highest concern."

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