The 8th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
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Aloha Buddha—the secularization of ethnic Japanese-American Buddhism by Jørn Borup
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Journal of Global Buddhism 14 (2013): 23-43
Aloha Buddha—the secularization of ethnic Japanese-American Buddhism by Jørn Borup
Department of Culture and Society
R e s e a r c h A r t i c l e
The relations between religion, migration, transnationalism, pluralism, and ethnicity have gained increasing focus in religious, cultural, sociological, and anthropological studies. With its manifold transfigurations across time and location, Buddhism is an obvious case for investigating such issues. Hawaii, with its long migration history and religious pluralism, is an obvious living laboratory for studying such configurations. This article investigates Japanese American Buddhism in Hawaii, focusing on the relationship between religion and ethnicity. By analyzing contemporary religious life and the historical context of two Japanese American Zen temples in Maui, it is argued that the ethnic and cultural divide related to spirituality follow a general tendency by which the secularization of Japanese Americans’ communal Sangha Buddhism is counterbalanced by a different group’s spiritualization of Buddhism.
apanese Buddhism is present in several Western regions (Pereira and Matsuoka,
2007), characterized by a division between the two “kinds” of Buddhism. In North America “religion and ethnicity are closely related phenomena” (Tanaka, 1999: 5). Not only the Japanese new religions, but also Zen Buddhism, which in its “Western” form can also be regarded as a new religious movement (Sharf, 1995a and b), have appealed to Euro-Americans, while other traditional Japanese Buddhist traditions have been used and transformed by different immigrant waves settling in countries such as the USA (Kashima, 1977; Asai & Williams, 1999; Williams and Moriya, 2010), Brazil (Rocha, 2006; Usarski, 2008), and Canada (Harding, Hori and Soucy, 2010; Mullins, 1988). Hawaii is in many ways a particularly interesting place for observing immigrant Buddhism (Ama, 2011; Hunter, 1971; Kashima, 2008; Tanabe, 2005; Tanabe and Tanabe, forthcoming) as it constitutes both the “American West” and “Pacific East” (Williams and Moriya 2010, x). The first Japanese came to Hawaii five generations ago, establishing a migrant community whose descendants often identify themselves as Japanese Americans. Such hyphenization is common in Hawaii, where hybrid identification challenges concepts and bounded categories such as ethnicity and race. Furthermore, according to Lamb, Hawaii is “among the most religiously diverse areas in the world” (1998: 210) with one religious center for every 1,000 people (ibid.), thus, even though the reference is fifteen years old, Hawaii remains quintessentially an
example of cultural and religious pluralism.
1 This project is part of the research project Buddhism and Modernity, funded by the Danish Council for Independent Research. Part of this article has appeared in Danish in the journal Religionsvidenskabeligt Tidsskrift (2012). The title of the article is not otherwise related to the documentary film Aloha Buddha. The Story of Japanese Buddhism in Hawaii (directed by Bill Ferehawk and Dylan Robertson and produced by Lorraine Minatoishi-Palumbo).
The aim of this article is, via historical outline and investigation of contemporary religious communities, to analyze how and to what extent ethnicity plays and has played a role in Japanese Buddhism in Hawaii. The empirical data used in this article is based on fieldwork in the village of Paia on the north coast of the island of Maui.2 The place was chosen primarily because former research on contemporary Rinzai Zen Buddhism in Japan (Borup, 2008) might act as a comparative frame for investigating the only Rinzai temple related to My6shinji abroad (Rinzai Zen Mission). Furthermore, the village contains a S6t6 Zen temple (Mantokuji), a small lay Zen group (Maui Zendo), as well as a thriving spiritual market, making comparison between different kinds of (uses of) Buddhism possible. Analyses of the cases are further discussed in relation to general tendencies in immigrant Buddhism in a contemporary pluralist context in which a growing spiritual market has also adopted Buddhist elements. It is argued that ethnicity has played important and different roles in the history of Japanese-American Buddhism and that ethnic divisions in different kinds of contemporary religiosity are related to both secularization and spiritualization of Buddhism.
Japanese-American Buddhism in Paia
The first Japanese came to Hawaii as a part of the Hawaii labor program (kan’yaku imin,
1885–1894). A total of twenty-six ships brought 29,069 government contract people, followed by approximately 125,000 “free migrants” in the period from 1894 to 1908 (Ama, 2011: 32). Until 1924, approximately 220,000 Japanese arrived from Japan, most of whom would to some extent be affiliated to Buddhism. The import of “picture brides”3 helped produce descendants, and in 1920, second-generation Japanese comprised almost half of the Japanese population (Odo, 2004: 37), constituting a “Japanese village in the Pacific” (Tanabe, 2005: 82). The first phase was characterized primarily by individuals leaving Japan in search of better living standards as workers in the Hawaiian sugar plantations. Although both the Japanese and the Hawaiian governments initially intended the immigrant workers to return to Japan, almost half of them became long-term settlers, constituting a new diaspora community.
In the 1930s the majority of the 10,000 citizens of Paia on the island’s north coast were
Japanese (Duensing, 1998: ix), and schools, hospitals, markets, stores, restaurants, a
2 Fieldwork was carried out for two months (autumn 2009, summer 2010, and autumn 2011) in Paia. For comparative reasons, fieldwork was carried out for one month (summer 2010) in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. Apart from participant observation (formal rituals and social gatherings at the temples), interviews were conducted with Japanese-American Buddhists in Maui in the Hawaiian form of “talking stories”. In all, thirty-eight individuals were interviewed in and around Paia and twelve in Honolulu. Moreover, interviews were conducted with representatives of other religious groups on Maui and Oahu to gather mainly quantitative data on membership and affiliation throughout the years, while textual material like newsletters, temple records, and books from temples and libraries were used primarily to support investigations of the historical dimension of the project.
3 Often, the only way for Japanese (and Korean) plantation workers to find a spouse from their
homelands was to select one on the basis of photographs or through family recommendations.
theater, and immigrant camps gave the small town a lively touch of Japanese commerce and culture (ibid., vii). “Nearly all participated in a diversity of sports programs and attended one of several Buddhist, Shinto, Protestant and Catholic churches in the area” (Bartholomew, 1994: 109). Also two Zen Buddhist temples were established by the immigrants, later giving the Japanese mother organizations a prospect of Hawaii being a religious frontier in a general “eastward transmission of Buddhism” (Williams and Moriya, 2010: ix). In 1904, the S6t6 Zen Buddhist priest Sokyo Ueoka arrived in Honolulu from Hiroshima, having “received an assignment to become a visiting minister to
Japanese immigrants in Hawaii.”4 In 1906, “upon the request of the Japanese residents
in Maui” (ibid.), the Paia Mantokuji Soto Mission was built as a sub-temple to its Japanese mother temple.5 The first priest soon expanded the congregation, not least because he was well-known among the locals for curing the sick through prayer and for causing rain after periods of drought. In 1935, the Rinzai Zen Mission (hereafter RZM) was established with financial support from the Japanese organization in the outskirts of Paia.6 This is the only foreign mission temple of the Rinzai school and the central temple for the group of Okinawan immigrants who still constitute approximately 15 percent of the ethnic category “Japanese Americans” in Hawaii today. Children of the first immigrants vividly “talk story” of how the temples have come to function as religious and cultural community centers for those of the town’s and the island’s inhabitants who have ties to Japan and Okinawa. Such stories might be related to the Sunday school, Japanese flower arrangement and tea ceremony classes, the scout and youth groups, the sewing school, the chanting groups (goeika), or the women’s associations (fujinkai), all of which were part of the glue binding the Buddhist community together, like a “lotus in paradise” (Tanabe, 2000), until just a few decades ago.
While the 1920 sugar strike involving Japanese workers made some commentators accuse Buddhists of being a threat to American society (Tanabe, 2000: 1), the major turning point for all Japanese in Hawaii was Pearl Harbor and World War II. As it was difficult and, in the long run, impossible to place almost half of the population in internment camps, certain community leaders, school teachers, and Buddhist and Shinto priests were sent to internment camps on the mainland.7 Buddhism became the religion of the enemy (Odo, 2004: 98), and conversion to the majority religion, [[Wikipedia:Christianity|Christianity]], became even more widespread as did the custom of intermarriage with non-Japanese. Some of the core members of the two Paia temples were even forced by their parents to go to Christian churches. After the War, Paia became less and less Japanese. Workers in the sugar plantations were offered new apartments in the modern “Dream City” in neighboring Kahului. Many migrated to other islands, to Honolulu, or
the mainland to work or get an education, and in the 1970s the very existence of the village was threatened.
Then the hippies arrived, changing the outlook and the atmosphere. The old dwellers felt contempt toward the newcomers' strange behavior and counterculture ideas, but could not avoid appreciating the fact that they actually helped Paia survive. Some hippies, as several of those who remained in Maui called themselves, came to Paia for spiritual reasons and stayed to participate in what later became Buddhist groups. As early as 1959 Robert Aitken (1917–2010) started his Zen group in Honolulu, and in 1969 he moved to Maui to set up the Maui Zendo. After Aitken and his Diamond Sangha had moved back to Honolulu, the Maui Zendo remained a local subgroup with meditation sessions and occasional retreats in private homes. In 1974 a Tibetan Dharma Center was established in Paia. A permanent resident lama, visiting lamas, and a few residing lay Buddhists live in the center today. They have their own worship hall, stupa, garden, and a shop with religious paraphernalia. In the 1980s and 1990s surfers and tourists came in large numbers, once again changing the spirit of the town. Within the last decade, a rapidly growing holistic milieu has entered Paia and the neighboring Haiku area. Services and people come and go in this very fluid community, the demography of which has also changed dramatically in the last decades. According to the 2010 U.S. census, 2,668 people live in the area, 7 percent of whom define themselves as Japanese.8
Ethnified and de-ethnified Japanese Buddhism
The question of how and to what extent ethnicity should be part of religious identity—and vice versa—has constituted a challenge for the Japanese-Americans who live in Paia and on the rest of the Hawaiian Islands for the past 100 years. Some aspects have been consciously chosen or rejected, whereas others are signs of a less reflective response to social and material circumstances.
Cultural origin is clearly an important element in both of the two Zen temples. The architecture of the present main buildings is typical of the traditional or simplified Japanese style temples, which especially in the islands “up until the 1970s and 1980s […] bustled with youth groups, women’s organizations, baseball teams, scout troops, language classes, and other activities” (Tanabe and Tanabe, forthcoming: 20). Also typical for the two temples are the gardens, the temple bells, and the graveyards, the oldest of which contain Chinese characters and/or Japanese names.9 In the interior there are altars, statues, Buddha figures and bodhisattvas, offertory boxes, sutra tables, bells, wooden fish, wooden ancestor tablets, and photographs of former priests and
The most obvious characteristic of an ethnic religion from both temples is—as has been the case throughout history—the ethnicity of their visitors, users, and members. Although its users are not exclusively Japanese-American, as is the case in other non-Zen temples (where the absence of meditation makes it even more difficult to attract non-Japanese), mono-ethnicity is the norm. The two Paia temples do occasionally attract Caucasians, but by far the majority of their participants remain of Japanese origin, as are the visiting priests, monks, professors, and students from temples, monasteries, and universities in Japan. Some have grown up in the vicinity of the temples, and the presence of the large Ueoka family in Mantokuji is a visible sign of a living tradition based on a core of family heritage. How to get the younger generations involved in the Buddhist church community is an important issue being discussed in all congregations, and many have activities directly related to these matters.11 However, traditional temple activities do in fact attract a few young people who are searching for their “ancestral ties” and who see the temples as concrete manifestations of an imaginary Japan. One person even described her turn from Tibetan Buddhism to Japanese temple Buddhism as a way to “connect to my Japanese side.”12
Other members have been on religious and cultural pilgrimage tours to Japan, and the priests are sent to Japanese monasteries to learn to chant the sutras and perform the rituals in the correct Japanese manner. Both temples have been involved in fundraising activities in the wake of the tsunami/earthquake in 2011, and the minister at RZM even went to Japan for three months to do voluntary work for his country of origin. The major yearly religious and cultural festivals, such as the hanamatsuri, shichi-go-san, and obon,13 are performed just like in Japan, and also in Paia the Buddhist temples are said to “preserve a religion for Japanese family ancestry” (Tanabe, 2005: 94). In a certain sense, “the Japanese religiosity values and beliefs brought by the Issei and transferred to the later generations continue to have merit” (Kashima, 2008: 122). Especially the Okinawan culture is kept alive at the RZM. Each year during the obon summer festival, thousands of visitors welcome and honor their ancestors, and lion dances and sanshin tunes are represented and performed by the Okinawan Cultural Center, demonstrating close relations to Okinawa. “For me, there has always been a connection between
Okinawan culture and the RZM. I never thought of why I was a Buddhist,” one informant said. Another mistakenly thought that Rinzai Zen was Okinawan. Visitors from Japan, on the other hand, told me that they find the obon celebrations in Hawaii much more authentic Japanese than the ones held in Japan. The conservative preserving character displayed in highlighting or even constructing authenticity in diaspora contexts is a well-known phenomenon in cultural and religious studies (Lindholm, 2008; Roy, 2010).
However, there are equally clear signs of a de-ethnified religion. The Americanization and de-Japanization efforts were strengthened after the War, but attempts were also made early in the immigration period to merge with the local and Western culture, balancing the ethnic elements of the diaspora.14 The photographic archive of the old temples gives one a sense of this, as images of formally dressed members gradually give way to images of people in “aloha style” dress, displaying the communication codes of contemporary members, i.e., giving hugs, wearing shorts and aloha shirts are more natural than bows, kimonos, and suits. It is evident from the way in which the Japanese and Okinawan cultural associations have cut the ties with the temples, resorting to formal relations only on special occasions.15 And it is evident from the long process of Protestantization via which the adoption of a Christian culture has colored both the rituals and the organization. As has become standard in most temples, the worship hall in one of the two Zen temples with a “Hawaiian eclectic style” (Ama, 2011: 100) contains pews and a lectern. The “sermons” are given by a “minister,” the “hymns” are chanted in English, accompanied by Psalm books and an organ. Christmas and Easter have been celebrated in one of the temples for decades, all announced in the English newsletters, and the existence of large shelves of books on Buddhism (mostly written in English) in one of the temples, even though the books are seldom read, suggests a certain Protestant idea of a religious core of written materials. The traditional Japanese Buddhist temple parishioner system (danka seido) has been “congregationalized” in Hawaii with membership, boards of trustees for organizational management, and structured Sunday services. As it has been the case in other processes of modern Protestantization of Buddhism,16 the laity in one sense has thus been institutionally empowered at the expense of the clergy, who is still respected as ritual specialists and religious officials, but with less actual authority. While marveling at Hawaii as a romantic snapshot of old Japan, other Japanese visitors accuse the traditions of being too Americanized. “They look down upon us,” one of the local temple attendants said.
The only temple activities that cater to non-Japanese Americans are taiko drumming and meditation (zazen). Taiko drumming has been kept alive and revived as a cultural activity performed at obon (festival to honor the spirits of the ancestors), and at Mantokuji it is a periodical activity engaging both Japanese Americans and Euro-Americans; the latter group is not involved in any other temple activity. Western adoption of especially Zen Buddhist meditation can be considered “Protestant Zen” (Sharf, 1995a) in the way that inner, personal religious experience has been democratized beyond clerical mediation, and its participation patterns also confirm the ethnic divide. At Mantokuji most of the 180 people who have joined the meditation session at least once in the last eight years are Caucasians, and at RZM zazen has either been practiced by Euro-Americans or been managed by the (primarily Euro-American) Maui Zendo. In Paia, taiko drumming and zazen thus constitute two different forms of activities, each expressing the ethnic divisions in the “parallel congregations.” 17
Crises and decline
The different ways in which ethnicity is manifested signify the plural and, to some extent, hybrid cultural and religious reality of diaspora religiosity in Hawaii. Ethnic representations also point to general developmental tendencies of religious affiliation. If we ask those who Kashima refers to as individuals of belief, there are signs that “the persistence of a high degree of Buddhism among Japanese Americans continues today” (Kashima, 2008: 108).18 However, there is also evidence to the contrary suggesting that religion has declined in importance. Though religious demography is generally a tricky business and Buddhists are notoriously difficult to identify (Tweed, 2002; Borup forthcoming), indicators of a crisis in Japanese Buddhism seem so clear that different parameters unequivocally point to secularizing tendencies at both individual,
17 Thus, Hawaii generally reflects the division between Euro-American and Japanese-American Zen Buddhists, as 90 percent of the former participate in meditation sessions (zazenkai) (Asai and Williams, 1999: 29–30) and regard meditation as the single most important activity within the Buddhist group (Colemann 2001, 119). See also Nagasawa 2011 for the same tendencies in San Francisco. Masatsugu claims that the ethnic dividing lines were more fluid in the 1960s and
1970s (2008: 427). Ethnic dividing lines are also seen on the main island of Hawaii, Oahu, among the Vietnamese population, where the Asian-American culture of Buddhism is not compatible with Thich Nhat Hanh inspired Buddhist meditation, and where two parallel activities by two different groups take place in a Korean temple: Euro-Americans’ mindfulness meditation and ethnic Koreans’ culture religiosity. A Pew Forum survey shows that only 14 percent of Asian-American Buddhists meditate (Pew Research Center, 2012: 19). While such data could be said to be illustrative of a "degenerate" folk Buddhism, it could equally be said to express typical modern Buddhism or a Westernized "invented" tradition, with meditation being a core practice of all Buddhism. Historically, lay Buddhists have never been expected to practice meditation, which traditionally is an elite ritual conducted by monks and priests. On Japanese Zen Buddhist zazen, see Borup, 2008: 205–216.
18 Kashima, 2008, is referring to the results from the 1999–2000 Hawaii Survey, under the
direction of Professor Yasumasa Kuroda, based on interviews with 206 Japanese Americans in southern Oahu.
institutional, and societal levels. According to Tanabe, “Japanese Buddhism in Hawai’i for the last thirty years has been suffering a slow but certain death” (2005: 78).19 “The temple has no future,” one informant from the RZM commented while pointing to the ocean, which has symptomatically consumed several meters of the nearby shore.
First of all, the demographic context frames the situation in Paia and on Maui. As mentioned, there are simply fewer people of Japanese origin living in local communities.20 A lack of career possibilities has increased periodic or permanent migration to Honolulu or the mainland, and recent decades have witnessed an influx of mainlanders and foreigners. The number of out-marriages and conversions has increased, and as a part of a general tendency among Asian-Americans, fewer identify
19 Tracing such claims of crises in a historical perspective based on religious demography is of course challenging. Because membership is a doubtful indicator of religious identity and engagement, because there is a general lack of reliable data on religious affiliation in Hawaii, and because the Japanese traditions lose their affiliation to religious institutions, figures are, at best, an estimate. Tanabe writes that by 1931, 12,800 children were studying in 125 Buddhist Sunday schools throughout the islands (Tanabe 2005, 90). In 1958 Hormann, consciously aware of the “woefully inadequate” information, refers to Japanese leaders, suggesting that there are “125,000 or more” Buddhists in Hawaii, corresponding to 70 percent of the Japanese population,
62,000 of which are “active followers” (Hormann, 1958: 5). A few years later, he suggests that the figure is “above 150,000” (Hormann, 1961–1962: 62). Schmitt refers to data from 1972, listing 15.4 percent of the population (120,000) as members of Buddhist churches, compared to 24 percent (40,000) in 1905 and 12 percent (62,000) in 1954-1955 (Schmitt, 1973: 44 and 46). The State of Hawaii Data Book 2001 (http://hawaii.gov/dbedt/info/economic/databook/db2001/sec01.pdf) lists 9 percent of the population (110,000), whereas the Pew Forum in 2010 found that 6 percent (82,000) of Hawaiians are Buddhists (http://religions.pewforum.org/maps). The president of the Hawaii Association of Buddhists believes that there are approximately 100,000 Buddhists (or 8-10 percent of the population) in Hawaii, many of whom are Japanese (personal conversation), an estimate that is close to the 91,697 Buddhists reported in the U.S. Religion Census (http://www.rcms2010.org/), where “congregational adherents include all full members, their children, and others who regularly attend services. The total number of adherents reported by the religious groups listed above (561,980) included 41.3 percent of the total population in 2010” (ibid.). In 2005 Tanabe (2005: 77) suggested that there is only approximately 20,000 Buddhists in Hawaii today, compared to 50,000 in the early 1960s. In a more recent publication (Tanabe and Tanabe forthcoming), this figure seems to hold. By visiting each of the 90 Japanese-American Buddhist temples (excluding S6ka Gakkai centers) throughout the island, the authors have come up with the figure of 19,640 formal members (9,820 families). There were thus 1,846 individuals or 948 families in Maui alone. “These numbers were provided by temples themselves, though many admit that their numbers are best estimates. Temples count members by families, and we have multiplied their reported numbers by two, which ministers and lay leaders agreed was the best way to estimate the number of individuals formally belonging to temples. Obviously this is an approximation, but no one has asked each temple as we have, though we suspect that the actual number is higher” (ibid.: xiii).
20 In 1900 40,000 people were living in Maui; a hundred years later the figure was 134,000.
Nearly 14,000 of these identify themselves as Japanese, corresponding to 10 percent of the population (http://hawaii.gov/dbedt/info/economic/databook/db2004/section01.pdf).
themselves with only one ethnic or racial category.21 A decrease in mono-ethnic identity does not necessarily lead to a decrease in religious belonging or commitment. The continuation of—and, in some instances, even increased participation in—traditional Japanese cultural and religious festivals (such as the obon) is a sign of a tradition that is being kept alive or has been revived.22 A few Japanese Americans actually come to the temples as newcomers, either to explore their cultural roots or to pursue spiritual interests, but the distance between the Japanese Americans who have maintained a close connection to Japanese culture and the Japanese Americans who incorporate some kind of psychological connection to a “spiritual homeland” via a “symbolic ethnicity” (Okamura 2008, 135) has grown, from generation to generation.
Whereas some temples have experienced a dramatic decrease in the number of donating members, the decrease at the RZM and Mantokuji has only been moderate. Temple records show that, some decades ago or before the War, attendance was not always as high as one imagines. Another characteristic feature, as revealed by interviews, is that children brought up by former ministers at the two temples did not have a religious education nor experience in meditation; one of them even confessed to knowing nothing about Zen and Buddhism. Regardless of the commitment of a number of priests who work hard to keep temple religiosity active, there has been a decrease in both attendance and commitment throughout the last few decades.23 Members have
21 The number of Americans who identify themselves as “Asian and one or more other races” increased by 72.2 percent from the 1990 to the 2000 census (http://www.census.gov/population/cen2000/atlas/censr01-108.pdf). The U.S. Asian population includes at least 30 ethnic groups, and 4.2 percent of the U.S. population reported that they consider themselves Asian (http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/c2kbr01-16.pdf). According to the 2010 census, the number of Asian-Americans has increased the least in Hawaii (http://2010.census.gov/2010census/data/index.php), where 35 percent identify themselves as Asians only, 14.7 percent as Japanese only.
22 Already in the RZM Newsletter from January 1994, the discrepancy between general crises
and the success of single activities was acknowledged: “Gradually we are losing members of our temple and we feel the loneliness of this so I must stress to you to take care of yourselves day to day to live a long & active life in this coming year […] Every year Buddhism in Hawaii decreases, but our annual activities are not diminishing in numbers or importance. This shows that Buddhism is still a vital religion in Hawaii.”
23 Membership, donations, and attendance have been sporadically registered throughout the
years. At Mantokuji, there were 580 donors in 1970, in the 2000s the figure was around 200. By
2010 there were 130 paying members, which according to the priest included both active and non-active members, as the number of donors also includes people who attend a funeral, but have no other relation to the temple. Three hundred and thirty people are on the mailing list, some of whom are also non-members from the mainland. The large Ueoka family, descendants of the first temple family, still contributes significantly to the upkeep of the temple. In 2010 the RZM had 100 paying members, 10–15 of which were considered active members, periodically attending the fortnightly ceremony. Another 100 people are considered donors, some of whom are also among the 1000 people who join the large obon summer festival. A newsletter is sent to
150 people in Hawaii and another 25 in Japan. As there were 121 dues-paying members and 360 donors in 1988, the decrease has only been moderate, compared to the future prospects of the
been scattered throughout the islands and the rest of the world, and many feel obliged to remain a donor as long as graveyards are kept or older generations are alive. A longstanding member of the RZM illustrated this general attitude and tendency. He comes to the temple only to take care of his ancestors’ grave and out of loyalty to his old mother, and although he does complain about young people’s lack of adherence to tradition, he claims to have no interest in Buddhism at all. Few new members have joined in recent decades. Sunday schools, classes in Japanese, flower arrangement, tea ceremony, and youth groups are (as in most temples) long gone. Symptomatically, even a typical religious activity like meeting to chant Buddhist hymns (goeika) is dying out at the temples—concurrently with the ageing of their members. Also in a broader Hawaiian perspective the tendencies are clear, and the deserted graveyards throughout the islands are living proof of a dying tradition. A few temples have been converted into spiritual centers (‘studios’) or Tibetan Buddhist centers, both of which typically cater to only Euro-Americans. Others have had to close down, and many more are likely to do the same in the years to come, as there are too few donating members to keep the temples alive financially and too few active participants to keep them alive spiritually. Some regions also experience a lack of ministers. As a career choice it is simply too risky; some young males who are set to inherit their father’s temple are encumbered with too little symbolic capital or too many obligations, as is the case with the current priest at Mantokuji, who is going to take over his father-in-law’s temple in Japan. Some services are called off, transferred, or transformed due to these circumstances. The crematorium at Mantokuji has been abandoned and moved to a non-Buddhist crematorium in a nearby town, and the many traditional death rituals and memorial services have in both temples been either neglected or compressed into one day “all in one” ceremony, after which there are no memorial rites to keep generational ties alive. The practice of visiting the homes of temple members to conduct memorial rites (tanagyô) is either restricted to a few short visits (Mantokuji) or given up entirely (RZM). Most visits today are to older people at the home for senior citizens.
Reasons for the crises in Japanese-American Buddhism
Although “the process of secularization in Japan has a distinctive pattern of its own” (Mullins, 2012: 62), it is still plausible to characterize the decreasing significance of religion—in its different levels, phases, and with varying power—as some kind of secularization (Reader, 2012; Nelson, 2012).
Thus, a parallel development for Japanese Buddhism in Hawaii is not surprising, although different cultural and historical contexts and developments also point to alternative explanations. The reasons for the crises are manifold and complex, but can be compressed into four interrelated aspects that are related to religion and ethnicity and concretely visible in Paia and in general throughout Hawaii.
religion, whose members are in their seventies, eighties, and nineties. Talks with priests from other denominations in both Maui and Honolulu reveal a drop in membership within the last 30 years of up to 50 percent or more.
a. Decreasing relevance of ethnic religion
Ethno-religious identity and de-ethnification strategies of Japanese Americans throughout the USA are closely related to the time of War and the aftermath hereof. However, apart from this particularistic context, developments also follow more general patterns comparable to other contexts. First of all, the religious crisis is a consequence of the social development from agrarian to industrial and now post-industrial societies. Early immigrants needed a stable, symbolic presence, a spiritual homeland, a communal space for first concrete and later imagined roots to Japan. Temples were places for religious and cultural gatherings, where priests and community members together rehearsed and transmitted language, skills, and cultural behavior to the next generation. Functional differentiation, specialization, and later fragmentation of the communities with migration, out-marriage, conversion, and continued efforts of cultural assimilation made the religious institutions less important for the diaspora group. Traditional temple functions have been taken over by other domains, and education, sports, welfare, health care, and death care are no longer part of religious life. As in Canada, “evidence for a pattern of ethnic rediscovery is not to be found among third generation Japanese” (Mullins, 1988: 231). This seems to follow a general pattern: Asian-Americans constitute the section of the American population that is most likely to have no religious identity, a tendency that has increased since the
1990s (Kosmin and Keysar, 2009: 15). This is similar to the reasoning of an adherent of
one of the Paia temples: “In those days, Buddhism was more colorful. Now it has become more flat.”
b. Institutional ethnification strategies
Contrary to the developments of de-ethnification and secularization, there are also developments of ethnification strategies. As is the case with the islands, the RZM and Mantokuji temples are independent, but at the same time affiliated to their Japanese mother institutions. The latter still insist that all monks and students in training should study and train in Japan; that missionary ministers should be sent from Japan (not to convert non-Buddhists, but to serve the existing Japanese-American community); that etiquette ought to be observed in a proper Japanese way. This has led to controversies which in turn have made it obvious that conflicts of interest are grounded in cultural differences, and that Japan and Hawaii are further apart than geography may suggest.24
In general, Buddhist temples “are solidly sectarian” (Tanabe, 2005: 96) and have “locked them into a religious culture that is westernized on the surface but remains unassimilated at its core” (ibid., 78).25 Also a more unconsciously “bottom-up” culture
24 According to a survey conducted by the now vanished Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, only 3 percent of the responding members wanted things done in the “Japanese way.”
25 “No trespassing,” “keep out,” “beware of dog,” and a large fence surrounding the building in a
Honolulu-based temple with a priest who did not communicate in English was one symptomatic, albeit rather extreme example of a separation and isolation strategy. The same top-down ethnification strategy is seen among other Asian religious groups in Hawaii. After a Chinese monk in Honolulu had attempted to spiritualize and thereby internationalize Buddhism, other more conservative monks returned to the same isolationist culture religiosity, which has
prevails in the two Japanese temples. Throughout the years, the current priests have made attempts to open the temples to new adherents, and several interviews with different members revealed a generally positive attitude toward welcoming more non-Japanese into the temples. But both insiders and outsiders (potential newcomers) complained that the temple communities are more ethnically bonding than trans-ethnically bridging. As one of the core members said, “we have to be more open and global to survive.” The priest at the RZM, who promotes such initiatives, points to the overall dilemma when referring to his concern for the “culture Buddhists”: “I cannot ignore the old people.”
Although it is problematic to establish causal links between subjectivization and secularization (Heelas and Woodhead, 2005: 127), the increasing sense of individualization constitutes one important sub-factor that has clearly challenged communal religion and ethnic identity. With intensified individualization, social capital declines, and Putnam’s (2000) “bowling alone” metaphor can thus also be used to describe the developments in religious communities. Third and fourth-generation children were successfully Americanized and individualized, at the expense of their ancestors’ cultural baggage. Especially the neglect of the Japanese language and traditions has been a key factor for Japanese Americans “committing slow suicide” (Tanabe, 2005: 77). Several older people underlined this fact in the interviews I conducted, and as one informant said, “We told them to do their own thing. But did we go too far?” Individualization also means having the freedom to choose. Many chose not to maintain Japanese identity and commit to the religion of their ancestors, which is typically “manifested through the family rather than the individual” (Kashima, 2008:
128). Some converted to [[Wikipedia:Christianity|Christianity]], perhaps strategically adopting a “truly American”
religion. Others simply gave up on religion altogether, ignoring the demands of intergenerational transmission. Religious involvement takes time (“If you take responsibility, you do it for life,” as one informant said) and several respondents voiced their (and especially their children’s) reluctance to invest a part of their life in this. One informant phrased the challenge that traditional religious institutions had to face in the 1960s, referring to increasing consumerism: “when the nearby shopping center was built, Sunday became the day of shopping.” And in the words of the RZM minister, “the beach is their church.” Interviews with third and fourth-generation descendants of the Japanese immigrants clearly showed that identity construction with reference to an ethnic and religious community no longer has the same persuasive power. Non-religiosity and a hybrid sense of identity are justified by the “individualization project,” though often nostalgically mourned by older Japanese Americans who try to find a balance in keeping tradition alive in a society that honors individuality and the free market.
generally characterized organized Chinese Buddhism in Hawaii. Adaptation strategies are naturally also differentiated among the Japanese-American Buddhist temples. At the other end of the spectrum, a Shingon temple in Honolulu that has become independent of its Japanese mother organization has been successful in adapting to its surroundings and getting more (also young) committed members, primarily due to a progressive priest.
d. Buddhism at the market place
Market and rational choice theory of religion would argue that such internal factors alone cannot explain one-way secular tendencies. From a macro perspective, external factors also point to tendencies of both increase and decrease of religion, of both spiritualization and secularization. These changes and tendencies do not directly affect the Japanese-American Buddhists, but they do indicate general changes in Buddhism and in religious transformations in a late modern context.
Hawaii ideals of a harmonious “rainbow of races” and a pluralistic “rainbow of religions” have, to some extent, become a reality. On the individual level, many members from the two temples participate in religious activities across religious and institutional divides. Many are “hybrid religious,” members of both Mantokuji and local Christian churches; others adjust to the religiosity of their spouse by pragmatically attending services in both religions. But a market parameter also reveals a competitive diversity. The evangelical churches in Hawaii (one is based in neighboring Kahului) as well as the trans-ethnically oriented S6ka Gakkai (SGI)26 have been successful in gaining and engaging new members with the same kind of “all inclusive” activities and identity commitment that the traditional and ethnic churches used to resort to. This seems to suggest the plausibility of a market-oriented “strictness hypothesis,” claiming that strict and exclusivist religions, while also being inclusivist regarding ethnicity and race, are better survivors in the religious market as they are better at keeping members and attracting new adherents from other, less bounded, religious groups (Kelley, 1974; Iannaccone, 1994). On the other hand, the mono-ethnic and tradition based “culture religiosity,” where personal identity and continuity with the past is kept, “even after participation in ritual and belief has lapsed” (Demerath, 2000: 127), seems to have been on the decrease. In recent decades, traditional Christian churches with a historical connection to Japanese immigrants and later descendants in Hawaii have experienced a decrease in membership numbers.27 The same is true for Buddhist churches, whose
26 According to the SGI-USA Peace & Community Relations, there were 8,100 members in all of Hawaii in 2010 (7,780 in 2000). Most members reside in Honolulu, while Maui has 450 members. A local representative in Honolulu estimated that 60 percent hereof and of the 300 members who participate in weekend services are Japanese Americans. By combining concrete and accessible theology and practice for the modern individual with modern techniques and international/global culture, SGI sees itself as counterbalancing traditional Japanese temple Buddhism. The “strictness” of SGI has been softened somewhat throughout the years, as manifested by the change from the period of evangelism in the 1960s to the period of dialogue in the 1990s. American values like individualism, capitalism, and self-expression have been accommodated. Because the communal centers are more religiously and culturally ambitious alternatives to the traditional temples, SGI in the USA has been truly multiethnic, and in Hawaii “S6ka Gakkai, with its strategy of inclusive pluralism, may be the exception to this exclusive pattern” (Tanabe, 2005: 97).
27 Interviews with several church ministers in both Maui and the Honolulu area justify such
generalized claims of membership decreases. A survey from Honolulu of 1983 states: “What has happened is that there has been a drastic decline in the number of young Japanese Americans attracted to [[Wikipedia:Christianity|Christianity]]. But the Buddhist temples are not attracting these young people to
theological and institutional “softness” appears to be a handicap in this connection (Tamney, 2008); it may also be one of the explanations for the decrease in immigrant “Buddhism of yellow color” in Brazil (Ursaki, 2008: 39), in the USA (Bloom, 1998; Tanaka, 1999), and in Canada (Beyer, 2010a).28
Another general trend of which the long-term decrease of immigrant Buddhism can be said to be a part is what Heelas and Woodhead call the “spiritual revolution” (2005), in which traditional churches and “other-worldly” religions lose ground to individualized and “this-worldly” sacralization of the self, invoking “the sacred in the cultivation of unique subjective-life” (ibid.: 5). As such, the “holistic environment prioritizes the individual’s right of private judgment, just as epistemological individualism privileges personal choice and experience over the wisdom of traditions and gurus” (Warner,
2010: 157). Euro-American Buddhist converts, represented in Paia by the Maui Zendo and the Tibetan Dharma Center,29 are in a sense catering for a spiritually oriented group, typically Euro-Americans. Most members of both the Zen and the Tibetan groups have been part of a stable community for many years. Although the convert groups have not been affected as much as the Japanese-American Buddhist groups, they have still experienced a decline in membership, caused by general secularization tendencies. In the words of a resident of the Dharma Center, “We are in decline because Buddhism is declining.” Neither “strict” nor institution-negating enough, the Euro-American groups are still distinct from typical Japanese-American Buddhism. They have, however, in many ways become mainstream, functioning as “parallel congregations” (Numrich, 2003) within a traditional Sangha-oriented version of Buddhism.
The holistic market in Paia and the surrounding area is a typical example of the spirituality that has been available for the last 20 years. Individuals, groups, and studios come and go, offering different kinds of spiritual services and practices such as yoga, meditation, healing, tai chi, qi gong, kinesiology, tarot, reiki, herbal medicine, intuitive reading, tantra, and shamanistic journeys. The organic shop Mana Foods, catering to
their temples. Rather, most of them are becoming non-religious” (Research Committee of the
Study of Honolulu Residents, 1986: 141).
28 A Pew Forum survey shows that religion generally is of less importance to Asian-Americans than to other ethnic groups (Pew Forum, 2012: 14). This might also be the reason why 46 percent of Japanese Americans have converted to another religion (ibid.: 24) and why Buddhism is the religion that has experienced the greatest net loss (ibid.: 51).
29 The Diamond Sangha in Honolulu had 30 members in 2010 and several loosely related
“friends”, while the local Maui Zendo has around 20 members, typically attracting 10–15 people for zazen sesshin. The Tibetan Dharma Center has 30 active members, 100 related users, and a couple of everyday visitors for the morning ceremony. The Rinzai Zen Buddhist temple, Daihonzan Ch6zenji, meets the demand for traditional Japanese culture in the form of zazen, martial arts, pottery etc. and, at the same time, caters to the non-Japanese with an interest in Oriental culture and spirituality. Although the management style and personality of the present abbot seems to be the major cause of conflicts and the dissolution of the Maui group, some recent attempts to open up to a larger audience (e.g., open zazen at the Japanese Culture Center in Honolulu) may in the future give the group a less exclusivist and esoteric image.
lifestyle conscious consumers, sells Buddhist and New Age magazines and, like some of the other shops in the small town, has posters with spiritual suppliers on its front wall. The New Age magazine Maui Vision helps “selling spirituality” (Carrette and King,
2005) on the small island, whose own TV channel, Mystical Maui, helps create and uphold the image of a spiritual island. As one person explained, with a certain irony, “Every second person in Paia is a healer.” Though not necessarily referred to or consciously acknowledged as such, ideas, symbols, and practices very often have a clear Buddhist origin. Members of the Tibetan Dharma Center are involved in self-development, therapy, and alternative medicine, and New Age books, posters, and name cards announcing spiritual services are found in the center’s shop. Even the RZM has rented or lent out its main building for events including Maui Sufis, New Age gurus, and several holistic therapists. Others use Buddhist meditation (such as Vipassana and mindfulness meditation) or integrate Buddhist practices or general inspiration from Asian traditions.30 One rather typical example of this is Paia Meditation, which has existed under different names since 2008. The founder grew up with parents belonging to Tibetan Buddhism and thus had solid experience in this religious field from years of practicing. However, he had no aspiration to remain within this field. In his critique of other forms of religious Buddhism, he refers to Buddhist-inspired secular meditation as an “authentic reality trip” and “existential mindfulness related meditation.” The number of participants31 is not important for him, and he encourages the participants of his talks and courses to come only once to learn the techniques for private use.
Several Japanese-American Buddhists in Paia voiced their reservations toward this spiritual market. One person said: “this is not something we grew up with. It is typical for the hippie culture.” Another person realistically described the ethnic and cultural divide related to spirituality as follows: “this is not catering to temple members. We don’t need or use those services.” The priest in one of the Zen temples wondered why people join meditation sessions there and not here, partly providing the answer himself by referring to his lack of spiritual storytelling (“they talk about feelings and anger. I cannot do this”).
Although it does not directly affect Japanese Americans, this tendency, from an overall perspective, points to the “holy grail of the contemporary study of religion” (Heelas
30 Local examples thus suggest the diversity of spiritual groups: Since 1996 the Maui Yoga Studio has established 20 studios in Maui, which are used by 700 people every day, most of whom are visitors, typically aged 30 to 40 years. According to the owner, both teachers and users consider courses in yoga and meditation spiritual practices. Studio Maui in neighboring Haiku has, according to the owner, around 1000 users, and each day 100 people participate in one or more of the spiritual practices. Also in Haiku, the Temple of Peace, situated in a tranquil place with an eclectic worship hall, offers detoxification, a spa, and “personal growth,” quoting Deepak Chopra in saying that “all healing is spiritual.” Paia Yoga in the middle of Paia has several courses every day, nearly all teachers and students are Euro-Americans, many of whom are visitors from the mainland. A newly opened service of Personal & Spiritual Development had its first mindfulness retreat in 2011; the few (eight) attendants were all Caucasians from the mainland.
31 Small groups of 10 to 20 people join the periodical courses, and fewer join the regular
and Woodhead, 2005: 2), namely why some forms of religion seem to be decreasing, while others appear to be increasing: The Hawaiian case signifies a fundamental change in the market as the secularization of Buddhism has been counterbalanced by a different group’s spiritualization of Buddhism. Simultaneously this indicates an overall transformation of communal religiosity to late modern individualized spirituality.
The aim of this article is to investigate Japanese migrant Buddhism in its historical and contemporary context, focusing on relations between religion and ethnicity. The article shows that the “ethnic Buddhism” of the Japanese-American immigrants has important historical roots and is still characterized by strong ethnic identity formations keeping transnational diasporic relations alive. Communal temple Buddhism played an important role in the immigrants’ incorporation phase, and in many ways it still carries the symbolic authority of transmitting and representing sources of and transnational relations to the “spiritual homeland.” This is evident not least from the temple festivals, among which obon is the paramount occasion for performing, re-enacting, and re-inventing authentic culture.
However, ethno-religiosity and temple Buddhism have gradually lost their power and relevance. This is a response to general cultural developments of both external factors (World War II, discrimination) and internal factors (assimilation, demography, out-marriage, individualization). The same factors have changed the relationship between ethnicity and religion. Buddhism as an “ethno-religion” for the first generation was also de-ethnified and de-culturized by later generations, for whom acculturation was less tied up with a mono-ethnic identity. In other words, religion had an important function during the adaptation process, but seems to have outlived its role in a broader historical perspective. Thus, on the one hand, too weak a relationship between religion and ethnicity has caused a decline in the religious and cultural relevance of temple Buddhism for the immigrant community. On the other hand, it seems that too strong a relation between religion and ethnicity has had the effect of bonding together rather than bridging to new plausibility structures, thus undermining the potential for true integration and cross-ethnic pluralism. Seen in isolation and through all parameters of secularization, it is fair to characterize Japanese-American Buddhism in Paia, Maui, and Hawaii in the past decades as having been highly affected by general secularization, not least due to the relations between religion and ethnicity.
In Paia and in Hawaii in general, Japanese (Zen) Buddhism (and generally all forms of Buddhism) is still very much divided, not along sectarian, but ethnic lines. Although it has existed for five generations, there is still an evident split between immigrant Buddhists and Euro-American (Zen) Buddhists. The general spiritualization of Buddhism in the West could imply a tendency, including in multi-religious Paia, to transgress ethnic and cultural boundaries; the looser, individual-oriented, and Buddhism-inspired spiritual milieu, however, also underlines the importance of ethnicity as an empirical fact. As such, mono-ethnicity has followed two different developments, visible in contemporary culture: the secularization of
Japanese-American immigrant Sangha Buddhism and the increase in individualized, spiritualized, and fragmented uses of Buddhism in the holistic milieu. Although Hawaii is in many ways a special case, the concrete context of a contemporary village in the island of Maui may nevertheless reflect general tendencies—relevant not least within Buddhist studies and future research in a comparative perspective.
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