Community support pours in to help repair vandalized Buddhist temple in L.A.’s Little Tokyo

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After a vandal trespassed and set a downtown Los Angeles Buddhist temple on fire last week, support has poured in from the community.

The head priest of the temple said the crime feels like an attack on the place of worship’s history and culture.

The incident happened around 7 p.m. Thursday. Rev. Noriaki Ito, a bishop and the head priest of the Higashi Honganji Buddist Temple in the Little Tokyo section of downtown L.A., said that security cameras aimed at the temple caught the perpetrator on tape.

Surveillance video showed a man climbed over the temple’s fence and set two wooden lantern stands on fire. He then knocked a pair of large metal lanterns off their stands, and threw a rock that shattered a floor-to-ceiling glass panel at the entrance, according to Ito.

“It’s just sadness — sadness that something like this has happened. I’m actually even concerned for the person who did it,” Ito said. “You know, what was he thinking? Is it because he doesn’t like Asians, or is it something else that triggered this?” 

The Higashi Honganji Temple was originally founded in Little Tokyo in 1904, and the current temple was built in 1976, according to Ito.

Los Angeles Police Department and L.A. Fire Department arson investigators are looking the incident. It’s unclear whether it was a hate crime, but this comes at a time when there’s been a rise in reported attacks targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate, which has been tracking hate crimes against Asian Americans since the start of the pandemic, said it tracked 245 reports of coronavirus-related discrimination against people of Asian descent in L.A. County from March through December 2020. They included verbal harassment, physical assaults or refusal of service at businesses.

Meanwhile, Ito said he’s grateful for the outpouring of community support and donations that the temple has received.

Community members and friends of the temple have set up a GoFundMe account to help with repairs following the damage and it has raised more than $50,000 as of Monday evening.

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