LA police probe fire, vandalism at Japanese Buddhist temple

This photo shows the front entrance of the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple that was vandalized in Los Angeles Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. Authorities are investigating the vandalism and fire at the Buddhist temple in the Little Tokyo section of downtown Los Angeles. The incident Thursday night occurred as hate crimes against Asian Americans are increasing nationwide. However, police said it was too early to label Thursday night’s vandalism at the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple a hate crime. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

LOS ANGELES  — Authorities are investigating a vandalism and fire at a Buddhist temple in the Little Tokyo section of downtown Los Angeles.

Surveillance video caught a man jumping the security fences at the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple on the night of Feb. 25, smashing a 12-foot-high glass window with a rock, yanking a pair of metallic lanterns off their concrete bases and lighting two wooden lantern stands on fire, the temple’s head priest told the Los Angeles Times.

“Your first feelings are those of disappointment and sadness to see what happened,” said the Rev. Noriaki Ito. “I don’t know the motives, but it looks like we were targeted. The only relief I find is that no one was hurt.”

The incident comes amid a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans. The advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate said it tracked 245 reports of coronavirus-related discrimination against people of Asian descent in Los Angeles County from March through December last year. They included verbal harassment, physical assaults or refusal of service at businesses.

Los Angeles Police Department Capt. Stacy Spell said it was too early to label the Feb. 25 vandalism a hate crime because the investigation is in the early stages.

Ito said the vandalism is part of a troubling pattern of security breaches at the 1 1/2-acre sanctuary during the last two weeks.

They said that on Feb. 18, a couple trespassed onto the property and, when told to leave by a security guard, assaulted the man, who has since quit.

On Feb. 23, another unidentified person snuck onto the property as a truck was making a delivery and stole an unattended iPhone from a temple gardener.

“This is going to lead to changes where we’re going to have 24-hour security, at least during the weekdays,” said Ito, who has been with the temple since its founding. “We’ve been here 45 years and this has never happened.”



Fundraising campaign

Editor’s Note: Nikkei Progressives, an organization based in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo, has launched an online fundraiser to benefit the Higashi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, which was vandalized Feb. 25. As of March 3, people had donated more than $70,000, exceeding the initial goal of $30,000, “to cover the costs of repair, as well as contribute to ongoing and future security needs of the temple.” For more information, visit


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