Los Angeles, CA

Buddhist Temple in L.A.’s Little Tokyo Under Attack Three Times in Recent Weeks

Elle Silver

Was the vandalism a hate crime or does the temple's proximity to L.A.'s notorious Skid Row factor in?


Photo by Nandaro.

On February 26th, a suspect jumped over the security fence that surrounds Little Tokyo's landmark Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple to destroy two lanterns, set fire to two lantern stands, and then shatter a window with a rock before taking off.

The temple’s staff were on-site during the security breach, according to the Los Angeles Times. Hearing the commotion, one of the temple's priests put out the fire with an extinguisher.

The violence is now being investigated as a hate crime. Worse, this wasn't the only attack on the temple in recent weeks.

According to ABC News, on February 18th, a couple walked into the temple compound and attacked a security guard. Days later, on February 23rd, a suspect hid inside a Costco truck to gain access to the compound and then stole a cell phone from a temple gardener.

These attacks come as hate crimes against Asians are on the rise in the United States. The question remains as to whether these specific attacks can be categorized as hate crimes.

What is a hate crime?

The United States Department of Justice characterizes a hate crime as one that is "committed on the basis of the victim’s perceived or actual race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability."

Hate crimes hurt more than just the victim but terrorize an entire community of people. Unfortunately, according to Voice of America, hate crimes targeting Asian Americans are on the rise.

"There were 122 incidents of anti-Asian American hate crimes in 16 of the country’s most populous cities in 2020, an increase of almost 150% over the previous year, according to data compiled by California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism and exclusively shared with VOA."

Advocates attribute the rise in hate crimes against Asians to former U.S. President Donald Trump’s taunts of "Kung Flu" during his rallies, where he blamed China for the coronavirus outbreak.

Chris Kwok, a board member for the Asian American Bar Association of New York, told Voice of America: “I think the political leadership under Trump really put a target on the backs of people perceived to be Chinese. It's Sinophobia."

It should be noted that Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple is a Japanese temple, located in Little Tokyo, not Chinatown.


The tall buildings of L.A.'s financial district are visible from the temple compound. However, Skid Row is located right across the street. Photo by Nandaro.

What is Skid Row?

Investigators are still determining if these three incidents can be considered hate crimes. However, I would also note that the temple's proximity to L.A.’s notorious Skid Row might also have something to do with these crimes.

Skid Row is a "dumping ground" for people recently released from jail and mental hospitals. Home to many of the city's free clinics and homeless shelters, it attracts unhoused people from miles away. It's also the epicenter of L.A.'s addiction crisis.


Photo by Stephen Zeigler.

Though the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple is technically located within the downtown L.A. district of Little Tokyo, it's also situated right on the edge of Skid Row. Clean-needle dispensaries sit just across the street. Homeless people sleep on Third Street, right in front of the temple. Tents inhabited by L.A.'s unhoused line Crocker Street, perpendicular to the temple compound.

I'm not blaming the attacks on this temple on the homeless. L.A.'s homeless are not all criminals. Many people who live on the streets of Skid Row are mentally compromised and should be in hospitals. The city is doing its best to house these people in permanent shelters but it's not enough. According to the New York Post, despite $619 million in spending in 2018 to create housing for the homeless, more people than ever are living on the streets in this part of the city. The economic fall-out from the pandemic has only exacerbated this issue.

Drug addicts have a disease. They need medical support to recover from their addictions. However, because the drugs they use are illegal, Skid Row has a criminal element. This makes it dangerous. Should it come as any surprise that a temple located so close to this part of the city should come under attack by criminals?

The question is whether these attacks can be categorized as hate crimes.

The temple's proximity to Skid Row probably had something to do with the attacks.

This is still a developing story and these crimes are still under investigation. Still, it's sad that this temple has recently been subject to vandalism and the staff to assault and robbery. Though I've never been inside the sanctuary, I know the building very well from passing it often on my way to Little Tokyo from my boyfriend’s loft in the Historic Toy District of Los Angeles (Skid Row).

The temple seems to emanate a sense of tranquility with its typical Asian-style architecture. Its roof slopes on all four sides, jutting out sharply at the ends. The grounds boast an immaculate Japanese garden fit with sculpted evergreen shrubs, moss, zen stones, and limestone pagoda lanterns. It’s really a beautiful place.


Photo of the temple garden by Nandaro.

People go to meditate there. It's a shame that a few bad apples have sought to harm both those who work at this temple but also the temple property.

While I do believe the attacks on the temple may very well be hate crimes, I still think the temple's proximity to Skid Row has had something to do with these three recent incidents of vandalism and violence.

We'll know more when the investigations are finished.

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I write about dating, marriage, divorce, family, society, and the city I live in: Los Angeles.

Los Angeles, CA

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