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In WWII, Japanese People’ religion got here underneath suspicion and helped them survive their incarceration

LOS ANGELES (RNS) — They had been a small, largely ignored inhabitants of first- and second-generation American immigrants till the US was attacked, seemingly out of nowhere, by individuals from the nation a lot of them had left behind.

Instantly they and anybody who appeared like they did had been seen as a menace to nationwide safety. Their faith was referred to as into query. And eventually, in 1942, about 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry from California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona had been despatched to “internment” camps at some stage in World Struggle II. 

The expertise of Japanese People after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the US’ entry into World Struggle II remembers the aftermath of 2001, when anti-Muslim sentiment adopted the World Commerce Heart assaults. 

“Buddhist monks had been handled the way in which Muslim imams had been after 9/11 and Buddhist temples had been handled like mosques. They had been seen as locations to incite violence and extremism,” stated Emily Anderson, undertaking curator on the Japanese American Nationwide Museum in Los Angeles, the place a brand new exhibition, “Sutra and Bible,” traces the half faith performed within the lives of U.S. Japanese immigrants and their U.S. born kids, their incarceration and of their lives that adopted.

“It wasn’t simply race, however it was a conflation of race and faith that made these individuals appear un-American, or maybe even anti-American,” stated Duncan Ryūken Williams, director of the USC Shinto Ito Heart for Japanese Religions and Tradition.

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Williams, a Soto Zen Buddhist priest who co-curated “Sutra and Bible” with Anderson, stated faith is vital to understanding what led to the incarceration of Japanese People, in addition to how they survived it.

Finish pages of the primary Kitaji Bible, accomplished by Captain Masuo Kitaji at Poston focus camp, 1944, on show on the Japanese American Nationwide Museum’s “Sutra and Bible” exhibition. Courtesy of Kitaji Household/Hoover Establishment Library & Archives

Even earlier than the struggle started within the Pacific, Buddhist temples had been underneath surveillance by American authorities. In accordance with Williams, Buddhist monks had been among the many first individuals arrested by the FBI quickly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. When the Japanese American neighborhood wanted their religion leaders most,  they had been all of a sudden gone. 

“That factor that made them problematic within the eyes of the federal government was the very factor that they drew on to maintain themselves on this second of dislocation, in a second of loss,” stated Williams.

After they had been compelled into the camps, the consolation of their religion was typically taken away once more. Camp directors, the exhibit reveals, “typically favored Christianity, barely tolerated Buddhism, and banned Shinto rituals and worship solely.”

A couple of quarter claimed affiliation with numerous Christian denominations, however even they “weren’t immune from the indignities of camp life,” the exhibition’s curators word. One Bible is stamped with the phrase ‘EXAMINED,’ certifying that it had been inspected for subversive materials.

Homilies collected by sympathetic non-Japanese Christians and printed by the American Associates Service Committee underneath the title “The Sunday Earlier than” seize Christian pastors’ phrases written earlier than the approaching incarcerations. In a single sermon, the Rev. Lester Suzuki mourned with congregants on the Los Angeles Japanese Methodist Church: “You paid for the pews, the altar, and also you contributed to the constructing of it. However now you have to vacate it, not understanding whether or not it is possible for you to to make use of it once more.”

Additionally on show are the Kitaji Bibles, named after Salvation Military Capt. Masuo Kitaji, who, through the camps, annotated the Bible in English and Japanese. For Kitaji, in keeping with the exhibition, translating and commenting on the Bible was a option to ship the gospel to new converts, in addition to a “technique of enhancing the glory of God.”

Heart Mountain sutra stones. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Leslie and Nora Bovee, 94.158.1.

Coronary heart Mountain sutra stones on show on the Japanese American Nationwide Museum’s “Sutra and Bible” exhibition. Japanese American Nationwide Museum, Reward of Leslie and Nora Bovee, 94.158.1.

The exhibition additionally consists of stones inscribed with Buddhist Scripture that had been unearthed from the Coronary heart Mountain focus camp cemetery in Wyoming. Generally known as the Sutra Stones, students have linked the textual content to the Lotus Sutra and theorize that Nichiren Buddhist priest Nichikan Murakita, a grasp calligrapher, could have been answerable for writing and burying the stones whereas incarcerated.

RELATED: ‘We’ve been here all along’: Author pushes back against erasure of young Asian American Buddhists

Most poignantly, “Sutra and Bible” captures how faith offered a way of belonging amongst Japanese immigrants, a lot of whom had arrived in Hawaii and the continental U.S. within the late nineteenth century. The museum has gathered photos of congregations posing for images in entrance of their temples and church buildings.

That belonging translated to sacrifice for his or her nation. Japanese People had been permitted to volunteer for the U.S. Military and served in a segregated unit commanded by white officers.

Their faith accompanied Japanese American troopers to the battlefield. Displayed are Buddhist prayer beads a soldier obtained from his mom and a canine tag handmade by a Buddhist soldier, who, in it, etched the phrases, “I AM A BUDDHIST”; on the time, canine tags acknowledged a soldier’s religion, however the one choices had been “P” for Protestant, “C” for Catholic, “H” for Hebrew or Jewish and “clean” for no affiliation. 

Memorial tablets honoring soldiers from Hawai'i who were killed in action during World War II, on display JANM's Bible & Sutra exhibition. Photo by Brian H. Suda

Memorial tablets honoring troopers from Hawai’i who had been killed in motion throughout World Struggle II, on show on the Japanese American Nationwide Museum’s “Bible and Sutra” exhibition. On mortgage from Liliha Shingon Mission, IL.1.2021

Some non secular organizations and people stood up for Japanese People earlier than, throughout and after incarceration. Pamphlets advocating for Japanese People seem within the museum’s show, together with a Quaker brochure promoting housing for Japanese People at church and temple hostels after incarceration.

However Buddhists and Christians alike, Anderson stated, confronted contradictions. Buddhists skilled persecution for his or her religion and confronted accusations of being un-American “despite the fact that they’re supposedly in a rustic the place all faiths must be embraced.”

For the Christians, she stated, “there was a way of betrayal, as a result of they believed in America as each a good and Christian nation.”

Christians could have obtained “barely higher therapy,” Anderson added, “however it didn’t change the truth that they had been additionally all incarcerated. It didn’t matter that you just worshipped in the identical church buildings and believed the identical issues. You had been Japanese and, subsequently, your religion wouldn’t defend you.”

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