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Enmanji History

The Enmanji Buddhist Temple has an unusual beginning in that the Buddhist Sunday School and the affiliated Japanese Language School had their beginning in 1926, before the establishment of the temple itself.


The official beginning of the temple is said to have been in the spring of 1928 when a minister from the then Buddhist Mission of North America (the forerunner of the current Buddhist Churches of America) was sent to the Sonoma County Branch of the San Francisco Buddhist Church to begin missionary work. The Japanese residents of the Sonoma County area held a meeting on April 3, 1932 to discuss plans for establishing a Sonoma County Branch Temple and plans were finalized at that time. In June of that same year, Rev. Shodo Goto was welcomed as the first minister of the temple.


From 1932 the local Buddhist members discussed with then Bishop Kenju Masuyama the matter of purchasing a building for the temple and a house for the minister. After purchasing a building located on Petaluma Avenue in Sebastopol, a general meeting was held to organize a governing body for the temple. This led to the establishment of the Young Men's Buddhist Association (YMBA) and the Young Women's Buddhist Association (YWBA).


In July of 1933, the Temple was presented by the Hompa Hongwanji of Kyoto, with an image of Amida Buddha for the central shrine. A special service was held to commemorate the event.

Building History

The unique building now used as the main worship hall was originally built by the Manchurian Railroad Company and used as part of their exhibit hall at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933. After the close of the Fair the building was donated to the Buddhist Mission of North America and through the efforts of Bishop Masuyama was subsequently offered to the members of the Sonoma County Buddhist Temple. The members were able to receive the building provided they could finance the cost of transporting by rail the dismantled building to Sebastopol. A committee headed by Mr. Tomotaro Kobuke was selected to undertake the endeavor.


On January 26, 1934 groundbreaking ceremonies were held to reassemble and reconstruct the building on its present site. Constructed without the use of nails, the project required the skills of several local craftsmen. Finally, on April 15, 1934, dedication services were held for the finished building.


The style of the building is important in that it faithfully represents a 12th century Kamakura-style Japanese temple. The roof structure, in particular, is representative of Buddhist temples from that era. The interior decor and bright colorful Chinese motif paintings were remodeled to adapt to the Buddhist shrine which is presently situated at one end of the building. The entire building seats approximately 150 people.

The Enmanji Name

Unlike most BCA temples, the Enmanji Temple was granted special recognition from the Mother temple in Japan, by receiving the name and designation of ji, or temple. 

This word en, in Japanese means 'garden;' 

man means 'fulfillment' or 'perfection;'

and as mentioned before ji means 'temple.' 

Literally the name translates to mean 'Garden Fulfillment Temple.' At that time, Enmanji was the only temple in North America permitted to use the title of ji in its name.


Another way of pronouncing the characters of En-man-ji is Sono-ma-tera. This may explain why these particular characters were chosen for the name of this temple

Onaijin and Restoration

Enmanji Onaijin (altar)

The history of the Onaijin is part of the history of Enmanji.  Unfortunately, there are no documents or records about the Onaijin.  People who may have been knowledgeable with its history have passed away.


According to a picture post card of Enmanji, it is written “This (Enmanji pictured) was originally built by the (South) Manchurian Railroad Company to be exhibited as the Manchurian Building at the Chicago World Fair in 1932.  When this building was brought here and rebuilt as the Buddhist Church, Chief Abbot Ohtani of Japan granted it the title Temple. “ Bishop Matsuyama (of what is now called BCA) who was instrumental in procuring the structure gave the name Enmanji.


On April 15, 1934 Enmanji had its dedication ceremony.  Wakabayashi Butsugu Company (Wakabayashi) in Kyoto made the Onaijin prior to 1934.  The staff of Wakabayashi discovered the name of the company on the Gokuden (altar) in Japanese when they came to dismantle the Onaijin on February 26, 2018.   In addition, there were names of devoted Enmanji members who donated monies for the altar items, which were written on them.  


In August 2015 the staff of Wakabayashi came to Enmanji to examine its Onaijin.  Several board members were present to listen and learn about the restoration of the Onaijin and its cost.  The board took no action on restoring the Onaijin. 


In 2017 at a board meeting there was a discussion on refurbishing the stand for the large incense burner, which everyone uses to burn incense.  Subsequent discussion ensued to consider the Onaijin as a result of previous considerations.  The staff of Wakabayashi returned to go over the Onaijin and each altar item previously recommended with board members present and with photographs in hand of each altar item.  Even though the cost is very expensive, the board decided that this is a time to have the Onaijin restored due to the declining number of craftsmen with skilled techniques and talents in restoring temple Onaijin and for consideration to temple members.


After the Onaijin was dismantled and shipped to Kyoto on February 27, 2018 where it will be restored, refurbished, and renewed by skilled craftsmen at Wakabayashi, it will be returned to Enmanji by the end of the year and rededicated.  The Onaijin is the most important aspect of Enmanji.


Onaijin Refurbishment

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Front Table
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Applying Japanese lacquer
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Applying Japanese lacquer
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Applying gold foil
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Lantern Characters closeup

Excerpts from Prajna Senshin (3/11/2018) by Rev. Ryuta Furumoto, Supervising Minister of Enmanji (202-13) with permission granted - written by Darryl Yagi


The Onaijin is the altar area or the inner area of the Hondo.  The Sangha members are respectful because they respect Buddha and Dharma.  Onaijin of the temple symbolically expresses the Buddha and Dharma.  The Shrine and the ornaments were designed in accordance with the description of the Pure Land and Amida Buddha in the sutras.  In Jodo Shinshu temples, the Onaijin has been respected as if it is the realm of the Buddha.  The Onaijin can also show the devotion of the Sangha members and “how deep the people appreciate the teaching.”


It is often said that, “The Onaijin nurtures the practitioners’ hearts and minds.”  If the Onaijin is clean and shiny, people sense the importance of the Buddha and Dharma and they will respect the Buddha and Dharma.  And vice versa, if people deeply respect the Buddha and Dharma, they want the Onaijin to be clean and shiny. The brightness and the solemnness of the Onaijin reflect the energy of the Sangha members and vice versa.  Therefore, the Onaijin is the most important part of the temple.


In response to the cost of the refurbishment, the article explains that the refurbishment is done in Japan, the materials are particular, and skilled craftsmen do the artworks.  There are fewer and fewer craftsmen of altar items.  The Obutsudan store’s staff member said, “The craftsmen are getting old and there is no one to take over their jobs.  When they are gone, their techniques and skills will be gone.”  He added, “That’s why now is the time to refurbish.”  So, although it is expensive, it is worth the cost and now is a good time to refurbish our Onaijin altar that we inherited from our pioneers.  This last sentence expressed the voice of the majority of the board members at Enmanji.  Enmanji’s Onaijin is being refurbished in Kyoto and by the same Wakabayashi Butsugu Company that made the Onaijin about 85 years ago.


The early pioneers and leaders of Enmanji made great sacrifices to pay for the purchase of the altar items for their generation and for future generations.  On some of the altar items are inscribed the names of those devoted members who donated for the purchase of the altar items.  Many other members made generous contributions while others made contributions as expression of gratitude.  The Onaijin is expensive to have it refurbished.  If Sangha members wish to contribute to the restoration of the Onaijin, please make your donation to Enmanji ‘s Eitaikyo Fund (Onaijin) to express gratitude to our early pioneers who enable us to hear and receive the Nembutsu teachings.  Namo Amida Butsu.

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Table Characters
Fully restored Onaijin - first Sunday service in Dec, 2018    (click to enlarge)
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