HONNEYVILLE – There is an unremarkable building on the west side of I-15 at Honeyville. There is no sign or indication of how the building is used, except for once a month when a congregation of some 35 members of the Buddhist religion meet. The unmarked building is a Buddhist Temple.
Richie Aoki is of Japanese decent and lifetime member of the Buddhist congregation at the Honeyville Temple. In fact, he is the treasurer of the congregation. He is protective of the inside of the building, it has been vandalized many times.
He said the Japanese in Box Elder County, for the most part, came to the United States by way of San Francisco. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Japanese were given permission to immigrate to the U.S. The youngest child was sent to America to forge their way in America. The first stop was Hawaii, then most went on to California.
Hiss Grandpa came to the U.S. in 1904; they lived in San Francisco. In 1906 a 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked the City by the Bay. The earthquake destroyed 500 city blocks and 25,000 buildings, leaving half of the city homeless.
That earthquake is what caused many of the Japanese to go west to find work.
“They packed up, left San Francisco and were going to Wyoming to work in the mines,” he said. “Before they got there, the mines had closed. There was no work, so they settled in the Bear River Valley.”
Aoki said they found the ground fertile, so they began to farm. They farmed in Japan, so they knew what they were doing.
Aoki is a third generation farmer and his operation was named a Centennial Farm in 2010.
The Japanese immigrants brought their Buddhist religion with them. The first Buddhist site was a shanty in Honeyville that is no longer there.
“In 1931, we purchased the old U and I Sugar administration building and turned it into a temple,” Aoki said. “They added the newer section in 1964.”
He said after WWII, the top floor of the building was used as a place for Japanese Americans to stay after they were released from internment in camps. They lived there until they could find a place to live.
Today, there are about 35 members of the congregation; most of them are over 80, some are under 60 and there are a few kids that come with their parents.
The Buddhist congregation had more activities in the 70’s and 80’s.
“There were a lot of different women’s associations where they tied quilts then donated them to women centers and children hospitals,” Aoki said. “They still meet in different places on Monday evening to quilt, play bunko and do Bunka (Japanese needle craft).”
“A lot of the kids of the early immigrants ended up joining the (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints),” he said. “With so few members, our Buddhist master covers temples from Salt Lake City to Spokane, Washington.
“We get along well with our LDS neighbors; they call me all the time and invite us to their different activities,” he said. “I went to their Primary until I was 12 years-old.”
When the congregation was larger, the Buddhist congregation met once a week. Today, they meet once a month on Saturday, so their Master can take care of the larger congregations on Sundays.
“There are three Buddhist families in Honeyville, and all of the members are farmers,” Aoki said. “Our numbers are going down. We will run it as long as we can.”
As the congregation decreases, they may have to close the temple and go to Ogden for services, he said. But, no one wants to do it.
“If you are looking for a new place to worship, we only meet once a month and you may get a 10 percent raise in income,” he quipped. “Our next service is Oct. 19 at 11:00 a.m. Everyone is welcome.”