Our history


Guadalupe Buddhist Church History

(Taken from the Centennial Anniversary booklet)

The first Japanese to settle in the Santa Maria Valley did so in Betteravia, the site of a Union Sugar refinery near Guadalupe, to work in the sugar beet fields around 1899.  By 1909, the population of Japanese had increased to 500.  “Kyogikai” was an association organized for the benefit of these local Japanese.

At one of their meetings, chaired by Ginnosuke Mori, it was realized that no religious organization existed for the Japanese community.  Therefore, it was decided to write to both the Christian and Buddhist Churches and invite them to establish a home in the area.  It was decided that whichever religious group answered first would determine the religious affiliation of the Kyogikai.

A reply from the resident minister of Rafu Bukkyokai (the Los Angeles Buddhist Church), Rev. Junjo Izumida, arrived one day before the reply from the Christian group.  This fateful response, along with the unanimous consent of the Kyogikai, determined that it would be Buddhism that would prevail as the religious organization of the Guadalupe-Santa Maria area Japanese.

The San Francisco Headquarters officially appointed Rev. Izumida to the Guadalupe congregation in January 1909.  A small residence was rented to hold services, with a scroll of Amida Buddha as the center of worship.  Rev. Gyodo Haguri arrived in Guadalupe as the second resident minister in March 1909, and he remained until November 1911.  In addition to his duties at the Guadalupe Buddhist Church, Rev. Haguri acted as the Executive Director of the Kyogikai, and covered the Central Coast region as far north as San Luis Obispo and Templeton for Buddhist services.  According to “Hokubei Kaikyo Enkakushu” (published in 1936), the Guadalupe Buddhist Church was considered to be in the same category as the Sacramento and Fresno Buddhist Churches as far as the membership population was concerned.  Within the Southern District of Buddhist Churches, the Guadalupe Buddhist Church held the largest membership at this time.

In the Autumn of 1914, the first site of the Guadalupe Buddhist Church was completed at 209 Main Street (now renamed Guadalupe Street), Guadalupe, during the residency of Rev. Kaho Tatsuguchi.  Further changes to the church occurred in July 1933, when during the observance of his 60th birthday, Umekichi Tanaka (who served as Church President from it’s infancy until 1948) donated the entire altar, including the Gohonzon.  This altar is still used today.

World events then played a major role in the lives of this community.  With the outbreak of World War II on December 7, 1941, the FBI immediately interned most of the Issei (first generation Japanese) males from Guadalupe between the start of the war and February 18, 1942.  Around March 1942, some of the remaining Issei and Nissei (second generation Japanese-Americans) decided to voluntarily evacuate to Central California.  Then, after Executive Order 9066 led to the internment of all Japanese Americans, the remaining local Japanese families were sent to Poston Relocation Center in Arizona or the Tulare Assembly Center in California, and then ultimately to the Gila Relocation Center in Arizona.

During the absence of the membership, the Church buildings and facilities were left to the care of Mr. and Mrs. W.J. Fisk, while Mr. and Mrs. Regalado lived to the rear of the Church as caretakers.  Mr. Fisk, a long time resident of  Guadalupe, was a dedicated friend of the Japanese community.  Mrs. Fisk was a piano teacher who taught many of the local girls and she was also the director of the Guadalupe Buddhist Girls Choir, which was formed in 1935 and performed on the local radio, piano recitals, Santa Maria High School, as well as singing gathas at Buddhist Services.  In 1944, apparently because of the strong anti-Japanese sentiment and without any reason given, Mr. Fisk lost his employment at the Guadalupe plant of the Puritan Ice Co. of Santa Barbara.  This led the Fisk’s to sell their home in August 1944 and leave the area, moving to New Mexico.

When the Japanese returned to Guadalupe after their internment, they had no place to stay as their properties had all been sold or confiscated.  The Church building was one of the very few in Guadalupe that still belonged to the Japanese that was not burglarized or vandalized during their absence.  The families moved into temporary quarters in the Buddhist Temple, but negative feelings were still running high.  The windows in the Temple were shot out, but fortunately, no one was hurt during these attacks.  In Santa Maria, the Santa Maria Japanese Language School (Gakuen) was also temporary housing for the return of the Japanese to the area.

By March 1950, the membership had regrouped and came to celebrate the observance of the 40th Anniversary of the Guadalupe Buddhist Church.  On July 18, 1958, a special committee met for the purpose of discussing the construction of a new church building in conjunction with the 50th Anniversary.  Agreement was unanimous and construction plans were drawn.  On April 20, 1959, the Church received a $5,000 donation as a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the Lompoc Japanese Hall.  That donation was combined with a $50,000 budget the congregation approved for the building of a new church building.

On February 11, 1960, the groundbreaking ceremony was held at the Church’s present location, 1072 Olvera Street, Guadalupe.  Half a year later, on October 1, 1960, the dedication of the new church was held with Bishop Shinsho Hanayama officiating.  On October 17, 2009, the Guadalupe Buddhist Church celebrated its Centennial Anniversary, and the doors to the temple remain open to this day.

Timeline of Guadalupe Buddhist Church Sensei

1909 Junjo Izumida

1909-1911 Gyodo Haguri

1911-1913 Shinun Ishimatsu

1913-1915 Kaho Tatsuguchi

1915-1928 Issei Matsuura

1928-1930 Tainen Hirota

1930-1934 Gijo Motoyama

1934-1947 Issei Matsuura

1948-1960 Enryo Unno

1960-1968 Arthur Yamabe

1968 Koken Sakai

1968-1982 Hiroshi Futaba

1983 Yasufumi Sato

1983-1984 Shiro Nishii

1984-1986 Masani Fujitani

1986-2002 Jim Yanagihara

2002-2007 Shinryo Sawada

2002-2010 Doei Fujii

2011 Henry Adams

2011 – present Naomi Seijo Nakano

History of Guadalupe, California

Located nine miles west of Santa Maria on historic Highway 1 in Santa Barbara County is the small town of Guadalupe with a dramatic Nikkei history. Gradually replacing the Chinese in the sugar beet fields, the Japanese labor force grew to nearly 600 with the expansion of the Union Sugar Mill Company of Betteravia in the early 1900s. By the 1910s, a cooperative, renamed the Guadalupe Japanese Association, supporting Japanese farm operations, included branches in Santa Maria, Oceano, Pismo and San Luis Obispo; and the Japantowns of Santa Maria and Guadalupe became commercial centers. While some Japanese ventured out as sharecroppers in the sugar beet fields in 1916, others began to farm other crops because of the decline in the industry. Upon visiting from Los Angeles and noticing the lush valley, Ryoichi Ninokawa began experimenting with lettuce and peas. He soon built a packing operation in Oceano and rented a warehouse in Guadalupe. Although Ninokawa was not experienced in operations, other Japanese farmers followed his lead and farmed vegetables with more success. Due to its mild temperature and westerly winds in the summer, the climate and rich soil proved ideal for produce production.

With the Southern Pacific Railroad linking the state, Guadalupe had become the principal agricultural center of North County by the 1930s, providing a majority of the lettuce grown in California. The vitality of Japantown communities in Guadalupe and Santa Maria was reflected in a 1935 report by Hisagoro Sako on the Santa Maria Valley, “There are more than 50 independent farmers tilling over eight thousand acres of land, four packing houses, twelve grocery stores, eleven restaurants, eight hotels and boarding houses . . . The total investment was said to be about two million dollars.” After World War II, produce production in Santa Maria continued, while Guadalupe remained, nearly frozen in time, as it was over 60 years ago.

Issei pioneers H.Y. Minami of Minami & Sons and Setsuo Aratani of Guadalupe Produce Co left an indelible mark on the valley. Known as the “Lettuce King”, Minami expanded his business in parallel with the valley’s growth, starting as a laborer in 1905, as a bookkeeper for Union Sugar Company, and later as a sugar beet sharecropper. By 1917, he was farming 1,200 acres of lettuce; and by 1940 had an annual gross of three million dollars. After operating strawberry farms in Arcadia and Moneta, Setsuo Aratani established a produce company in Los Angeles, primarily supporting Japanese farmers, and supplying them with farm equipment, seeds, and fertilizer. In the 1920s, Aratani leased 500 acres of farmland in the San Fernando Valley; and by 1927, he set up a branch office in Lompoc, overseeing 3,000 acres. Starting Guadalupe Produce Company, Aratani was the first grower to ship lettuce from Guadalupe.

Guadalupe became the town to visit for Japanese migrant workers who followed the crops from north to south, and for dignitaries from Japan who were intrigued by the small, but thriving agricultural town. Baseball enthusiast Setsuo Aratani proudly sponsored a team from the region in 1928 to compete in Japan. His son George Aratani, traveled with the goodwill team; and continued after the war to promote business between the two countries through his highly revered trading companies, Mikasa, and Kenwood Electronics. Both the Minami and Aratani pre-WW II family homes remain in tact – a bungalow style home owned by the Minamis, and a Spanish colonial style home owned by the Aratanis, with arched entryways and stone remnants of a Japanese garden.

Text above from: https://www.californiajapantowns.org/