FIRST BUDDHIST MISSIONARIES IN PERU
Unknown Centennial History
Taian Ueno (Photo taken at Jionji)
three Japanese priests carried Buddhism to South America for
the first time: Rev. Taian Ueno of the Soto Zen School and
Rev. Kakunen Matsumoto and Rev. Senryu Kinoshita, both of
the Jodo School. This centennial history is not well-known,
however, so in this article, I will present the stories of
these three men who crossed the Pacific Ocean because of their
passion for spreading the Buddhist faith. I would especially
like to mention the achievements of Rev. Ueno as well as a
brief history of Jionji, the first Buddhist temple in Peru.
discrepancy between the motivation of the mission and the
peoples recognition of it
for doing missionary work in South America was to work among
the Japanese immigrants like those who had gone to Hawaii
and North America. In South America, the first Japanese immigration
was to Peru in 1899. Seven hundred and ninety contracted immigrants
disembarked in Peru and began working in the big sugarcane
and cotton plantations or in sugar factories on four-year
people died because of the hard work, inferior lodgings, contagious
diseases, and so forth. Journalist Kazuo Ito has written,
79% of the immigrants died before the expiration of
their contract (A Bridge to Andes, The Celebration
Committee of the 80th Anniversary of Japanese Immigration
to Peru, 1982). Another writer noted similar things. According
to these writers, the owner of a certain plantation did not
want to give permission for the funeral of each person who
died. This was because people did not work while attending
a funeral and the owner did not want to lose their working
hours. So in order to maintain the daily level of labor on
the farmland, he told them that they should keep dead bodies
in their rooms until joint burials could be performed. This
episode later became a sort of legend among the Japanese-Peruvian
community and in a way, they became captivated by a sympathy
they felt for the deceased spirits. It also happened that
the existence of Jionji, founded in 1907, came to be associated
with this tragedy of the first immigrants.
tablets (Ihai) at Jionji.
tablets (Ihai) of the Japanese and their ancestors
are still kept in Jionji. When Kazuo Ito wrote about these
first immigrants, he emphasized the tragic aspect because
there are many "memorial tablets without a Buddhist precept
name" or "memorial tablets that are handmade."
(Quarterly Kaigai Nikkei Jin, No.5, The Association
of Nikkei & Japanese Abroad, 1979). However, missionaries
in Peru could not have covered the whole country and there
were also many immigrants from the prefecture of Okinawa who
did not use a precept name. Ready-made memorial tablets were
also not sold. For this reason, it can not be said that a
tragedy occurred simply because the precept names were not
given or that the memorial tablets were handmade.
the vast majority of the immigrants did not die. According
to information by Ryoji Imamura (Noda), First Secretary of
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, just ninety-eight
people died in the first year and later on, many fewer people
died. (Archives of Japanese Diplomats, Volume 36, the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, 1903). Ninety-eight
is not a small figure, but the 79% figure quoted by Ito isnt
simply an error, it was a preconception on his part. It is
now thought that Japanese in Peru had already come to a consensus
that many of the initial immigrants died tragically. It is
very likely that Ito was influenced by that consensus. However,
the motivation for the Buddhist mission was not only to perform
religious ceremonies for the dead people. The mission to South
America was the same as for all Buddhist schools at this time
in Japan, namely the movement to raise the level of education
Soto Zen Schools bulletin, Shuho,
we can find many indications for the reasons to send missionaries
abroad. For example, in the No. 142 of the bulletin (1902),
there was an article named Missions Abroad. The
point of the article can be found in the following, Thousands
of our Japanese compatriots are now in Europe, America, Australia,
and Russia. Regardless of whether such people are religious
or not, a human being must have faith, and it is the vocation
of monks to guide such people in terms of faith.
articles never touched on the subject of the tragedy
of the initial immigrants as the reason for such missions.
There is a discrepancy, then, between the real reason for
the mission, and the reason for the existence of Jionji, as
it came to be perceived by the Japanese- Peruvians. Later,
that discrepancy influenced the writings on the history of
Jionji and is one of reasons that the relation between the
temple and the Japanese-Peruvians was broken off.
first step of the 100 years of missionary work
the priests Revs. Ueno, Matsumoto and Kinoshita received orders
from their respective organizations to go to Peru as missionaries.
On June 20 of the same year, they left from the port of Kobe
on the ship Duke of Fife which carried 1178
people, the second great immigration to Peru. They arrived
at the port of the Callao in Peru on July 29 of the same year.
This is the first landmark of the one hundred years of the
mission. At this time, the monks were the following ages:
Rev. Ueno was 32, Rev. Matsumoto was 29, and Rev. Kinoshita
of Jionji (in the background is Jionji of Santa Barbara).
them was contracted to be superintendents of the Japanese
workers by the immigration company. Rev. Ueno went to the
Tumán plantation in the District of Lambayeque, Rev.
Matsumoto went to the Casa Blanca plantation in the province
of Cañete, District of Lima, and Rev. Kinoshita went
to the Santa Clara plantation, province of Lima, in the same
district. They wanted to provide the duties of monk for the
public, but in order to live they had to work, because at
that time the various Buddhist schools did not send any money
for the mission work nor for daily living expenses.
later, both Kinoshita and Matsumoto left their jobs saying
People did not want to hear anything about religious
topics nor did they have any interest in a good life based
Buddhist education. Rev. Kinoshita also said, I
could not do the mission work well because the emigrants work
hard, for twelve hours in the sugar factory or ten hours on
the farm, so they dont have any free time. Sunday
is their only opportunity to rest and go shopping. No one
seriously listens to sermons. (Quoted in Jodokyoho,
the institutional bulletin of the Jodo School, (No.653, 1905).
In the same edition, he said, I think it still isnt
time to begin the mission in Peru because there are not many
Japanese and only a few of them support us. For that reason,
it is very difficult. But Rev. Kinoshita did not leave
Peru. In 1905, he established the Japanese Club in the city
of Lima to continue with his mission.
Matsumoto also mentioned in the same bulletin Neither
the immigration company nor the immigrants have spiritual
needs such as morality or cultivating the mind. Their only
thought is of money. We were welcomed nowhere (Jodokyoho,
No.800, 1908). After his resignation in the Casa Blanca plantation
of Cañete, he made several changes of residence among
different plantations, and as of 1905, he began to live in
the Japanese Club with Rev. Kinoshita. According to the bulletin
Jodokyoho, he was not welcome in that
club either. In the end, Rev. Matsumoto returned to Japan
Rev. Kinoshita went with the immigrants to the Tambopata Rubber
plantation located in the district of Puno. In Tambopata,
Rev. Kinoshita had a project to form a temple of his School
with the support of the immigration company. But the international
price of crude rubber sharply declined and for that reason
the plan for the Japanese immigration to the rubber plantations
was held up. Rev. Kinoshita returned to Japan in 1910. The
two priests had begun their mission counting on the collaboration
or the power of the immigration companies, but by going about
it this way they were never able to get the attention of the
Ueno and Jionji
were many problems at Tumán Plantation, where Rev.
Ueno was located, including immigrants escaping from the work
crews, massive pay fraud, and assault or murder between Japanese
workers. The owner of the plantation, angry because of these
problems, terminated the contracts of all Japanese including
Rev. Ueno in June of 1905. In the same month, Rev. Ueno and
the immigrants of Tumán went to several plantations
in South Lima, especially in Cañete, to find work.
The plantation at Santa Bárbara that had a sugar factory
contracted with the priest. After two years, in 1907, Rev.
Ueno opened a temple there. A temple has been established
through the enthusiasm of a monk, Taian Ueno, and through
the many donations given by the immigrants of that district.
It is not magnificent, but it is the first and at the moment
only Buddhist temple in South America. On Sundays, sermons
are given and funerals and ceremonies for the deceased are
performed. (Ryoji Imamura (Noda), Investigation
on labor places of the immigrants of our country, The
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, 1908).
Matsumoto also mentioned it in the Jodo institutional bulletin
I could not establish a prosperous mission. Mr. Ueno
had difficulties to live too, but finally he constructed a
small temple... But I was never able to go and see that temple
(Jodokyoho, No.800, 1908). It is important to know
that the directors of Jionji, from its founding, were of several
Buddhist schools from Japan. A primary school was also opened
next to the temple and Rev. Ueno began to teach the Japanese
children. He was a teacher licensed by the Soto Schools
university (presentday Komazawa University), too. It is said
to be the oldest Japanese school in South America.
(Missionaries had to ride a horse in those times).
to the Shuho bulletin, No. 457(1916),
more than 530 immigrants donated a great amount of money to
support the Japanese Army. This money was managed and remitted
by Taian Ueno of Jionji. By this time, his mission in Peru
had already lasted more than ten years. It can be said that
a rich harvest was through his effort and that people trusted
Ueno never asked for the support of the immigration company
or of his School. He did not send any information to be included
in the Soto School institutional bulletin either. He was a
quiet person whose work was based on deep devotion. A year
later, on August 18, 1917, Taian Ueno returned to Japan, his
mother country, after 14 years of absence. He handed over
his position at the mission and for religious services at
Jionji to his successor, Rev. Senpo Saito of the same school.
Rev. Ueno was already 46 years old.
who succeeded Rev. Ueno in Peru
Rev. Senpo Saito
missionary, Senpo Saito, was born in Yamagata Prefecture in
1888. He studied at the Soto School University. In February
1917, he arrived in Peru and started his job as a missionary.
But only a few years later, the administrative headquarters
issued a new order to Doyu Oshio to work as a support missionary.
In February 1919, Rev. Oshio went to Peru, but he did not
arrive before Rev. Saito died in April of the same year because
of influenza. He was 31 years old. He was the first missionary
to South America who died there.
missionary, Rev. Doyu Oshio, from Hiroshima Prefecture, was
born in 1894. He was in the same Dharma lineage as the monk
Ueno. Around the time of the arrival of Oshio to Peru, the
Japanese immigrants began to leave the plantations and go
to the metropolitan areas to start their own businesses step
the change of location of the Japanese residents, Rev. Oshio
extended the area of the mission not only in Cañete,
but he also visited several cities where Japanese were living.
Around 1924, Jionji was moved to the town of San Luis in the
same province. In 1977 it was moved again, but the building
in San Luis in which the tomb of Rev. Saito is located still
exists. In May 1927, Rev. Oshio returned to Japan.
second missionary who died in Peru, Rev. Kenryu Sato.
missionary, Rev. Kenryu Sato from Akita Prefecture, was born
in 1894. He received his order to go as a missionary to Peru
in June 1926. After entering functions, in 1927 he opened
a hall for meetings and giving sermons, Buddhist ceremonies,
and for the recreation of Japanese-Peruvian children living
in the capital zone. This social circle was called Jiko
Kai and it was located in Lima. He lived in the same
place and performed activities such as the Flower Festival
of the Buddha and a composition contest of the children, and
Rev. Sato visited other cities like the monk Oshio who preceded
him, but never left his main place of work in the Jionji in
Cañete. He always had a friendly relationship with
the people of that region. Through his leadership and the
contributions of the congregation, a stupa was constructed
in 1933 for the peace of the ancestors souls in the
Japanese cemetery of Casa Blanca. After some years, people
always associated Jionji with this stupa, which could easily
be seen in the Casa Blanca cemetery.
1935, Rev. Sato died in Peru at the age of 41 years.
missionary, Rev. Shodo Nakao, was born in Tottori Prefecture
in 1907. He arrived in Peru in 1935 and one or two years later,
he opened a new official temple in Lima that was authorized
by the administrative headquarters of the Soto School. Although
it was only a simple house, the meaning of its name was The
Central Temple in South America (of the Soto School).
However, the Japanese in Peru did not maintain connections
with their own Buddhist schools of their families. Moreover,
the true work of the mission such as religious education and
morality had already been taken over by the Catholic Church.
The only expectation that people had of Buddhist priests was
to perform ceremonies for their ancestors. They had no particular
interest in its religious doctrines or teachings, nor were
they interested in meditation. There was only a need for a
person who knew how to recite the Buddhist sutras. In 1941,
before World War II begins, missionary Nakao returned to Japan.
During the War, Peru also declared war on Japan. At that point,
the South American mission was interrupted.
paper charm of Jionji.
the War, the Soto School began a mission to Brazil in 1955.
According to the Soto School bulletin Shuho, This
is the first Soto School mission in South America,
thereby completely overlooking the history what happened to
the immigrants and missionaries in Peru. It also happened
among the people of Japanese-Peruvian ancestry that anyone
who knew how to chant sutras came to be called Reverend,
even if they had not trained in a monastery and did not have
a license to be a priest.
there was no priest during the War. Following the War, a few
people that knew sutras performed the services at Jionji.
In November 1961, an immigrant named Ryoko (Ryotetsu) Kiyohiro,
who had studied to some extent the teaching of the Soto School,
received an order from the Soto School concerning the revival
of Jionji. With the support of the Soto School, Japanese corporations
in Peru, and donations from the second generation Japanese-Peruvians,
he was very successful at least superficially for the Ceremony
Center only for the Ancestors with much emphasis on
the subject of the tragedy of the early immigrants.
But Jionji never returned to being a place for the mission
of teaching how to live a better life.
missionaries who returned to Japan
Ueno accomplished a great task in setting up the first mission
in South America, and to found the oldest temple on that continent.
However, during the time of his activity, the administrative
headquarters of the Soto School lost interest in the mission
in Peru. This was because Soto and other Buddhist schools
began a massive mission in Asia counting on the support of
the Japanese imperial government. After Rev. Ueno returned
to Japan, he remained in his beautiful village in the Hyogo
Prefecture where he opened a nursery school. People loved
and respected him very much.
11, 1950, Taian Ueno died in a fire. He was unmarried and
was 79 years old. Until the end, he did not write anything
about the mission in Peru.
missionary, Doyu Oshio, went to Korea and the fifth, Shodo
Nakao, went to Tinian Island in Micronesia also as a missionary.
At the end of World War II, they returned to Japan. Both priests
passed away just a short time after returning to Japan, Rev.
Nakao in 1949 and Rev. Oshio in 1950.
the death of Ryoko Kiyohiro in 1992, Jionji has not had a
Ota was a chief editor of the Editorial Perú Shimpo,
a Japanese language newspaper in Peru.