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 Assocation (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.
Enmanji Temple Building
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 Sepastopol. 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 remodled to adapt to the Buddhist shrine which is presently situated at one end of the building. The entire building seats approximately 150 people.
Unlike most BCA temples, the Enmanji Temple
was granted special recogition from the Mother temple in Japan, by receiving
the name and designation of ji, or temple.
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.