Tradition Influences a Blended Culture

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Buddhist funeral at Topaz Relocation Center in Utah. Courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society via the Mountain West Digital Library. 

The religious identity of many Japanese Americans during the time of internment and relocation was often tied to Buddhist traditions. Some internees identified as Buddhist in name only, not through action or ritual, while others were more devout in their practice. Even for less religious Japanese Americans in the camps, Buddhist ideas influenced traditional Japanese culture. Some internees identified as Christian while interweaving Buddhist traditions into daily life. These multiple religious and cultural influences created a blended and diverse approach to  worship and heritage in the camps. Alongside Christian worship, Buddhist religious practices flourished.

Some historians theorize that this period of harsh discrimination strengthened traditional beliefs and practices for Japanese Americans. In some of the camps, this trend was evidenced by a surge in interest in and practice of Buddhism. Renewed attention to Buddhism, as well as Japanese cultural rituals more broadly, was part of the way that internees resisted the full Americanization and loyalty pressures imposed on them in the camps. Resistance was manifest in traditional gardens and Shinto shrines found in areas of the camps. For some, creating these tranquil and reverent outdoor spaces was an extension of longstanding aesthetics that drew upon their shared cultural heritage. For others, it was an act of quiet rebellion.