Approximately 300 people attended the elaborate 2-day inaugural ceremony for the Nichiren Buddhist Church on May 10-11, 1929. The building itself was designed by Kichio Allen Arai in 1928. Arai was one of Seattle’s earliest Asian American architects.
Arai was born in Port Blakely, Washington, in 1901. His family moved to Seattle in 1909. Arai began his architecture studies at the University of Washington in 1919 and graduated six years later with a bachelor’s degree. In addition to the Nichiren Buddhist Church (1928) and its garage (1933), he designed the Yakima Buddhist Bussei Kaikan in Wapato (1936-1941). In 1940, he received the commission for the Seattle Buddhist Church (see waypoint #38), which was dedicated on October 5, 1941.
Arai’s career in Seattle was cut short by the forced removal of Japanese Americans during World War II just months later in 1942. Like other Japanese Americans in Seattle, Arai was mostly likely first held at the temporary relocation center in Puyallup before being imprisoned at the Minidoka concentration camp in Idaho. Arai returned to Seattle in February 1947, working as an associate at several local firms. Notable projects after the War include: Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple (1955-1958) of Ontario, Oregon; White River Buddhist Temple (1963-1964) in Auburn, Washington, and Shinran Shonin 700th Anniversary Memorial Hall addition to the Seattle Buddhist Church (1963-1964).
In his early work at the Nichiren Buddhist Church, the eaves cut a dramatic straight line across the top, reinforcing the building’s symmetry and brickwork. The decorative design on the building’s top gable will be expanded by Arai in the Seattle Buddhist Church to accentuate the top gable and roofline and create an aesthetic that blends Western and Eastern design elements all the more.