Our History

Founded in 1916, the Tri-State and Denver Buddhist Temples have served the greater Colorado area ever since. Rooted in the culture of Japanese-Americans, and their Japanese ancestors, the temple keeps alive the memories of those who have come before us while welcoming in all people who wish to be a part of our community and continue to expand our history.

Tri-State / Denver Buddhist Temples are members of the Buddhist Churches of America and a part of the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-Ha school of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, headquartered in Kyoto, Japan.

An important part of our history, this altar was present at the Denver Buddhist Temple located on Market Street in the 1920s.

The Denver Buddhist Temple at 1942 Market Street (c. 1926)

The library at Tri-State Denver Buddhist Temples contains many of the memories and artifacts of the founding and flourishing of sanghas (congregations), as well as Japanese American communities, in Colorado and many neighboring states. Documents and collections detailing the beginning and flourishing of these communities, groups, and families are available as a resource for those interested in the histories of Buddhism, the Temple, and Americans of the Front Range and Plains states over the preceding century.


Jodo Shinshu Buddhism Founded

Shinran Shonin founded the Jodo Shinshu school of Buddhism


Japanese in Colorado

Matsudaira Tadaatsu was among the first Japanese in Colorado


Visit by Jodo Shinshu Ministers to Colorado

A minister, from Honpa Hongwanji in Japan, and two ministers from the Buddhist Mission of North America visit Colorado to perform memorial services in Rocky Ford and Denver.

August, 1916

Denver Buddhist Church Founded

Rev. Tessho Ono and Denver Kyudokai formed the Denver Buddhist Church. The first church facility was a rented hall at 1950 Lawrence Street.


Relocation to Market Street

The Church relocated to 1917 Market Street. The congregation moved from location to location around the Lower Downtown (LoDo) Denver area to meet its increasing needs.


First Building Purchased

The first Denver Buddhist Church building was purchased at 1942 Market Street. Segregation and property cost dictated the first location. It was not known at the time that this was Mattie Silks' "House of Mirrors" bordello.

June 24, 1930

Rev. Tamai Arrives in Denver

Dev. Tamai's arrival in Denver coincided with the years of the Great Depression. The temple fell on hard times - the ceiling in Rev. Tamai's church room collapsed. Rev. Tamai donated $1,000 from his $60/month salary; The congregation was humbled and the church building was saved.

1942 - 1944

Executive Order 9066 Issued

After the December, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Executive Order 9066 was issued that authorized the Secretary of War to prescribe certain areas as military zones, clearing the way for the deportation of Japanese and Italian-Americans to internment camps. The War Relocation Authority (WRA) was a United States government agency established to handle the forced relocation. Camp Amache in Southeast Colorado had more than 7,000 Japanese, including many Buddhists. Gov. Ralph Carr opposed the WRA and welcomed Japanese into Colorado. Japanese in Colorado swelled from 323 to 5,000 after the relocation camps closed.


Funding a New Temple

The Church raised $150,000 to fund the construction of the new Tri-State Buddhist Church facility at 1947 Lawrence Street. In addition to the pre-existing congregation, evacuees from the West Coast financially and spiritually supported the project. The temple remains in this location today.

July, 1962

Church Fire

Following Obon services, the church caught fire due to an apparent electrical short. The fire destroyed the altar in the Hondo, so a new one had to be ordered from Japan. Insurance and generous contributions made by the Buddhist Churches of America, organizations in Denver, and individual personal donations covered the losses from the fire.


First Expansion

The Church continued improvements including the addition of an auditorium


New Altar

A new altar (Onaijin) from Japan was installed at the Church


LoDo Redevelopment

As part of the redevelopment of Lower Downtown (LoDo), the church expansion project was developed to meet the requirements of the Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA). Tamai Tower was planned to be built with Sakura Square, preserving the Japanese-American heritage of the area.

April, 1973

Second Expansion

The ground breaking ceremony for an additional Denver Buddhist Church expansion was presided over by Church President Ed Nazawa, Revs. Tamai and Tsunoda, as well as Church staff.


Cherry Blossom Festival

The Tamai Tower apartment building's construction reaches the top floor. As part of the celebration, the Church held its first Cherry Blossom Festival (Sakura Matsuri).


The First Sunshine Trip

The church youth planned the first Tri-State Young Buddhist League (YBL) pilgrimage to California. Officially dubbed "The Sunshine Trip", 39 members of the YBL traveled via bus to Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Utah.


Temple Bell Donated

A large temple bell (bonsho) was presented to Rev. Tamai and the church in honor of Rev. Tamai's long service to Buddhism. The bell was donated by Ehan Numata, a philanthropist from Hiroshima, Japan.


Memorial Service for Ellison Onizuka

A memorial service for CU graduate and NASA astronaut Ellison Onizuka was held. She perished in the Challenger space shuttle disaster.


Lay Speaker's Group Formed

Rev. Okamoto begins working with sangha member Jim Holland to form a Lay Speaker's group


BCA Lay Ministry Program Formed

The Buddhist Churches of America begins making plans for a Lay Ministry Program. The intent and design was similar to the Lay Speaker program established by Rev. Okamoto.


Tamai Memorial Dedication

Rev. Tamai memorial dedication ceremony held in Sakura Square



The Tri-State and Denver Buddhist Temples merged into one entity that would become what it is known as today, the Tri-State/Denver Buddhist Temples (TSDBT).


100th Anniversary

The 100 year anniversary of the Temple's existence. Initial states in the Tri-State area were Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska. Today, the community extends to New Mexico, Texas, Kansas, Montana, and Oklahoma.

The Wisteria Mon of the Tri-State/Denver Buddhist Temples in black.