Shinnyo-en Buddhists donate $6.6 million

On March 14, USC announced that the Shinnyo-en Buddhist order donated $6.6 million to further the study of Japan and its culture at the university.

The Japanese Religions and Culture Center on campus will now be renamed the Shinso Ito Center. The name is meant to honor Her Holiness Shinso Ito, who is the current leader of the Shinnyo-en Buddhist order.

Duncan Williams, chair of the School of Religion at the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and co-director of the Shinso Ito Center, elaborated on the generous gift.

“The donation will be used primarily as an endowment that will allow the Center to support its programs in perpetuity,” Williams said. “The center is the host of a variety of research projects that range from the study of pre-modern Japanese religion to contemporary immigration policies in Japan, from the connection between Japanese religions and science to the history of Japanese America.”

Based in Japan, the Shinnyo-en Buddhist order is an organization with nearly one million members worldwide. They have been involved in philanthropic efforts at American universities to help support Buddhist and Japanese studies.

Shinnyo-en has also made gifts to Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley. Williams previously served as the director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Japanese Studies before coming to USC in 2011.

“Shinnyo-en deeply appreciates the commitment of the USC Center for Japanese Religions and Culture for its deep and sensitive explorations of many aspects of Japanese culture through the study of international relations, society, the arts, media and religion,” said Rev. Minoru Shitara, director of the Shinnyo-en International Affairs Department. “Shinnyo-en views this support of the center as an expression of our common purpose with USC to educate people from diverse backgrounds to become effective agents for understanding, peace and harmony in the world.”

The Buddhist term shinnyo “denotes both Buddhahood (spiritual awakening) and the nature of reality; en refers to a boundless garden or open space,” according to the Shinnyo-en website.

The donation elicited a congratulatory statement from Caroline Kennedy, the current           U.S. Ambassador to Japan.

“Today’s historic gift of $6.6 million from the Shinnyo-en organization to the University of Southern California represents an important moment in the relationship between the United States and Japan. Promoting cross-cultural ties and mutual understanding between the U.S. and Japan is more important now than ever before,” Kennedy said in a statement.

The Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture currently has a wide array of initiatives that focus on promoting the study of Japan both on and off campus.

“Beyond research projects and the associated conferences and workshops, the center hosts nearly one event a week dealing with some aspect or another of Japanese studies,” Williams said. “Further, the center supports faculty and student research on Japan, whether it be to travel to Japan or present research at national and international conferences.”

The donation advances USC’s $6 billion fundraising initiative, of which more than $3 billion has been raised so far.