Committee on Environment, Geography and Urbanization

Division of Social Sciences, The University of Chicago

portrait of Stella Bennett

Rubi Tsuji at the Buddhist Temple. Photo by Elyas Boyan.

I catch the bus from 55th Street and Dorchester to the Garfield Red Line, and head uptown to Wilson. West one block, north one block. “Buddist Temple of Chicago,” reads the sign outside my destination. I hesitate a bit at the doorstep but am warmly welcomed in for a traditional Sunday service, tea, and cookies of the same kind that has been happening for 79 years, albeit not always in this location. 

“I guess the Reverend was able to get out of camp, and he started it in ‘44, yeah, something like that,” Ruby Tsuji (née Doi) tells me, referring to the temple. She celebrated her 90th birthday in February and stands at no more than five feet, but easily captures my attention with her gestural cane waving and quiet, but commanding voice.

Tsuji’s story begins in southern California. During World War II, her family was detained in the Tule Lake camp, one of the many internment camps built for Japanese Americans accused of being spies. After the war, those who survived were sent eastward with the instruction to assimilate into white society1. Around 20,000 Japanese Americans were relocated from internment camps to Chicago2. Many, including Ruby’s older brother, went to Hyde Park. “He lived on Dorchester. It was about 5400 Dorchester. We were right behind the Buddhist Church.” 

Bill, Vice President of Buddhist Religious Affairs at the temple, calls my attention. He leads me into the six-sided chapel, modeled after a famous hexagonal temple in Kyoto3, and then into a small back room. “That,” he says, pointing to an altar, “was the original altar used at the Church on the South Side. It was built in Heart Mountain Internment camp, and brought here by the Reverend Kubose.” His finger leads my eyes upward. “And there is the original sign that was above the Church door.” The gold letters spell out “Chicago Buddhist Church.” It is the same sign I have encountered in archives of historical photos.

The Church was the center of Tsuji’s community and her connection to Hyde Park, but it wasn’t the only place that catered to Japanese Americans. “There was a store, on 55th Street, called Franklin Foods or something. And they had some Japanese stuff that we could buy,” she  recounts. “[But] then when, you know, 55th Street changed, then … then we just didn’t go.”

Caught between a building known colloquially as “Misery Mansion” (5463–5481 S Dorchester)4 and the 55th Street commercial district condemned by “composite blight factors,”5 the Buddhist Church was directly in the path of Hyde Park “A,” the first wave of urban renewal. Demolitions began nearby in 1956. Negotiations with the Land Clearance Committee proved unsuccessful6. “We had no say,” Tsuji tells me. “Not once that building [University Park Condominiums] was built. We couldn’t be upset!” Resentment is implicit, despite her diplomatic tone. Reverend Kubose was able to get a higher price for the Church7, but the move was forced nonetheless. Despite a hesitance to voice them out loud, however, Tsuji acknowledges the reasons behind urban renewal. “The neighborhood was changing, too, so. I don’t think they felt so sorry about the South Side. … But I don’t know how, or, you know, who was moving in. I don’t know. It was still okay. [If they could have stayed], I’m sure they would’ve.” A feeling of helplessness in the face of institutional power, yet an understanding of their motivations nonetheless.

portrait of Stella Bennett
portrait of Stella Bennett

Honorary Kubose Way. Photo by Elyas Boyan.

Tsuji’s story parallels that of many Japanese Americans who came to Chicago looking to put down new roots after forced expulsion from the West Coast. When urban renewal forced displacement once more, those attempts to build a new home were stopped in their tracks. Many people returned west, including Tsuji’s sister, who moved to Seattle, and her brother, who currently lives in Colorado. However, the Japanese community on the North Side of Chicago seems to maintain strength despite the odds. Tsuji participates in activities hosted by the Japanese American Service Committee, formed to help people create community in Chicago post-war8, and many of Tsuji’s friends are through the JASC or the temple. 

Even despite her resilience, as she recounts her story, I can’t help but think of the rubble underneath the pavement I had been standing on that morning as I waited for the bus. Of the old Church, of the home she had tried to create after leaving California. Now, the evidence that there was ever a Japanese American community on the South Side is scant. From the bus stop on the corner of 55th Street and Dorchester, the only buildings in my line of vision are the gated University Park Condominiums and backwards-facing modernist townhomes. There is no monument to the Church Tsuji got married in, or to the friends, family, and community that attended her wedding—that history has been all but erased by time and loss of collective memory.

portrait of Stella Bennett

Honorary Kubose Way. Photo by Elyas Boyan.


  1. Robinson, “War Relocation Authority,” Densho Encyclopedia. Last updated May 6, 2015.
  2. Matsunaga, “Japanese Americans on Chicago’s South Side,” Discover Nikkei. Published December 1, 2015.
  3. “About Us,” The Buddhist Temple of Chicago. Last updated January 15, 2023.
  4. “Buys Misery Mansion,” The Hyde Park Herald. Published October 5, 1956.
  5. Hirsch, “Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960.” 153.
  6. “People and Bulldozers: The Story of HP’s ‘Forgotten Church’,” The Hyde Park Herald. Published April 4, 1956.
  7. Ibid.
  8. “About Us,” Japanese American Service Committee.


“About Us.” The Buddhist Temple of Chicago, January 15, 2023. https://buddhisttemplechicago.org/about-us/.

Hirsch, Arnold R. Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1983.

“Buys Misery Mansion.” The Hyde Park Herald, October 5, 1956.

“People and Bulldozers: The Story of HP’s ‘Forgotten Church’.” The Hyde Park Herald, April 4, 1956.

“About Us.” Japanese American Service Committee, 2022-2023. https://jasc-chicago.org/about-us/

Matsunaga, Erik. “Japanese Americans on Chicago’s South Side – Oakland/Kenwood 1940s-1950s – Part 1.” Discover Nikkei, December 1, 2015. https://discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2015/12/1/oakland-kenwood-1/.

Robinson, Greg. “War Relocation Authority.” Densho Encyclopedia. Last updated May 6, 2015. https://encyclopedia.densho.org/War%20Relocation%20Authority.