Temple's Challenge

Temple’s challenge to respond to the changing needs

On the way back from Tsukiji Fish Market to Ginza, you’ll notice a big, authentic temple. That is Tsukiji Hongwanji Temple, one of the major Jodo Shinshu temples in Tokyo.

Unlike any other temples, in terms of its architecture, its unique design based on ancient Indian Buddhist style is impressive. When you step through the entrance, there are more blend of cultures.

You’ll see conventional Japanese ornamentation, stained glass, chandeliers and a large pipe organ from Germany. For young person, the temple is famous for a funeral service for a member of popular rock band, X-Japan.

In Japan, where social roles of local Buddhist temples and ties with the local community are fading, people recently question the costly funerals and related ceremonies provided by Buddhist temples.

Recently, there has been a trend that people become more practical and spend less despite an aging society.

Many temples are losing offerings and memberships or supporters in their communities, which have been the main source of income. In fact, many Japanese do not have ties with temples in our everyday lives.

According to a recent survey by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, there are approximately 77,000 temples all over Japan. This number is large in comparison to 55,000 convenience stores in the country. Temples are rich cultural assets, but some failed to cater to the needs to contribute to the community.

Under such circumstances, the temple is under major reform led by Mr. Yasunaga, former banker, aimed at creating a more open temple to public. Tsukiji Hongwanji’s challenge is attracting attention.

First, Mr. Yasunaga created a “common grave” or “cemetery” in the temple ground. Everybody regardless of their religion or sect can apply for the cemetery only at JPY300,000 upwards. The temple manages the grave responsibly. They had floods of orders with more than 7,000 applications, especially from people without a family grave.

Besides many Japanese Buddhist teaching classes, they provide English Dharma Service to everyone to teach the Jodo Shinshu teachings in English. It is open to the public and anyone attend.

Visitors take a rest at café. Breakfast set serving 18 kinds of dishes and rice gruel is so instagrammable that there are lines in the early morning.

A bookshop is selling variety of fashionable goods as well as Buddhist fittings, souvenir and cookbook about shojin (vegetarian) cuisine.

They perform a monthly pipe organ concert at the main hall free of charge.

Moreover, he set up a “Ginza Salon” to provide consultation counseling services to business people working in the city.

Thanks to such efforts, the Tsukiji Hongwanji is showing a way for other temple their role in society. Yasunaga is quoted as saying, “Temples and companies are the same. Companies pay dividends to shareholders, and temples return benefits to the public. When I visited the temple the other day and stepped through the entrance into the main hall, I could feel a welcoming atmosphere. Tsukiji Honguanji is a model to other temples that failed to accommodate to the needs of people living today.