temple

Buddhist Temples will shut down in Japan due to lack of Parishioners and Priests.

Many Japanese Buddhist temples, their numbers running to thousands, are in danger of closing doors in the future. About 40 percent of about 77,000 temples will cease to function. This means no more visits through the gardens of a lovingly cared for temple. Over 20,000 of the temples don’t even have priests anymore.

Priests in these temples are less concerned with gaining enlightenment and more about how to survive the closing down of the temples across Japan. It is a crisis of existence for the religion which entered Japan from Korea during the sixth century.

The decline of Buddhism mirrors the condition of small communities that have financially supported their respective local temples. According to a Japan Policy Council report published in 2014, a warning was given that the exodus of young people, particularly young women, will lead to a 50 percent reduction of religious worship places. Temples will be forced to close due to lack of parishioners.

On the other hand, there’s also a lack of priests. The tradition over the past 150 years is that Buddhist temples are inherited by sons of the priest, but the sons are often turning it down.  

Hidenori Ukai, the head priest of Kyoto's Shogaku-ji Temple and a journalist as well, said that the standard image of wealthy Buddhist priests could be true in large cities, but not in other places. Ukai authored he book: Vanishing Temples-the Loss of Rural Areas and Religion. He mentioned that a temple must have at least 200 patrons if it wants to provide for its own upkeep. The number of patrons in his temple is about 120. It is no wonder many Buddhist priests took a second career. 

Things have come to such a pass that even the country's bustling funeral industry cannot support them anymore. Even as 1.3 million Japanese breathed their last in 2014, few relatives of the deceased can afford the punishing expenses linked to the orthodox Buddhist funeral. Many families are going for secular and cheaper ceremonies. Priests say they are bound by duty to lower the funeral costs so that their deceased parishioners get a decent send off.

The doctrinal contortions of Buddhism have led many of its faithful adherents to innovate in order to attract or maintain parishioners. A few faithful run cafes, hosts pets' funerals and even organize fashion shows. Vowz, a bar in Tokyo, is run by Buddhist priests. The place sells alcohol and according to its administrators, helps in spiritual awakening. When asked, the answer comes pat: spiritual enlightenment may come during the course of any conversation and the bar offers that opportunity. 

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