One day, in the middle of summer, while I was visiting Kyoto on business, I engaged in conversation and exchanged stories with a taxi driver.
“Even though it’s so hot, there are many people at the temples in Kyoto, aren’t there?”
“But there are many people at only tourist temples.”
When we were talking such stories, this driver began to complain about the situation gradually.
“We feel envious of famous temples because they are impeccably maintained without a word. The other day, when I went back to my hometown, there was a meeting at a parishioner temple. A son of the temple says he is quitting his job as a monk because he can’t live at the temple. Since the temple has 500-year tradition, he apologized to a predecessor monk and representatives tearfully.”
“Well, it’s 500-year tradition and he will quit?”
“The roof is decayed by roof leak and repair cost seems to amount as much as thirty million yen. Since size of the temple is big, the cost is high. He said he didn’t want to his children and grandchildren to suffer and bear a grudge. If tourist temples of the same sect lend their money out, that would be appreciated. It costs an enormous amount of money to change even a single girder or beam. Even though it is said to be history or tradition, I couldn’t bear it if I put myself in his position.”
There are about 75,000 temples in Japan at present. However, the rural youth look for jobs in cities and leave their hometown. Because the number of parishioners is decreasing, it is life and death problem for rural temples. Believers also have anxiety. If one’s child in the city does not come back home, the ancestors may become an unmarked grave. It is a very lonely story, but it is said that there are families who close their ancestors’ graves to spare their children the trouble in their own generation, or dispose of the ashes of individuals left behind, such as in coin-operated lockers and baggage racks on trains, which have also been increasing.
From the perspective of believers, they need a family temple. If the temple holds funerals and Buddhist memorial services precisely, believers will be relieved, however there are temples in rural areas facing challenges such as declining birthrates, an aging population, and severe depopulation, making it difficult to sustain the temples. In such cases, how can we ensure the continuance of temples? First, temples must change. Not only in terms of funerals and memorial services, but also fundamentally, temples must return to the origin of Buddhism. Originally, funerals and memorial services are not the essentials. Funerals have gained momentum since the end of the Heian period when warfare and plagues occurred one after another. Then, the image that Buddhism is associated with funerals and memorial services was solidified by the religious policy implemented by the Tokugawa shogunate during the Edo period. The aim of religious policy was to crack down on Christians, however Christians who suffered from severe oppression and farmers who endured harsh annual tribute collections united, leading to an unprecedented riot in history. It was autumn in 1637. After suppressing the riot, Tokugawa shogunate that was shocked by this situation made all people belong to any of the Buddhist sects forcibly. Triggered by this, the parishioner system was established, which has a strongly rooted history of about 400 years. However, “family creeds” are no longer at their limits by such as dilution of faith, religious liberty, the nuclear family, declining birthrates, an aging population and the concentration of population in one area. The mountains are moving. New era is approaching. I am glad that ‘good times have come.’ When I was a university student, the phrase “sense of belonging” was trend. It refers to the awareness and feeling of belonging to a particular group or organization. However, Buddhist community at that time was finely stretched; if a person believes in another faith, he/she would find themselves in a situation similar to ostracism, being seen as someone who had broken the tenets of the sect. I also have memories of people often confiding in me about the troubles that arose from such clashes. The parishioner system was a sense of belonging that entailed reverence towards ancestors and devotion to one’s sect. I do not like such blockages, however, such a phenomenon has disappeared lately so I am glad that individual freedom has been releasing constraints of conception.
-To be Continued-