What does a temple mean to a Japanese person?


What does a temple mean to a Japanese person?

The Question

What would you say a major temple would mean to someone that is Japanese, or to Japan as a whole? I had the good fortune to visit Japan for three weeks through the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund in 2006 and am just looking for clarification that I could share. I have not been able to find in my research what the temple means as a whole vs what a temple provides. Any insight or help you could provide would be greatly appreciated in this manner!

Michael Schuelke
Freedom Elementary School

My Answer

Hello Michael and thank you for your question.
Temples in Japan provide multiple roles. The principal one, is a place of worship and a place where the funerals are performed.

Often times, people have a family grave in the cemetery attached to the temple and visit it several times a year. There is always tools to tend the grave like buckets, brooms and ladles.

Another function temples provide is touristic. Only the biggest, oldest temples are tourist attractions. Most of those have a place near the reception desk where you can stamp a book. Some are organized in pilgrimage routes (like the 88 Kannon temples in Shikoku)

Another usage for temples is derived from their own history: they often enshrine images of Buddha that have become national treasures (meaning they are protected by Japanese Law and recognized as important cultural asset) so people come to see them. Some are only on exhibit every so often, sometimes only once in 20 years.

All in all, we could say that temples are equally a place of worship, tourism and culture.

Some temples (especially the head temples of the different sects) will also offer teaching of the Dharma, but they are the minority.

I hope this answers your question.

In Compassion,

Hugo/ admin

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Jan 23, 2011

A Temple

by: Anonymous


I also wanted to add that a temple is a place to share the teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha. I doubt if Sakyamuni himself conducted funerals or memorial services. His teachings are for the living, not for the dead.

I myself have learned all I know of Buddhism at such a temple in Toyama, Japan!

I wish more temples in Japan would follow such an example.


Note from the editor:
It is true that some rare temples offer teaching but it is unfortunately too rare. For some reason Buddhism in Japan has become mostly a funeral business. Which is too bad.
I might be interested in gather a list of temples offering teachings, especially to foreigners so that others might benefit from it. Message me if you know of any.

Jan 31, 2011

A temple (more like a Buddhist College for all ages)

by: Anonymous

Hi Hugo,

Thank you for all your work to make Buddhism known to our English-speaking friends around the globe!

I consider myself an “expert” on Pure Land Buddhism and I’ve learned all I know through Jodo Shinshu Shinrankai organization and practicing the teachings in my daily life.

I recommend that place to anyone who wants to learn Buddhism and apply it to their everyday life. It is in Imizu City, Toyama. Lectures are in Japanese but translation to English, Chinsese, Portugese, and Korean is available.

Also I recommend the book

Something you forgot along the way

Hope this helps.

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