Thousands of Japanese Buddhist temples left priestless

Japanese Buddhist temples left priestless

Buddhist temples have been the pillar of the society especially in Japan. The involvement of these temples in death and related matters is significant at three quarters of the total count with the other quarter handling religious matters of meditation, faith healing and monastic training. The priests lay a vital role in ensuring the existence and integration of the temples with the community. The temples are currently at crisis owing to shrinking populations which through various dynamics continue to leave them “priestless” at alarming rates. The issue of survival of the temples is now at stake.

One of the population trends that is leading to the decline of this institutions and probable closures is the rural-urban migration. A Japan Policy Council report that was published in 2014, warned of a possible closure of up to 50% of the Buddhist temples especially in the rural areas. The report attributed this possible decline is attribute to the young population especially the female moving to the towns. The reduced populations therefore mean that the parishioners cannot manage the temples and at the same time earn a living. Further, it is to some degree unreasonable to institute a priest in a temple that has not believers.

The rural-urban migration hampers the survival of operation of the temples owing to the danka system that was formulated in the Tokugawa era. This entails a household being affiliated to the temple in their vicinity or probably one that was closest to them. When people move to the towns, they find other temples and by abiding to what seems like law of abiding, they pledge their loyalty and resources to those temples. This I turn means that they cannot contribute to the affairs of the temples back in their rural thus somehow making them dysfunctional.

The urbanization has contributed to changes family structure changes leading to many of the temples structurally existing without priests. The last two decades has seen Japanese Buddhists being more secular and not holding dearly the practices of enlightenment as entailed by Buddha.  The various interactions with various cultures has changed how the believers view death and issues related to it. Rituals and ceremonies that under Buddhism have to be conducted by temple priests increasing become less appealing to a number of believers especially those that have extensively interacted with other Buddhists or different believers. This has subsequently created the preference for secular and cheaper funeral options. It is understood that the funeral cost of involving Buddhist priests can go up to $20,000 which is relatively expensive for many families. This secular drift associated with urbanization has greatly contributed to the decline in death and funeral matters that the priests handle making it had to survive with low numbers of parishioners.

The existence of priest in Japanese Buddhist temples is also threatened by the unwillingness of the sons of the priests to venture into the practice. Traditionally, the son of a priest was bound to be a priest. The current system has people choosing their own paths while the traditional seemingly is being held on too. This inhibits the sons of non-priests who would potentially feel the voids.

The declining populations in temples has seen staunch believers seek audience in places other than the temples and this has even gone as further as owning of secular institutions such as clubs and bars with the aim of reaching out to people for spiritual awakening.

It is evident that the functioning of the Buddhist temples in japan rely on the existence of priests who are dependent on numbers. The declining populations in the temples attributed to dynamics in the current society will likely many more temples being without priests and ultimately the influence of Buddhism in the Japanese society will significantly decline.

Works Cited

Thousands of Japanese Buddhist temples left ‘priestless’ retrieved from

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