Most people go to Shinto shrines several times a year, like for New Years or to make a special wish or prayer, like before a job interview. But with Buddhist temples, it’s usually just for tourism and funerals – not that frequently, basically. But wait! Temples are transforming these days, more and more using their halls for activities such as yoga classes, group date venues (‘gou-kon‘ in Japanese – group dinners with single men and women, seeking potential mates), and even as concert venues!

The idea to use temples as group date venues came from the observation that of the people who were showing interest in temples, there were both single men and women. Thus it followed: why not organize a place and time for these lovely people to meet each other and possibly put an end to their single stats? Each group date event first follows a theme, or activity, such as doing zazen meditation, learning chants, taking vegetarian cooking lessons, doing ascetic training under a waterfall – the list gets more and more romantic, but we’ll leave you in suspense. At the end of the day, everyone gathers for dinner and drinking, and presumably to completely let loose after the shared experience – a pretty good idea, actually, considering the dynamics of bonding and relationship building. These gatherings are attracting a hefty 30 to 50 people each time, every month in the Kanto/Tokyo region. What do you think? Ascetic chanting and meditation under the torrential flow of a waterfall sounds a bit stoic and dark, but with a group, it’s sure to be zany good fun!

Historically in Japan, temples have had strong ties to each families and villages, but in modern times, people only visit temples for the occasions of funerals and tending to relatives’ graves. More and more monks and temples are recognizing the need to stay relevant to the times, and are trying out all sorts of ways to attract people and raise interest. Temples are the new singles bar!