Buddhism

In a country steeped in tradition, two prefectures are completely void of historical temples

Japan is often praised for its ability to preserve traditional customs and architecture while still functioning as a modern society. There are few other places in the world where you can be in the middle of a buzzing metropolis, only to turn a corner and be face-to-face with a shrine that has stood for centuries. But did you know that there are actually entire prefectures that do not contain a single old temple?

Join us after the jump as we explore two such places and explain exactly why architecture that was hundreds of years old disappeared.

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Buddha vs Eva, Ultraman, Gundam and Lady Liberty: How the otherworldly measure up

If you’re a fan of mecha anime, you’ll know all about towering robots and the impressive displays of power they show during large-scale, epic battles. One of the titans of the mecha world, Gundam, is so revered in Japan he’s been recreated to scale and stands looking out over Tokyo Bay, wowing crowds with his strength and height.

Gundam might not be so happy, however, to learn that a picture doing the rounds on the internet is making him look tiny when compared with his peaceful brother from another otherworldly realm. To be fair though, not much can compete with Ushiku Daibutsu, the tallest Buddha statue in the world, who lives just a 90-minute train ride from Narita Station.

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View beautiful photos of Kyoto’s Kiyomizu Temple any time on their new instagram account

Kiyomizu Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in Higashiyama, Kyoto. Kiyomizu, which means “pure water,” takes its name from the waterfall which runs off the nearby hillside. However, it is perhaps most famous for its grand viewing veranda, a sort of stage on tall pillars that juts out of the hillside and commands beautiful views of the surrounding area. But a single visit to Kiyomizu doesn’t do it justice – you need to see it against a backdrop of cherry blossoms in springtime, bright red leaves in the autumn, and of course there’s the yearly illuminations! Luckily for those of us who don’t live in Kyoto, Kiyomizu Temple has set up its own dedicated Instagram account, and the photos that they’ve been uploading are completely breathtaking!

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Buddhist monks cultivate cat haven at Fukui Prefecture’s “Kitty Temple”

Here’s a familiar saying: “In Ancient Egypt, cats were worshipped as gods; they have never forgotten this.” Certainly in Japan, cats are still given a huge amount of respect, with entire islands of moggies being given free roam to peacefully exist in their own little kitty ecosystem. Of course, things aren’t perfect, and stray and abandoned cats are a sad reality in Japan as much as they are in many other countries. But today we’re here to appreciate the happy cats of Gotanjo temple in Fukui Prefecture, who are lovingly tended to by Buddhist monks and fawned over by the adoring tourists who come to visit. You can even get a special kitty cat fortune and see what’s in store for the coming year!

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Now you see it, now you don’t! Korean artist creates amazing “empty” sculptures out of paper

Our faces are not symmetrical, and that’s probably why some selfie lovers spend hours on end getting into odd poses and taking shot after shot in order to find their best angle. Some of us might have entertained the thought of perfecting our appearances to be like dolls or sculptures so that we’d look perfect from every angle. But lo and behold, sculptures have their “photogenic” angles too!

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What’s this Tibetan temple doing in the middle of Japan? We go to find out!

Moriyama-ku is an unassuming suburb of Nagoya city, backed by mountains and surrounded by forest park, which has in its midst an extraordinary hidden gem: a Tibetan Buddhist temple!

The female chief priest at Chambalin temple was trained at the sacred Jokhang monastery in Lhasa, Tibet, and she also holds the unusual honour of being the first Japanese woman to be ordained as a Tibetan chief priest.

Hearing this, our widely-travelled writer Mr. Kurosawa grabbed his reporter’s notebook and camera and headed down to take a look at this unique cultural property – and its adjoining Tibetan café.

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The Marathon Monks of Mt. Hiei: Better than Olympic athletes?【Part II】

In the previous article The Marathon Monks of Mt. Hiei: Better than Olympic Athletes? Part I, I explain the sennichi kaihogyo, or 1,000 Day Challenge, in which the Tendai Buddhist monks of Mt. Hiei, sometimes referred to as the “marathon monks,” walk the equivalent of one time around the earth–at the end of which they become living Buddhas.

In Part II, I trace the monks’ steps on the 30 km pilgrimage route, or gyoja michi, which passes through the sacred mountains and forests near the temple complex of Enryakuji. It’s a rigorous course that winds through the mountains, down into the town of Sakamoto, taking them past more than 250 spiritual places. This is the route they circumambulate for days on end over a seven-year period. For tips on the meaning behind the route, be sure to read Part I before continuing!

Rather than walking the course, I decided to run it. Running pilgrimages is a hobby of mine and I find it is a great way to combine the physical with the metaphysical. It brings joy to my runs and this fulfillment keeps the challenge. If you’re a skier, you’re always looking for more mountains. Sky divers jump at different locations. Runners look for new paths and new trails give running purpose. Leave it to your RocketNews24 running reporter to tackle the famed gyoja michi and reveal its intricacies.

I figured that running the 30-km course through the mountains would take the better part of a day. There is no map and from what I have read, Mt. Hiei can be fickle weather-wise. It has snow much of the winter and spring and there are bears. In June, when the weather was perfect, I set out with a small backpack fitted with a water bladder, some medical accoutrements and an extra pair of socks inside (for those inevitable foot and toe problems), plus an ultra light sleeping bag, just in case I got lost and had to spend the night in the forest (been there, done that!).

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The Marathon Monks of Mt. Hiei: Better than Olympic Athletes? 【Part I】

Mt. Hiei, which straddles Kyoto and Shiga prefectures, is home to a huge temple complex called Enryakuji. The foothills of Mt. Hiei border Kyoto City’s northeast. This group of Buddhist temples is home to an eclectic group of Tendai-shu monks, dubbed the “marathon monks” for their amazing physical feats. Not all Enryakuji monks take part, mind you, as one must get special permission to engage in what is called one of the most rigorous athletic and spiritual challenges on the planet.

During the sennichi kaihogyo, or Thousand Day Challenge, the monks venerate Fudo-myo-o, the god at the center of worship in the Tendai sect. Over a seven-year training period, the monk, called a gyoja, makes a pilgrimage to over 250 sites on Mt. Hiei, one of the top three sacred spots in Japan. At the end of the challenge, he will have walked far enough to have circled the globe once. As if this were not enough to please their god, he also takes part in a fast for nine days in which he can not eat, drink or sleep. So arduous is the sennichi kaihogyo that just over 5o monks have accomplished the challenge since records started being kept back in 1585. Indeed, many monks have died en route to this ultimate quest for enlightenment.

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Ultra-cute moe pilgrims embark on Shikoku’s 88-temple journey in new TV show

2014 marks the 1,200th year since Buddhist monk Kukai made his holy journey to 88 temples on the southern Japanese island of Shikoku. The Shikoku Pilgrimage now attracts people from all over Japan as well as the world to visit the same temples along the 1,200 km-route.

Now, a new TV series, Ohenro, is out to appeal to a new generation of religious travelers and features three female pilgrims stylized in the ever popular moe fashion of super-cute anime characters.

But Japanese netizens, eager to soak up all things moe, are wondering if they will have to make their own “holy trip” since only four broadcasters are airing the show!

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Words of wisdom and humor from 12 Buddhist temples (and… Cameron Diaz!?)

It’s quite common in the United States for churches to post weekly messages on the signs standing on their front lawns. The public texts can run from deeply religious sentiments to pleas for more tolerance, though it’s also not uncommon for a careless mistake to lead to messages with multiple meanings–hilarious or unfortunate, depending on your perspective.

While Japan certainly does have its fair share of churches–perhaps more than one might expect–it is primarily the Buddhist temples that fill the role of making public, semi-religious proclamations. Like their Western counterparts, these messages can leave passers-by nodding their heads thoughtfully–or perhaps just chuckling. Check out these 12 posters that left a big impact on Japanese netizens! We never knew Buddhist Monks took so much notice of what Western celebrities had to say…

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8 reasons to visit this bizarre Buddhism theme park

At any amusement park run by the “big two” – Disney or Universal Studios – you can be whisked away to a picturesque fairytale castle, or live out scenes from your favourite movies. But what if what you really want is to ride through the depths of hell and then go alligator fishing? Suoi Tien Cultural Amusement Park, located on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, is a mammoth of a theme park that delights and baffles in equal measure. Read on for our eight reasons not to miss out!

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Japan’s most “Zen” temples

We’re all for the inherent beauty of your typical Japanese shrine or temple, but ask any expat or tourist who has made the rounds enough times and you’ll start to hear a similar refrain: “Yeah, they’re nice and all, but they all start to look the same after a while.”

Throw in the fact that many temples, especially the most well-known ones, nickel and dime tourists with entrance fees at multiple locations on the premises, sell souvenirs incongruous with anti-materialist Buddhist teachings and promote fortune raffles with a heavy, gossip magazine-esque emphasis on love and romance, and it’s easy to forget why the temples were built in the first place.

So, here we’ve put together a list of some of Japan’s most “Zen” temples: religious facilities that maintain a strong focus on doctrine, while allowing guests (obviously, for a small fee) to transcribe sutras for themselves, experience meditation classes and more:

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Japan’s Buddhist Temples keeping up with the times using DJs, apps, video games, booze and more

While religions of all stripes have something to offer in terms of support and advice, they also share a common detriment: they’re all really, really old. While age brings with it wisdom and experience, if religion can’t relate to modern society it runs the risk of getting left behind.

To help prevent this, several monks across Japan have been adopting new technology and trends or have tried simply reaching out to people differently, in less orthodox and more human ways.

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Japanese Man Creates Incredible LEGO “Pop-Up Book” That Opens to Reveal Buddhist Temple

LEGO reconstructions of famous structures, while certainly impressive, are nothing new. Japanese LEGO artisan Talapz, however, brings his miniature brick models to a whole new level by turning them into fantastic colorful pop-up books.

Check out a video of his latest creation, the famous Japanese Buddhist temple complex, Todai-ji, below.

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How to Organize Zen? Japanese Buddhists’ Adapt to Western Views of Their Religion

What do you think of when you hear the word Zen?  For most people, “organized religion” probably isn’t a phrase that pops up immediately.  This can be a bit of a predicament for Zen Buddhist missionaries working in places like Europe and North America.

The word, which comes from a Japanese translation of the Chinese word chán, literally means meditation, and has developed a romantic sense of being purely in the moment and devoid of all thought.  This concept has been focused on by various artists in Western culture like Jack Kerouac, with a diminished emphasis on the less sexy doctrines and worshiping of Buddha that are very much a part of the whole religion.

This image dichotomy is something that the Headquarters of Missionary Work for the Soto School of Buddhism in Europe has to deal with all the time.

Excite News Japan recently went to interview them on the state of modern Soto Zen Buddhism abroad. Check our rundown of their findings below!

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The Latest Singles Pick-up Spot: Buddhist Temples

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!

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Music Group Fronted by Japanese Monks Bring Buddhist Sutra to the Dance Club, Wear Awesome Helmets

Well Dubstep, you had a good run but it’s time to drop out and make way for a new genre of dance music straight from the Buddhist temples of Japan: Dubsutra.

Okay, so maybe I just made that word up, but it is a real thing thanks to Tariki Echo, a musical unit fronted by two Japanese, bike helmet-wearing monks who have turned the Buddhist sutra into dance music.

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