Buddhist schoolgirl idol group gets shut down for becoming too popular

In Japan, there truly is an all-singing, all-dancing “idol” group for everything. From plus-sized beauties to macho men and octogenarians, if you’ve got a unique message and a catchy tune, there’ll be a niche audience out there waiting to share your next video and dance along with glow sticks at your next performance.

Just when we thought the happy-go-lucky, free-for-all nature of the amateur idol world had no boundaries, it seems there is one line that can’t be crossed: schoolgirls and religion. Meet the “Num-Num Girls”, a Buddhism-based schoolgirl pop group that has been shut down for becoming too popular.

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Afro Buddha, usually only displayed one day a year,  gets rare extended viewing until mid-October

The Buddhist statues of Japan come in a wide variety of forms, representing the various manifestations and aspects of Buddhism and its many sects. Of all the iconic figures that can be found around the country, perhaps the grooviest are the statues of Amida with a giant afro!

Dubbed the “Afro Buddha,” this statue stored at Todaiji in Nara is also rarely available public viewing — it’s usually only on display for one day a year! But thanks to special circumstances, it is on display from now until October 18. If you’re looking for the funkiest Buddha in Japan, now’s your chance to see him!

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A CD of Buddhist monks reciting sutras is one of Japan’s best selling albums

Man, remember CDs? For a time, they were the best and essentially only way to get your music fix, before digital distribution basically steamrolled CD sales worldwide. Now everybody uses those CD spindles—which once held dozens of CDs containing hundreds of hours of music—to keep their bagels from going stale or whatever.

Unsurprisingly, though, in change-averse Japan, CDs still do a brisk business, although sales are certainly waning and it’s only a matter of time before the Japanese, too, decide to collectively microwave their CD collections once and for all (this being the most fun way to dispose of your CDs). And one interesting side-effect of Japan’s CD business entering its twilight years is that some rather unexpected, and sometimes downright odd, albums have been stealthily cracking the top 10 charts.

For example, this CD containing a soothing collection of Buddhist monks reciting sutras.

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Fed up of romance sims? Buddhist-themed visual novel coming to Android and iOS

There’s already a whole bunch of dating sim titles aimed at both men and women available to play on your phone or tablet. But for those who are fed up of sappy, cliché boy-meets-girl stories there’s a new addition to the growing range of visual novels available on mobile platforms that is set to tell a unique story focusing not on romance, but on the Buddhist religion.

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“Buddhists’ Disneyland” the Pure Land Cave is the trippiest place on earth

In Kaohsiung, Taiwan, there stands a massive Buddhist complex set up by the half-century-old sect Fo Guang Shan. It is a sprawling 30 hectares (74 acres) and contains the nation’s largest monastery, a 36-meter (132 foot) tall Buddha statue, as well as an enormous Buddha Memorial Center in the shape of a pyramid.

However, for our correspondent Kowloon Kurosawa the real action could be found in the Pure Land Cave. It’s an attraction rumored to have been patterned after Disney’s It’s a Small World ride. However, as we’ll soon see, Buddhism is not so much a “small” world as it is a creepy and psychedelic one.

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Bamiyan Buddhas destroyed by Taliban reborn via Chinese couple, projection mapping

The giant stone Buddhas at Bamiyan were the tallest in the world at 55 and 38 meters (180 and 125 feet) in height. From their cliffside alcove, they watched a millennium and a half pass in Afghanistan, resisting the degenerative influence of time and the introduction of Islam, until religious fanaticism in the form of the Taliban and a great deal of explosives finally brought them down.

Their loss was a cultural and artistic tragedy, but this week the Buddhas were reborn through the magic of 3-D projection mapping and the efforts of a civilian Chinese couple.

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Meiji-era vision of Hell is not at all frightening, actually kind of cute

Depicting the horrors of hell through art is a tradition in Buddhism that goes back at least 1,000 years in Japan. By depicting the suffering in store for sinners, the artworks were supposed to scare people onto the straight and narrow.

But if that’s what this late 19th century scroll was for, it might have had the opposite effect. We’ve never seen such a cute hellscape!

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Japan Bucket List — 8 things you need to do to really understand Japan

Your first trip to Japan is bound to be a whirlwind visit as you try to pack so many things into a short period of time. Do go to Tokyo and see the white-gloved train pushers, the famous Shibuya scramble crossing, and many of the scenes depicted in anime and manga. Do go to Kyoto and see the shrines and temples that are simply amazing.

But as a country that has so much to offer, it can take years to really get to know and understand Japan, even when you live here. So if you want to take your understanding of Japan a step further, we’re here to suggest a few things you’ll want to experience in order to better understand Japanese culture: things that give you insight on what’s behind the Japanese way of thinking.

These experiences will help you understand who the Japanese people are, and why they act the way they do. Get ready to move from tourist to cultural expert after the jump!

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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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