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Shoganji Temple in Tokyo’s Katsushika Ward has the standard trappings you’d expect from a place of Buddhist worship that was founded over 400 years ago. Traditional prayer hall? Check. Surrounding garden with pebble ground cover? Yup. Graveyard with solemn gray tombstones? Of course.

And a functioning planetarium? Sure, why not!

From a distance, Shoganji looks like any of the hundreds of other temples that dot Japan’s largest city. But once you set foot in its grounds, you’ll start to notice a few things that seem a little out of place. For example, many temples feature a pair of statues of Buddhist guardian deities flanking the approach to the main building, but Shoganji has… a dinosaur and a lion.

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Two of the seven dwarves also make an appearance, although their body language suggests they’re trying to slip away before the lion notices and possibly eats them.

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At this point, we could still be convinced this is just an ordinary temple with a particularly eccentric groundskeeper and/or oversized stoneware budget. That still wouldn’t explain the mural of whales over the entrance to the modernly-styled building next to the prayer hall, however.

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And we’re also pretty certain there aren’t any sutras that make mention of the sporty, twin-tailed space shuttle mockup affixed to the exterior either.

▼ So, are they space whales?

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The man behind all of this uniqueness is Ryo Kasuga, the 17th head priest of Shoganji. Despite being in charge of a temple, Kasuga didn’t grow up in a monastery, secluded form the world at large. Kasuga spent time living and studying in Germany and Italy, where he was also a prize-winning tenor.

His other hobbies include magic tricks and astronomy, which brings us to the contents of the uniquely decorated building. Step inside and you’ll find a fully functioning planetarium.

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The planetarium, officially called the Planetarium Theatre Galaxy, holds 22 visitors, and its stylish interior is top-notch, with gleaming wooden flooring and comfy leather seats that swivel and recline.

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Kasuga himself presents an explanation on the stars, accompanied by one other presenter. The rationale between having two speakers is two-fold. First, Kasuga believes that listening to only a single person talk can feel monotonous, making it hard for the audience to maintain concentration on what they are being told. And secondly, having a partner allows the presenters to crack jokes with each other like a traditional two-person Japanese manzai comedy duo. Visitors have described the presenters’ humor as near-professional-quality, and each month features a new routine, with topics ranging from the latest astronomical developments to often overlooked bits of scientific trivia.

▼ One of Galaxy’s presenters

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Unfortunately, Shoganji’s planetarium only has showings at 3 p.m. on the first and third Saturday of each month. Reservations are required and can be made by telephone or through Galaxy’s website. The dinosaur can be seen every day.

Visitor info
Shoganji Temple 證願寺
Address Tokyo, Katsushika Ward, Tateishi 7-11-30
東京都葛飾区立石7-11-30
Five minute walk from Keisei Oshiage Line Tateishi Station (形成押上線 立石駅)
Planetarium entrance fee: Adults 800 yen (US$8.40), Children 500 yen (US$5.25)
Telephone: 03-3696-1170
Online reservation form available here

Sources: Galaxy, Wikipedia, Naver Matome
Images: Naver Matome