I have to say that one of the highlights from my recent Japan trip was Tōkōin Temple (東光院) in my hometown, Oiso.
Mind you, I am not at all a religious person.
I only visited this temple to pay respect to my uncle who passed on during the pandemic, but this temple really blew my mind and showed me what it is to adapt our old traditions to this ever-changing world.
As you would know, not taking off your shoes to enter a Japanese house is a cardinal sin.
If I’m allowed to be a bit passive aggressive right now, each time my NZ European family members and friends walk into my house with their shoes on, I’m internally very, VERY cross! (Now you know!)
This cultural rule is upheld even more strictly at places of worship such as shrines, temples, and even some churches in Japan.
But, as you can see in one of the pictures above (“Keep your shoes on” sign), this temple broke this sacred cultural law to make the sanctuary barrier free for the elderly and people with disability (you need to bend down to remove your shoes, which is hard for them).
I was born and raised in Japan and spent about 21 years of my life there, but it was the very first time to visit a temple that allows you to keep your shoes on… in the sanctuary!!!
They also removed tatami mattresses and placed chairs in the sanctuary so that people don’t have to sit in the seiza position. It is a seiza-free temple!!!
I don’t know any other temple that does this. Please comment below if you know any other temple like this one in Japan… This is that rare!
But what really surprised me doesn’t end here.
This temple has a cozy community space with a library which is completely open to the public- anyone can just walk in and use it to study, to work, up to you.
When my family entered the space, there were a lot of after-school primary school students, reading manga, playing games together, or doing homework.
Then joined one of the monks (who once was a boxer!), and they all started watching the Final of 2023 World Baseball Classic together!
As you may know, Japan beat US and won the championship this year 😁
Did I say that the temple also provides tea, coffee, hot lemon drink, and sometimes even snacks free of charge.
If you want to have some quiet time to meditate, there is space available, too, where you can do sutra copying (写経) or “shabutsu” (写仏), which is a meditative practice to trace pictures of Buddha and other Buddhist deities.
My son was really amused by the tracing activity and completed it in a few minutes- though it’s supposed to be done very slowly to contemplate.
The temple also works closely with doctors, nurses, social workers, psychotherapists to offer free help for those who cannot afford these kinds of services themselves.
They invite academics to do open lectures on non-Buddhist subjects like economics as well.
There are even more radical things they do, but I’ll stop here to not to bore you!
My learning from their adaptability is that traditional arts such as rakugo also have to keep evolving, adapting themselves to the time, here and now. I have to say this temple is way ahead of the world of rakugo.