Japan Times: Japan’s rural temples target mass foreign and luxury tourism

Japan Times (by Junko Fujita):

Deep in a forest in Japan‘s Fukui Prefecture, a 13th century Buddhist temple where Steve Jobs once dreamed of becoming a Zen monk has teamed up with a Tokyo skyscraper builder to seek the commercial enlightenment of foreign tourist dollars.

As a weak yen fuels record tourism, Eiheiji Temple, local authorities and Mori Building Co. — the construction company behind some of Tokyo’s glitziest retail palaces — plan to redevelop the site, including placing a ¥1.3 billion hotel nearby. From there, a new path will be built leading visitors to the spartan site that intrigued the Apple Inc. guru.

Japan’s temples have long been business and tech-savvy, offering lucrative services like funerals while courting domestic tourists — a recent Eiheiji exhibition featured video from a drone operated by a monk. But compared to other parts of the world, religious sites outside centers like Kyoto have been slow to target mass foreign tourism.

What has changed is a shrinking population using temples less, crimping revenue just as annual overseas tourist numbers surge toward Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal of 20 million well ahead of a target date of 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympics. Japan’s farther-flung regions, long suffering a rural exodus, now want a piece of an influx led by visitors from China, South Korea and Taiwan that is bolstering big-city economies.

Eiheiji is a monastery that has been isolated from the rest of the world,” said the Rev. Shodo Kobayashi, a deputy administrator at the temple. “But we cannot be divorced from our community forever. We need to respond to the needs of local governments to increase tourists.”

Eiheiji needs money to support monks in the kind of intensive Zen retreat training that once appealed to Steve Jobs. But visitor numbers have skidded to less than half a million a year, nearly two-thirds below a late-1980s peak when group tours organized by Japanese companies and neighborhood associations were at the height of their popularity.

For the temple and local authorities, a new bullet train line that connects Tokyo with neighboring Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, offers a lifeline. The picturesque castle town just over 50 miles away is seeing a surge in foreign tourists whisked from Tokyo in just over 2½ hours.

The temple aims to spend ¥1.3 billion to build a two-story hotel offering modern comforts — including alcohol — to 80 guests in the adjacent town of Eiheiji, while the surrounding Fukui Prefecture’s authorities will redevelop the path leading to the temple in a project to be completed by 2020.

With a place to stay the night, tourists will spend more time and money,” said Shouji Kawakami, an Eiheiji town official. Local officials hope to double the number of visitors to the temple by 2025.

For Yasuo Sasaki, head of the promotions department at Fukui Prefecture, the stakes go beyond tourism itself. “We need to strengthen our brand power to attract more tourists,” Sasaki said, “then we could revive our economy and people in Fukui will regain pride and confidence.”

It is an ambition shared by many of Japan’s less-traveled cities and towns, largely left behind while the Tokyo metropolis continues to grow in economic power.

But while these places invest in new facilities, for Kosuke Motani, chief senior economist at Japan Research Institute, it will remain difficult for locations that have fallen out of favor with domestic tourists to see a return.

In order for them to attract foreign tourists, they need to have something very unique,” said Motani. “It is very challenging for places that were deserted by Japanese people to attract foreign tourists.”

Still, some say foreign tourists can, and will come.

At Chusonji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Iwate Prefecture that traces its roots back nearly 1,200 years, promotions aimed at attracting visitors from Taiwan and Thailand are paying off, and will be stepped up, said senior temple priest Kaisyun Chiba. A broad central government push to encourage visitors to Japan is also helping, he said.

We have been making efforts to attract tourists but we haven’t done enough,” said Chiba. “How hard we try to attract them would be a key for the future.”

Back at Eiheiji, shaven-headed monks in black robes will continue to go about centuries-old rituals. But those interested in joining their austere training regime may be discouraged by Steve Jobs’ conclusion after consulting his spiritual advisor, an Eiheiji-trained monk who also performed his marriage service.

He said there is nothing over there that isn’t here, and he was correct,” the former Apple leader told writer Walter Isaacson in his authorized biography. “I learned the truth of the Zen saying that if you are willing to travel around the world to meet a teacher, one will appear next door.”

Many of Japan’s 16 UNESCO World Heritage sites fly under the radar

RocketNews 24:

Did you know that Japan has 16 locations on the list of UNESCO World Heritages? Could you name them all with any sum of money on the line?

Survey Research Center, Co. Ltd. conducted a survey that showed that most people could not. When asked whether they were interested in Japan’s world heritages, 67.8% of those surveyed responded affirmatively. However, only 4% of respondents knew all 16 Japanese sites.

See how many you can name before looking at the list below:

1. Yakushima [Kagoshima Prefecture]

2. Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome) [Hiroshima Prefecture]

3. Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Ryukyu Islands [Okinawa Prefecture]

4. Itsukushima Shinto Shrine [Hiroshima Prefecture]

5. Shiretoko [Hokkaido Prefecture]

6. Hiraizumi – Temples, Gardens and Archaeological Sites Representing the Buddhist Pure Land [Iwate Prefecture]

7. Ogasawara Islands [Tokyo Metropolis]

8. Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama [Gifu Prefecture]

9. Himeji-jo [Hyogo Prefecture]

10. Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape [Shimane Prefecture]

11. Shirakami-Sanchi [Akita and Aomori Prefectures]

12. Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area [Nara Prefecture]

13. Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities) [Kyoto Prefecture]

14. Shrines and Temples of Nikko [Tochigi Prefecture]

15. Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara [Nara Prefecture]

16. Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range [Nara, Wakayama and Mie Prefectures]

How did you do? You might have noticed that both natural locations and manmade structures can qualify as world heritages.

The survey also showed that over half of Japanese tourists add the option of visiting a world heritage site when they take a tour on vacation.

Find out more about world heritage sites by watching “The World Heritage” on TBS at 6 a.m. on Sunday, November 27. The first program will focus on natural heritages, and the program that airs on Sunday, December 4 will deal with cultural assets.

Watching these shows and learning more about world heritages will surely enrich your mind and deepen your appreciation of Japanese history, and they may even give you some ideas for your next trip within Japan.

Source: TBS “The World Heritage”

Strapped for cash, 1,400-year-old Kyoto shrine leasing part of its grounds for condo development

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RocketNews 24:

One of the things that makes Japan such a compelling place is the country’s long cultural history. The upkeep of centuries-old buildings can be extremely expensive, however, especially since traditional Japanese architecture is mainly wood, reed, and paper, which aren’t exactly the sturdiest building materials.

As we’ve seen before, sometimes even sites of historical significance can struggle to make ends meet, and Kyoto’s famous Shimogamo Shrine is no exception. That’s why in order to raise the funds it needs, the institution, which was founded some 1,400 years ago, is planning to lease a section of its grounds for the construction of a complex.

Although it’s been around in some form since the 6th century, the Shimogamo Shrine has gotten a number of publicity boosts in the modern era. The shrine was designated a UNESCO world Heritage Site in 1994, and much of the surrounding forest is part of the Tadasu no Mori, an old growth nature preserve that’s listed as a national historical site.

In even more recent years, the shrine was depicted in in the 2013 Kyoto-set anime The Eccentric Family, and the shrine remains one of the most important Shinto sites in Kyoto, beloved for its fall colors and host of the Aoi Matsuri festival, held every year on May 15.

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This year, however, the shrine’s finances are looking bleak. Like many shrines, Shimogamo periodically takes part in a ritual called Shikinen Sengu, wherein new shrine buildings are constructed to replace the old ones as the homes of the gods. Shimogamo Shrine does this once every 21 years, and with Shikinen Sengu scheduled to happen in 2015, expects to incur related expenses of some three billion yen(US$25.2 million).

Government funding should provide about 800 million yen, and, like many shrines in Japan, Shimogamo is also likely to receive donations from major business entities. However, two months into the year, donations are not projected to be nearly enough to cover the necessary costs. In response, Shimogamo Shrine announced earlier this week that it is planning to lease out a section of its shrine grounds for the construction of a condominium complex.

Head Priest Naoto Araki said that the ordinary monetary offerings the shrine receives over the course of a year are applied to ordinary administration and maintenance costs, but points out that the latter are rising every year. Faced with the additional burden of finding a way to pay for 2015’s Shikinen Sengu, he has come to the conclusion that there is no other choice that will enable him to preserve the shrine for future generations but to build the condos. The 50-year lease is expected to bring in about 80 million yen annually for the shrine.

▼ A map of Shimogamo Shrine

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Conservationists will be partially relieved to know that the proposed construction site, while still on the shrine grounds, lies outside the World Heritage Site and national historic site boundaries. The 9,650-square meter (2.4-acre) plot, which borders the Mikage-dori road, was formerly the site of housing for the shrine’s priests. Following World War II, the area was repurposed as a golf driving range because of financial difficulties, and in the early 1980s became a parking lot, which saw less and less use as other lots were built in the area.

In keeping with Kyoto’s reverence for its past, any development will have to comply with a number of regulations meant to preserve the city’s traditional beauty, and the developers are currently in the middle of preliminary talks with Kyoto’s Municipal Beautification Council. The proposed 107-unit complex would be spread among eight buildings, each a modest three-stories tall and no more than 10 meters high so as not to mar the surrounding views, with traditional Japanese tile roofs. Within the complex, the same type of elms as those which grow in the Tadasu no Mori woodlands are scheduled to be planted.

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Despite these concessions, many online commenters still weren’t happy about the news.

“I was really surprised to hear about this. I don’t mind if they charge admission to the shrine, but I want them to call off the condo construction. It’ll ruin the scenery.”

“At first I thought, ‘That’s just wrong,’ but it looks like there’s no other way for them to get the funds they need, so it can’t be helped.”

“Even if they’re a World Heritage Site, is this the only way for them to survive?”

“Ah man…are they still going to be able to film samurai TV shows there?”

If approval processes go smoothly, construction is expected to start in November, with completion of the complex estimated in spring of 2017.

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Justin Bieber’s Yasukuni Shrine visit draws scorn from Asian fans

 

RocketNews 24:

 

Being an international pop star like Canada’s Justin Bieber is certain to have its share of pitfalls. Scandals such as unfortunate comments at the Anne Frank house and more recently charges of drunk driving and egging a house have continued to dog him.

So this Easter weekend, the award-winning performer made a trip to Japan to get away from it all. After all, what could possibly go wrong here?

While being driven through the streets of Tokyo, Bieber spotted a large traditional looking Shinto shrine. He asked the driver to pull over while he took a picture of it. He then uploaded it to his Instagram account along with the wholesome and possibly Easter inspired message, “Thank you for your blessings.”

Soon after comments poured in razing the pop star saying, “What are you doing motherfucker?”“Are you crazy???!!!!!!!! Are you kidding me???!!!!!! Go to hell!!! Fuck you!!!”; and “Say sorry to Chinese.”

 

 

It turns out that of all the shrines in all Japan, Justin Bieber just happened to stumble upon Yasukuni Shrine. This shrine has long stood as a lightning rod for tensions between Japan and other Asian countries namely China and Korea. Yasukuni is said to enshrine the souls of dead soldiers among others. As such it houses the spirits of various war criminals responsible for atrocities against other Asian countries.

Probably anyone could assume that Justin Bieber wasn’t all that up on the complexities of Asian international relations or Shinto theology. On the other hand, it’s also understandable how a Chinese person might interpret the image in the context of Bieber’s reallyunfortunately worded comment.

Nevertheless, after the scores of scathing comments were noticed, the pictures of Yasukuni Shrine were promptly taken down. It was too late though as word spread and media outlets picked up on the mistake.

On 24 April, Bieber’s Instagram site posted an apology:

“While in Japan I asked my driver to pull over for which I saw a beautiful shrine. I was mislead [sic] to think the Shrines were only a place of prayer. To anyone I have offended I am extremely sorry. I love you China and I love you Japan”

Although the apology led to comments of support for the perpetually beleaguered Bieber there were still some angry comments in English and Chinese to the tune of “stupid gay idiot” and “What a load of crap and go fuck yourself and please never come back to China to make mone[y].”

And there you have the price of fame. While enjoying the love from legions of Beliebers and all the money that comes with it, this young man and many like him must live in constant fear that whatever he says or does will put him in the headlines or get him called a “stupid gay idiot” several times over.

Source: Instagram – justinbieberTHAT’S (English)
Top Image: Twitter – sanverde

 

 

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Justin Bieber’s Yasukuni Shrine visit draws scorn from Asian fans

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Japan Shrine An Unwelcome Symbol for Many

Wall Street Journal:

Shinto priests walk out from Torii gate after they administer a Shinto rite “Kiyoharai” on the first day of the four-day autumn festival at the Yasukuni shrine on Oct. 17.

The shrine visited by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday has often been a lightning rod for criticism by Japan’s neighbors over the country’s wartime past.

The Shinto shrine, located in a Tokyo neighborhood near the political heart of the city, is the nation’s primary war memorial honoring 2.5 million Japanese killed since the late 19th century. It is visited by 5 million people annually, according to Yasukuni officials.

But its role in Japan’s troubled foreign relations with nations such as China and South Korea has been a more recent phenomenon. In 1978 it quietly added to those enshrined 14 “Class A” war criminals from World War II who had been convicted in postwar tribunals by the allied forces. Among them is Gen. Hideki Tojo, who was Japan’s prime minister during most of the war.

The religious act–conducted by the shrine’s head priest–was apparently taken without government consent and made public only a year later.

China and South Korea have long criticized any visits by Japanese political figures as a sign that Japan has not shown sufficient remorse over its wartime history.

The shrine is also a gathering post for Japan’s right-wing groups, who loudly commemorate Japan’s prior military actions. On many weekends, small groups of men dress in pre-war uniforms carry out marching drills. The museum attached to the shrine adds to the controversy, with displays suggesting that Japan was justified in its actions during the war.

The visit by Mr. Abe is likely to reignite much of this controversy, although the prime minister said it was not aimed at other countries.

It is not my intention at all to hurt the feelings of the Chinese and Korean people. It is my wish to respect each other’s character, protect freedom and democracy, and build friendship with China and Korea with respect, as did all previous prime ministers who visited Yasukuni Shrine,” Mr. Abe said at the conclusion of his visit.

He is the first prime minister to visit Yasukuni since Junichiro Koizumi, whose repeated trips there during his five-year term from 2001 led to a chill in Japan’s ties with China.

Over the years, some lawmakers and historians have tried to resolve the controversy by seeking to remove names of the 14 war criminals at Yasukuni or by building a secular national memorial in a new location. But such efforts never gained traction due to opposition from veterans’ groups and activists, as well as complex Shinto rules that prevent spirits, once joined together, from being separated from each other.

Japan’s emperors have never visited the shrine since the inclusion of the 14. Japanese soldiers fought World War II in the name of Emperor Hirohito, who died in 1989.

 A History of The Yasukuni Shrine        

1869: A shrine to honor war dead is founded in central Tokyo, first called Tokyo Shokonsha, renamed Yasukuni in 1987.

1945: Japan surrenders in World War II. The U.S.-led allied forces declare the shrine a place for individual worship.

1975: Takeo Miki visits the shrine on Aug. 15, the World War II surrender anniversary, as the first prime minister to do so. He goes as a ‘private citizen.’

1978: Names of 14 ‘Class A’ war criminals are added secretly to those of 2.5 million war dead honored at the shrine.

1985: China protests an ‘official’ visit by Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone to the shrine.

2001: Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi starts visiting Yasukuni once a year.

2010: Democratic Party of Japan takes power, discourages Yasukuni visits by cabinet members.

2012: Shinzo Abe visits as the Liberal Democratic Party chief, two months before becoming prime minister.

2013: Four members of the Abe cabinet and 168 parliament members visit during the April spring festival. China and South Korea protest.

2013: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits the shrine on Dec. 26, the one-year anniversary of his taking office.

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Japan Shrine An Unwelcome Symbol for Many