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.”

Takashi Murakami unveils two new exhibitions for Tokyo and Yokohama

Legendary Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami, has revealed that two new exhibitions of work will be shown in his homeland within the next twelve months. The 500 Arhats, a response to the 2011 Japan Earthquake, is to be exhibited at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo from October 31, 2015 to March 6, 2016 and Takashi Murakami’s Superflat Collection Soga Shohaku and Kitaoji Rosanjin to Anselm Kiefer is to show for the first time at the Yokohama Museum of Art from January 30 to April 3 2016. Murakami, who recently collaborated on a collection with Vans, is also set to feature at Art Basel where Galerie Perrotin will present a solo show by the artist.

The subject of Murakami’s new art is one of the most famous motifs in Zen painting, the circle ensō that symbolizes emptiness, unity and infinity in Zen Buddhism. The 500 Arhats, a masterpiece stretching 100 meters by 3 meters in height represents the 500 wise followers who attained enlightenment, in Zen tradition. Keep an eye on Galerie Perrotin’s website for more details.

Japanese Zen Buddhist temple starts selling instant vegan soba and udon noodles

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RocketNews 24:

Upon coming to Japan, a lot of people are surprised to discover just how difficult finding vegetarian food can be. Many people imagine Japan as a country that eats very little meat, and while that’s definitely true in comparison to North America and western Europe, the flipside is that you’ll find at least a little bit of meat in just about all dishes, including salads and vegetable stews with surprising frequency.

Things get trickier still if you’re trying to stick to a vegan diet. Even something as simple as noodles are generally out, since almost all broths are made with meat or fish stock. But if you’ve got an aversion to meat coupled with a craving for soba or udon, you’re in luck, with two new types of vegan instant noodles produced by a Zen Buddhist temple.

As a temple of the Soto sect of Zen, Yokohama’s Soji Temple is primarily concerned with nourishing the souls of worshippers. The institution’s newest venture, though, is more concerned with your physical nourishment, as evidenced by its name, Zen-Foods.

Many devout Buddhist monks in Japan adhere to a strict vegan diet called shojin ryori. In recent years, the cuisine has obtained a somewhat chic status, bolstered by its healthy image and connection to temple lodges that have become increasingly popular places for travelers to stay.

Under the supervision of Soji Temple, Zen-Foods has produced two types of instant noodles, both completely animal product-free, in accordance with the rules of shojin ryori.

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The Gahomen Soba buckwheat noodles, despite their elegant background, are made like any other instant variety. Open the lid, sprinkle on the soup powder, add hot water, and wait three minutes for everything to cook. Once it does, you’ll have a bowl of soba, swimming in a kelp/soy sauce broth, topped with soybeans, fried tofu, kikurage mushrooms, and an assortment of chingensai, warabi, and zenmai greens.

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Meanwhile, the Gahomen Udon wheat noodles’ has a vegetable broth seasoned with salt. While soba and udon toppings are largely interchangeable in Japanese cuisine, Zen-Foods gives its two types of noodles completely different accompaniments. With the udon, you can look forward to lotus root, green beans, and taro, among other veggies.

The udon does require a little more patience, though, as its cooking time is listed as five minutes. Looked at another way, though, that’s two more minutes for quiet meditation, self-reflection, or simply looking forward to your hot, healthy meal.

Gahomen Soba and Udon can be ordered here, directly from Zen-Foods, in packs of 12 for 3,600 yen (US$30).

Here’s how Zen meditation changed Steve Jobs’ life and sparked a design revolution

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RocketNews 24/Business Insider:

When Steve Jobs showed up at the San Francisco airport at the age of 19, his parents didn’t recognize him.

Jobs, a Reed College dropout, had just spent a few months in India.

He had gone to meet the region’s contemplative traditions — Hinduism, Buddhism — and the Indian sun had darkened his skin a few shades.

The trip changed him in less obvious ways, too.

Although you couldn’t predict it then, his travels would end up changing the business world.

Back in the Bay Area, Jobs continued to cultivate his meditation practice. He was in the right place at the right time; 1970s San Francisco was where Zen Buddhism first began to flourish on American soil. He met Shunryu Suzuki, author of the groundbreaking “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind,” and sought the teaching of one of Suzuki’s students, Kobun Otogawa.

Jobs met with Otogawa almost every day, Walter Isaacson reported in his biography of Jobs. Every few months, they’d go on a meditation retreat together.

Zen Buddhism, and the practice of meditation it encouraged, were shaping Jobs’ understanding of his own mental processes.

If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is,” Jobs told Isaacson. “If you try to calm it, it only makes things worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things — that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It’s a discipline; you have to practice it.”

Jobs felt such resonance with Zen that he considered moving to Japan to deepen his practice. But Otogawa told him he had work to do in California.

Evidently, Otogawa was a pretty insightful guy.

When you look back at Jobs’ career, it’s easy to spot the influence of Zen. For 1300 years, Zen has instilled in its practitioners a commitment to courage, resoluteness, and austerity — as well as rigorous simplicity.

Or, to put it into Apple argot, insane simplicity.

Zen is everywhere in the company’s design.

Take, for instance, the evolution of the signature mouse:

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It’s the industrial design equivalent of the ensoor hand-drawn circle, the most fundamental form of Zen visual art.

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But Zen didn’t just inform the aesthetic that Jobs had an intense commitment to, it shaped the way he understood his customers. He famously said that his task wasn’t to give people what they said they wanted; it was to give them what they didn’t know they needed.

Instead of relying on market research, [Jobs] honed his version of empathy — an intimate intuition about the desires of his customers,” Isaacson said.

What’s the quickest way to train your empathy muscles? As centuries of practitioners and an increasingly tall stack of studies suggest, it’s meditation.

When you take that into account, it’s easy to see that for Jobs, growing his business and cultivating his awareness weren’t opposing endeavors.

When he died, the New York Times ran a stirring quote about what he did for society: “You touched an ugly world of technology and made it beautiful.”

We can thank that time in India and on the meditation cushion for that beautiful, rigorous simplicity — one that sparked a design revolution.

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Medicom Toy’s Tokyo Skytree Town Solamachi Store 2nd Anniversary 400% Gold-Plated Daruma Bearbrick

 

Image of Medicom Toy Tokyo Skytree Town Solamachi Store 2nd Anniversary 400% Gold-Plated Daruma Bearbrick

Japanese toy giant Medicom Toy celebrates the two-year anniversary of its Skytree Town Solamachi store in Tokyo with the release of a commemorative gold-plated Bearbrick.

Measuring in at the 400% size, the gold-plated ursine figure features a classic Daruma motif as a nod to Zen Buddhism. Part of the store’s “Welcome the people who have ‘二’ in your name” campaign, the limited edition Bearbrick will be available in-store, free of charge, to those that meet the requirement beginning May 7.

 

Check out this link:

Medicom Toy’s Tokyo Skytree Town Solamachi Store 2nd Anniversary 400% Gold-Plated Daruma Bearbrick

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Thich Nhat Hanh: The Country of the Present Moment: Wisdom for Global Peace and Happiness

 

In New York this weekend? At the Beacon TheaterThich Nhat Hanh, the world-renowned Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist, will be hosting a talk Saturday afternoon.

Thich Nhat Hanh will speak about how mindful living can generate a higher understanding and peace in ourselves and in our world. His lecture will focus on how to apply the practice of mindfulness to protect our planet, reconcile our differences, and continue beautifully into the future by taking care of the present moment. Thich Nhat Hanh will be joined by eighty monks and nuns from his monasteries in Europe, Asia, and North America.

Check out this link:

Thich Nhat Hanh: The Country of the Present Moment: Wisdom for Global Peace and Happiness

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