Temple ideas

VOX POPULI: Temple organizes services to send objects, shameful messages online

Daruma dolls, battledores, “hina” dolls and soft toys are among the items brought to Kokujoji, a Buddhist temple in Tsubame, Niigata Prefecture, by patrons who want memorial services held for them.

Customers have so many memories of items that they don’t have the heart to casually dispose of them. Temple officials take the items and place them in a fire after a chanting of sutras.

The temple previously held memorial services only once a year, in the spring. As of 2020, however, similar services have been held twice a year, including in the fall, as more customers bring in items.

“We are getting an increasing number of requests for memorial services from people who say they cannot part with their items via simple disposal,” said Kotetsu Yamada, the chief priest of Kokujoji.

Four years ago, the temple also launched “enjo kuyo,” or online shame memorial services, to offer relief to those suffering emotional wounds after being targeted by a rush of critical and slanderous posts on social networks or online message boards.

When an online message that has sparked an internet crowd is posted on the temple’s official website, the temple staff prints the message on paper, wraps it around a wooden tablet called “nadegi” and puts it fire.

These days, what would have ended up as nothing more than malicious gossip in the background can spill over into cyberspace.

“It’s a contemporary form of unhappiness,” Yamada, 55, said. “I came up with the idea for the services in the belief that saving those who suffer from it is in keeping with the cause of Buddhism.”

The temple has received approximately 500 requests for online memorial services, which are free. Many requests come from young people.

Kokujoji’s memorial services were previously featured in a local news page of The Asahi Shimbun. The temple offered similar services for business cards, photos, a robot dog, dentures and even a pachinko machine.

What were initially rituals to send family members, benefactors and others to the afterlife gradually expanded to sewing needles and dolls, and later to pets and personal effects.

We find ourselves in a time when we hold memorial services for our own comments sent from our smartphones.

An industry association has designated September 4 as “memorial services day” because the first syllable of “kuyo,” the Japanese for memorial services, sounds like the number nine in Japanese, and the second syllable sounds similar of the number four.

We are tempted to ask what people who live 100 or 200 years later will hold memorial services.

–The Asahi Shimbun, September 4

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that covers a wide range of topics, including culture, the arts, and social trends and developments. Written by veteran writers from Asahi Shimbun, the column offers helpful perspectives and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.