Idol-pop trio turn temples into gig spots


The members of one all-girl pop group that performs primarily at temples in Kyoto has seen their prayers answered in recent years as their fan base has grown steadily.

Called terapalms (rendered entirely in lower-case letters), the trio formed in November 2016 at the request of Ryuho Ikeguchi, the 38-year-old chief priest of Ryuganji temple. He came up with the idea as a way to increase the number of visitors to his place of worship, which aligns itself with the Jodo sect of Buddhism, a branch of what is known as Pure Land Buddhism.

The three members of terapalms embraced the angle, creating stage names for themselves that have been adopted from Buddhist saints — Tama Monju, Chiseno Misaki and Shion Sezaki also keep their real names a secret for privacy reasons.

The three women recently hit the stage at Ryuganji last November, playing on wooden mokugyo instruments — the same ones used by Buddhist monks in the recitation of sutras — to the delight of around 100 people.

The audience joined in for one of the songs, chanting lyrics that are also found in Buddhist sutras. To terapalms’ delight, the crowd really got into it.

Inspired by the group, 47-year-old Hiroshi Habe from the city of Moriguchi in neighboring Osaka Prefecture, bought a Jodo scripture.

“I actually use the scripture in Buddhist memorial services,” Habe says. “I enjoy it every time.”

Miki Nishizono, a 29-year-old from Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, says she has taken to visiting little-known temples with other fans of terapalms to view statues of Buddhist saints.

The group’s approach to performing hasn’t been completely zen, however. Some have questioned whether or not it’s appropriate to hold gigs at such holy places. But Monju says she “wants people to understand that temples and Buddhism are not hard to approach,” meaning that people shouldn’t feel intimidated by the religious environment.

Ikeguchi says that a number of terapalms fans now attend monthly Buddhism study groups held at Ryuganji. In addition to that, he adds that the temple’s ceremonies were mainly attended by people who looked to be in their 70s, but now the average age has dropped to 40 in his estimation.

“In the end it’s important to offer opportunities for people to feel free to become involved in Buddhism and Buddhist-related activities,” Ikeguchi says.