A new generation of Buddhist priests is working closely with ordinary people to regenerate communities as population shrinkage threatens the future of their temples.

On a Saturday night in May, a group of five men, mostly in their 30s, sat down at Saikoji Temple in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, to discuss ways of reinvigorating a lackluster local festival. The group was assembled by Taimei Ohara, a 33-year-old deputy chief priest at the temple, which belongs to the Soto sect of Buddhism. Ohara selected residents with ideas and initiative, among them a civil servant, a farmer and a clothing designer.

The Torinoichi festival, which has been celebrated at Saikoji each November over the past century, is now a shadow of its former self and only attracts a paltry crowd of 1,000 people, down from its peak of 5,000.