Due to the decline in Buddhist worshippers and the population in general, the number of empty or abandoned temples has been growing in recent years.
Seeing this as an opportunity for a new business model, Goto Shrines-and-temples Construction Co., based in Ginan, Gifu Prefecture, is offering to move old shrines and rebuild them in new locations.
Not only is this cheaper than building a new temple from scratch, but it also might become a new recycling trend as temples built before the war were made with high-quality materials that are often difficult to acquire these days.
The firm is now working on moving the main building in a temple complex built in 1912 out of Inabe, Mie Prefecture.
The previous temple chief lives in Chiba and holds another position there. Citing old age and the inability to commute regularly, he retired, leaving the temple in Mie without a chief.
Only 40 households patronize the temple and it has become difficult to maintain the building, as one of its main pillars is leaning and the structure is leaking. At the very least, the worshippers wanted to save the dais, and began contacting other temples.
When news of their problem reached Katsuhiro Goto, chairman of Goto Shrines-and-temples Construction, he offered to take over for free. He then approached Kosenji Temple in Hashima, Gifu Prefecture, which was planning to rebuild its old temple at that time, with the offer of re-using the temple building from Inabe.
“We can’t stand to watch it slowly go to waste. Dismantling it also costs a lot of money,” said one worshipper .
All of them happily agreed to the new arrangement.
The pillars and beams are constructed from fine-grained “keyaki” (Japanese zelkova) and pine wood, which are considered rare materials nowadays. The building looked brand new once the workers washed and scrubbed down the surface.
“It has been strengthened and made quake-resistant, so the building can easily last another 300 years,” Goto said.
The cost, including the dismantling fee, was around ¥100 million, half the cost of building a new temple from scratch. The relocation is set for completion in August 2015.
“It is very rare to see a main building constructed from keyaki wood. I will keep the thoughts of the Inabe worshippers in mind and take good care of it,” Kenjo Yoshida, temple chief of Kosenji, said.
Some wooden buildings can even last up to 1,000 years if properly maintained.
“I hope that temples will consider recycling temple buildings made of high quality materials, even if they are old,” Goto said.
According to the Department of Religious Juridical Persons of the Agency for Cultural Affairs, the number of Buddhist juridical groups in Japan peaked at 77,922 in 2005. By 2011, that had declined to 77,588. This has led to many temples being dismantled, and, in some cases, abandoned.
“Temples are the bastion of our faith, so I’m glad that we can reuse old buildings by moving them to a new location,” said Kiyotaka Nawa, a researcher from the Jodo Sect Research Institute who is studying the situation. Ten percent of the Buddhist juridical groups belong to the Jodo sect.
This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Aug. 8.
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