A Tokyo-based firm offering tours at temples in Tokyo and Kyoto, where visitors can transcribe Buddhist sutras and meditate in a zazen seated position, says the attraction is proving popular among tourists.
The operator, Share Wing, which started the service in collaboration with travel agencies in August last year, said it was aimed mainly at foreign travelers but also helping temples struggling with a decline in the ranks of danka (financial supporters).
“When I was working in a job handling goods from overseas about 11 years ago, I found out that many people from overseas were interested in temples and shrines and eager to visit them,” said Naoko Unrinin, Share Wing’s 38-year-old co-president.
However, along with tourists, Unrinin said more and more Japanese were trying to take time in the morning or on other occasions to reflect on themselves through reading, meditation or shakyo (transcribing sutras).
“We’d like to revitalize local communities by creating a system through which temples suffering from a lack of successors and facing fewer danka supporters can attract people,” she said.
In Japan, temples have traditionally received support from a network of neighborhood families who help with finances and use their funeral and other services over generations. But such customs are declining, with the fading of the extended family system and community ties.
Share Wing has tied up with 10 temples and has organized temple tours for around 200 people since August. The participants are mainly in their late 20s to 40s and hail from Europe, the company said.
It said it wanted to further promote the service among inbound tourists, with inquiries coming from China and South Korea.
Currently many of the tours last for less than a day, with activities ranging from yoga to cooking shojin ryori (Buddhist vegetarian dishes). Each experience is priced at around ¥5,000, though prices vary depending on the type of event.
Customers who joined the tours have given favorable feedback, with one user saying they felt at ease after spending time at a temple, according to the company.
The company now plans to start a service involving an overnight stay at a temple inn in Gifu Prefecture.
It also wants to expand accommodation bookings amid growing demand in and around Tokyo.
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