National / Crime & Legal

Monk sues temple at Mount Koya World Heritage site over heavy workload

Kyodo

A monk working at the World Heritage site of Mount Koya in Wakayama Prefecture has filed a lawsuit against the organization that operates the temple for damages and unpaid wages, claiming he developed depression and was forced to take a leave of absence because of his heavy workload, a lawyer representing him said Wednesday.

The plaintiff filed the suit April 27 with the Wakayama District Court, seeking some ¥8.6 million ($78,000).

The monk, in his 40s, who started working for one of the temples at Mount Koya in 2008, developed depression around December 2015 and has been absent from work since March 2016, the complaint says.

A local labor standards supervision office has already recognized his overwork, confirming he once worked for at least a month without a day off.

According to the complaint, his schedule included making preparations from before 5 a.m. for guests to take part in morning prayers at the temple’s shukubō, a lodging built for monks and worshippers. He sometimes worked late into the night attending to guests and fulfilling other duties at the temple.

The surge in guests in 2015, which marked 1,200 years since the founding of the head temple at Mount Koya, forced him to work 64 consecutive days between March and May, and 32 straight days between September and October.

Lawyer Noritake Shirakura said working at temples tends to be regarded as training, and his client wants to shed light on an environment where monks could be forced into overwork.

Lawyers familiar with labor disputes say the work of monks should not be entirely treated as training as long as they receive wages for their services.

Mount Koya has 117 temples, including 52 equipped with shukubo.

It was listed as a World Heritage site in 2004, along with other temples and pilgrimage routes of the Kii mountain range in the prefecture.

Since its listing, the annual number of shukubo guests there ranged from 200,000 to more than 400,000, with the figure for 2015 reaching some 440,000, while the number of foreign guests nearly tripled in the three years from 2013.

The secluded temple complex was established by Kukai, also known as Kobo Daishi, who founded the Shingon school of Buddhism. Mount Koya was given three stars in 2009 by the Michelin Green Guide while National Geographic Traveler selected it in its list of 20 destinations to visit in 2015 — the only destination chosen from Japan.