Temples across the country, including in the Chugoku region, are increasingly turning to mobile apps, videos and social media to entice visitors.
Some temples even offer an app that adds up points each time an individual visits, while others livestream Buddhist services for people unable to attend in person.
The Nichiren sect of Buddhism unveiled a free app called Gassho no Akashi, which translates roughly as Proof of Putting Palm to Palm in Prayer, in November.
The app lists the sect’s temples and how to access them. When a user visits one of the temples in person and clicks on the button to check in on the app, mileage points are added and pictures of the main temple and others appear.
Five points are awarded for a first-time visit to a temple. A point is added if the person visits the same temple again. Points can be exchanged for goods — prayer beads for 1,500 points, ¥1,000 worth of prepaid cards or incense sticks for 800 points and a mobile phone strap for 300 points.
About 5,000 Nichiren-sect temples can be searched on the app, including 76 in Hiroshima Prefecture, 36 in Yamaguchi Prefecture, 163 in Okayama Prefecture, 67 in Shimane Prefecture and 40 in Tottori Prefecture.
A 35-year-old female office worker from Naka Ward, Hiroshima, who earned points at Kokuzen Temple in Higashi Ward said it was her first time visiting the temple.
“I saw the app and I was surprised to learn there are many Nichiren-sect temples around my house,” she said.
Yoshiaki Okamoto, a 72-year-old priest at Kentoku Temple in the city of Miyoshi, Hiroshima Prefecture, hopes the app will spark interest in temples located in depopulated areas.
The app was created as part of the 800th anniversary, in 2021, of the birth of the priest whose teachings form the sect’s basis.
“I would like to raise the degree of recognition of Nichiren-sect temples in the area,” said Koetsu Watanabe, a 54-year-old priest at Myofu Temple in Naka Ward and the leader of a Nichiren sect prefectural temple office. “I hope many young people will visit the temples to offer prayers.”
More temples are livestreaming their religious services, including Saifuku-ji, a temple from the Jodo Shinshu sect, in the city of Higashihiroshima. It is targeting followers who have difficulty visiting the temple for various reasons, including the elderly.
The temple started the streaming service in 2012. In 2014 it created an account on YouTube and has uploaded videos of sermons by guest lecturers from around the country. So far, about 50 sermons have been uploaded. Those videos have been viewed about 8,500 times.
“I would like to deepen the connections with followers who are unable to visit for various reasons,” said Akira Negoro, the temple’s 46-year-old priest. “By protecting the heritage but trying something new, I hope the initiative will pique young people’s interest.”
Shosei Sugawara, a 60-year-old priest at Sairaku Temple in Oda, Shimane Prefecture, who was invited to Saifuku as a guest lecturer last April, said he was nervous thinking that people outside the temple would be listening to his sermon.
“But I am thankful it made more connections with people,” he said.
Many temples also upload photos of religious events from season to season.
Saizen-ji, a temple located in Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, for example, posts photos of special celebrations, including a market featuring homemade goods every fall, on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
“I would like to promote the temple’s appeal by making information accessible,” said Kumiko Yoneda, a 44-year-old guardian of the temple. “I want people to know that everyone is welcome at temples, where people can get peace of mind by worshiping the Buddha.”
This monthly feature focuses on topics and issues covered by the Chugoku Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the Chugoku region. The original article was published Feb. 4.