If you’re looking to go clubbing in Japan, you may find the latest hotspot tucked away in a Buddhist temple. The traditional Japanese houses of worship are now becoming entertainment spaces, hosting dance parties with disco music and planetarium shows in an effort to attract young people.
The Kosenji temple in central Fukuoka recently looked like a downtown dance club with a glitter ball hung from the ceiling and flashing red, blue and purple lights on the dance floor. The idea for the party came from the temple’s chief priest Koji Jo, 55, who thought a more modern approach may attract young people in the community. The temple displays many monuments, including one dedicated to Edo Period Haiku Poet Issa Kobayashi who visited from Tokyo three times in the 19th century.
“Things have changed from the days when people would attend temple schools to learn writing. People don’t come to temples unless there is a funeral or other memorial service,” Jo said. His efforts to attract a new generation have been successful. Now, young women attend dance exercise classes under pulsating disco lights. The priest, however, would also like people to visit the temple to discuss their personal problems if necessary.
Fukuoka, the capital city of Fukuoka Prefecture, is located on the northern shore of Japanese island Kyushu. The city receives more than two million foreign visitors annually, most from neighboring South Korea and China. Also, roughly 200 international conferences are held each year in Fukuoka.
The Bodaiji temple, also in Fukuoka, has installed a planetarium to attract locals. The free shows have been drawing more than 1,000 people at a time. Guests are welcome to sit in lounge chairs and gaze up at the stars. The temple’s dome ceiling is lit with signs of the zodiac.
Shinji Tsubaki, a former officer with the Kyoto Prefectural Police, became the temple’s head priest two decades ago. It was his idea to create a planetarium after hearing about a similar undertaking at a temple in Tokyo.
“In 10 years, it’s said that 20 to 30 percent of the temples nationwide will close," says Tsubaki, who would like his temple to become a gathering place where people make friends. The Outenin temple in Osaka has set also up a theater in the main hall that brings in nearly 30,000 visitors annually.
“A temple has an interesting potential as a social hub,” chief priest Mitsuhiko Akita says. “Temples should not be transitory but contribute to society by connecting people and broadening their perspective.”