A Buddhist temple in Japan has put up paintings of naked men on its walls to attract women and youth. Eighth-century Kokujoji temple in Niigata Prefecture commissioned the art works titled “Ikemen Kanno Emaki” (scroll of handsome and sensual men) from painter Ryoko Kimura who is known for drawing erotic male figures. She drew popular historical and mythical figures connected to the temple as naked anime guys.
The paintings were the idea of Kotetsu Yamada, the 52-year-old chief priest of the temple. “We realise that visitors have increased,” said a staff member of the temple. “We have received positive feedback, especially from young women.”
However, local authorities have ordered the temple to remove the paintings. The board of education termed the paintings inappropriate for children and ordered the schools in the city to refrain from visiting the temple for school activities.
This is not the first time the temple has tried to attract visitors with innovative means. Last year, it held a fire ritual to purge hatred on social media. It dedicated its traditional Goma fire ceremony to purify the negative energy generated online.
The temple created a special page on its website where people could submit their negative online experiences. These submissions were inscribed on wooden strips which were fed to the fire by priests to prevent the negative energy from spreading.
— 国上寺 越後一之寺 (@kokujouji709) October 7, 2018
One-third of the temples in Japan are likely to close down in the next 25 years as they lose followers and donations and fewer youths are willing to become priests. Moreover, young Japanese are losing interest in organised religion.
Traditionally, small communities funded their local temples but as people, especially women, migrate from rural areas to cities, that support system is eroding.
Facing an existential crisis. temples are resorting to innovative ways to attract the youth, from hosting dance classes to organising planetarium shows. A 400-year-old Japanese temple got an expensive robot to deliver religious teachings. Kyoto’s Kodaiji temple and an Osaka University intelligent robotics professor collaborated to produce this robot.
At Tokyo’s Komyoji temple, an MBA monk, nominated as a Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum in 2013, is trying hard to attract followers. He started a cafe on the second floor of the temple to pull in office-goers during lunch time. He conducts temple management seminars for other priests across the country to help them keep afloat.
A survey carried out by The Asahi Shimbun newspaper in 2015 found that nearly 12,000 Buddhist temples — 16 per cent of the temples affiliated to popular schools of Buddhism in the country — were without resident priests. In the past decade, 434 temples from major denominations had closed down.