Lonesome Buddhist temple comes alive after adopting cute anime characters

By YUSUKE KATO, Asahi Shimbun, May 19, 2014

Tokyo, Japan -- The Shoeizan Ryohoji temple tucked away in a residential area in western Tokyo has more than 400 years of history. But until a few short years ago, many locals didn’t even know the Nichiren Shu sect Buddhist temple was there.

<< The temple’s information sign adorned with 'moe' characters was erected in 2009. Since then, various items in the precincts of the Ryohoji temple in the Hiyoshicho district in Tokyo's Hachioji have been made into moe characters. (Yusuke Kato)

Five years ago, a temple priest decided to erect an informational sign with cute anime-inspired characters that could become objects of "moe" (strong affection). Nowadays, visitors, many of whom are young anime fans, are flocking to the Ryohoji temple in the Hiyoshicho district of Hachioji, Tokyo.

The Shoeizan Ryohoji temple enshrines Benzaiten, one of the seven deities of good fortune, and Kishimojin, the goddess of easy delivery and child rearing.

Until the new sign was erected, most of the visitors who came to the temple were elderly. Chief priest of the temple, 49-year-old Nichiko Nakazato, began thinking of a new sign that would attract more attention. He envisioned the temple as a local gathering place where people of all ages could communicate and share ideas.

Nakazato then consulted with an illustrator, who drew up anime versions of Benzaiten and Kishimojin. At first, the priest was reluctant to use them. The only anime characters he had been familiar with were ones in “Space Battleship Yamato” and “Mobile Suit Gundam.” But these new Benzaiten and Kishimojin characters? They were just so darn ... well, moe.

Soon, however, compliments of “adorable” and “nice” started pouring in from local residents and other priests who did not know much about moe culture.

In May 2009, Nakazato went ahead and posted the informational sign because “Buddha guided me to do so,” he said.

He has only received two complaints since erecting the sign.

The temple has also grown in popularity via the Internet. On one day, the temple received 300 visitors.

Nakazato said the increase in visitors to the temple has been rewarding because he has been able to help many people.

One time, he met a young man who confessed to not having any self-confidence. Nakazato told the man, as a child of Buddha, he has been blessed since birth, and that the hard times that fall on him are the experiences needed to undergo the never-ending circle of life and death.

Takanori Sano, a 43-year-old part-time employee from Hachioji who loves the “Pretty Cure” anime franchise, first visited the temple three years ago after becoming interested in the temple’s sign. He came to appreciate the chief priest’s friendliness and the Buddha’s teachings. Sano now serves as a volunteer guide at the temple.

Many visitors wanted mementos of their visit to the temple, so lucky charms and “ema” (wooden prayer plaques) inspired by the moe characters were created.

A figure of the anime-inspired Benzaiten was also dedicated to the temple.

About 30 people visit the temple each day.

On May 25, a cosplay event involving participants clad in the costumes of anime characters will be held in the precincts of the temple.

“My motivation has been heightened with the increasing number of visitors to the temple,” Nakazato said. “I am having good experiences and finding better ways to impart Buddhist teachings to those who are unfamiliar with them.”

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv