Japanese Buddhist temple moved to US South

The Associated Press, October 30, 2008

GREENVILLE, South Carolina (USA) -- The former Buddhist temple sits opposite a waterfall on the campus of Furman University, with vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains when the trees are bare.

On dark winter mornings, students will be asked to sit on the hinoki wood floors and meditate for 90 minutes. A class called "Realizing Bodymind" will be taught there next semester.

The structure — donated by a Japanese family with roots in Greenville's textile past and connections to a university professor — symbolizes an evolution for the private liberal arts school. Founded in 1826 by the South Carolina Baptist Convention, Furman is recasting itself as a regional center for Far Eastern studies.

"The temple project is part of a larger history and a broader vision," said David Shaner, chairman of Furman's philosophy department and the project's catalyst. "It's not like a temple was dropped out of the sky."

Believed to be the only temple moved from Japan to the U.S., the so-called Place of Peace was shipped in 2,400 pieces and reassembled by 13 specialized temple artisans from Japan.

After three years of fundraising and 2 1/2 months of construction, the building is serving as a classroom and a centerpiece of an Asian studies program that graduated 60 students last spring — three times the number it did five years ago.

Shaner's ties to a Japanese family that moved to Greenville in the 1960s helped bring the temple to campus. TNS Mills, which stood for Tsuzuki New Spinning, supplied spools of thread to the textile mills that were the heart of Greenville's economy. Sister and brother Yuri and Seiji Tsuzuki — chairman of what is now Wellstone Mills — grew up in Greenville, but the family maintained its home in Japan.

The temple was built on Tsuzuki land in Nagoya in 1984 as the family's private worship place.

When they sold to developers, the siblings in November 2004 proposed a way to save the temple from destruction: Offer it to Furman. The family has a long-standing friendship with Shaner, a world-renowned aikido instructor and sensei, or teacher, to Yuri and Seiji Tsuzuki's mother, Chigusa, who died in 1995.

But the school had to move quickly. The temple had to be off the family's property by January 2005.

"The reason why this is so rare, had this temple ever served a lay community and had an assigned priest, then you would never, ever, ever move it from Japan," Shaner said. "It would be like bad karma."

The temple was disassembled and shipped overseas in four 40-foot containers, with each piece labeled and its beams secured by wood braces to prevent warping. It sat in the Tsuzukis' storage in Gaffney, South Carolina, as the school raised $400,0000 for the temple's reconstruction and maintenance.

"I immediately saw this as a unique opportunity to preserve an international treasure and do so in a unique way that complemented Furman's educational mission and our continuing role as an aesthetic and educational resource for the larger community," said Furman President David Shi.

Yuri and Seiji Tsuzuki attended a dedication and blessing ceremony last month but Shaner, who serves as a family spokesman, said they shun publicity and did not return messages left for comment.

The temple is built of fine materials: mostly with keyaki wood, a hinoki floor, walls composed of four coats of plaster — each a different texture and color — and an intricate ceramic tile roof. Tongue-and-groove joints, not nails, support the structure. With its sacred shrine removed by the family, the Place of Peace can no longer formally be called a temple.

"It's amazing," said local resident Mary Jo Lewis, who takes classes in Furman's adult education program and visited on a recent weekday. "It is very peaceful. It just exudes serenity."

Shaner cautioned that the building is not a museum.

"There's no heat in there," he said. "There's no cooling. There's no lights, because when you use the building there's nothing there you're supposed to see except yourself. The purpose is a place for meditation, reflection and introspection."

Shaner will teach "Realizing Bodymind" next semester on Asian wellness practices. The 9-meter-square room can accommodate him and 20 students sitting on meditation mats.

"Students will be up there at 7:20 in the morning," he said. "It'll be dark outside. It could be snowing, and they'll still be in there meditating. But it's my job to teach them to use the powers of your mind and awareness to sit in meditation for an hour and a half without being cold."

Furman's Asian studies program dates to 1968, but has ramped up in the last four years. When Shaner came to Furman 26 years ago, he was one of three Asian specialists. He's now the senior member among 23 experts on China, Japan and South Asia. Students can learn to speak Chinese, Japanese or Hindi, and 12 selected incoming freshmen who commit to studying Chinese can take an all-expenses-paid summer trip to China.

"In the southeastern United States, we're pretty convinced that for a liberal arts four-year school, you can do no better than Furman University if want to study Asian studies," Shaner said. "We have ambitions to become second to none in the nation."

On the Net: http://www.furman.edu

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