BY KEI SHIOMI ASAHI MULLION 21
Visiting temples only for memorial services seems to be a thing of the past. Recently, projects to open up grounds and even main halls to familiarize visitors with temples and Buddhism are becoming popular.
At 6 a.m., the parking lot of Setagayasan Kannonji temple--commonly known as Setagaya Kannon--in Tokyo's Sangenjaya area is crowded with people. Soon after the fresh unwashed vegetables are unloaded from the trucks, they are snapped up by shoppers.
Once a month, farmers mainly from Chiba Prefecture arrive to sell fresh food in season.
About 25 stands sell an array of food from corn and tomatoes harvested that morning to tsukudani (food boiled down in sweet soy sauce) and okowa (sticky rice cooked with various ingredients).
The reputation of the morning market spread by word of mouth and each event attracts about 1,000 people. Most stands sell out by 7:30 a.m.
Setagaya Kannon is a temple for prayers and has no danka adherents of its own. "We wanted the local residents to stop by and get to know the temple," says Kensho Ota, the temple's secretary-general, of why they began the morning market.
White smoke appeared in a corner, and the shoppers gathered to taste some dried fish. On the mossy porch outside the Honbo building near the entrance, a mother and daughter living nearby were eating bagels they had just bought. "Coming here to have breakfast is something we look forward to each month," says the mother in her 40s. Saying, "Might as well," they made an offering of incense at the main hall after their meal.
"Now we see more people visiting the temple even on weekdays to pray or make wishes," says Ota. Recently the temple has invited the local bakery and florist to take part in the market. He hopes to develop it from just an event to a regular affair and a meeting place for the local community.
At Myojyunji temple, people hold poses by pressing their hands together or lifting their legs in front of a golden statue of Buddha during yoga classes. The main hall, where the scent of burning incense wafts through the air, is surprisingly calm despite being located in central Tokyo.
Myojyunji temple is a modern structure with bare concrete walls found in Tokyo's Inaricho area in Taito Ward. The chief priest, Akisato Saito, began offering the yoga classes this March to familiarize young people with the temple and Buddhism. Saito believes yoga is the same as Buddhism in that they are both about self-reflection. "Yoga can be a starting point to convey the teachings of Buddha," he says.
According to yoga instructor Yumi Tamura, a temple's main hall that is shielded from direct sunlight or wind is best suited for yoga. The participants are mostly women in their 20s and 30s with experience in yoga. Some days, there is a waiting list for a class.
"Candle yoga" was held on the day of the visit. Fifty candles in the five colors of the Buddhist flag shed shimmering light in the main hall. After the participants chanted the "Sankiemon," a citation from the Buddhist scriptures, and listened to Saito's sermon that lasted five minutes, slow yoga with a focus on breathing began. The chief priest swiftly joined the participants after removing the priest's garb under which he wore sportswear.
A 30-year-old woman who lives in Tokyo attends the class every week after work. "You don't have the chance to hear a priest's sermon unless you go to a memorial service. So it's interesting. The air seems to be clearer in the temple, and I feel calm," she said.
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Setagaya Kannon in the Sangenjaya district of Tokyo's Setagaya Ward hosts a morning market on the second Saturday of each month (from 6 a.m.); a 15-20 minute walk from Sangenjaya Station; visit (http://www.setagayakannon.com
Myojyunji temple in the Inaricho district of Tokyo's Taito Ward offers yoga classes nearly every Tuesday evening, beginning at 7:30 p.m.; up to 20 people per session; 2,500 yen; reservations required; near Inaricho subway station; (http://www.mjj.or.jp