By Norimitsu Onishi
When it comes to funerals, though, the Japanese have traditionally been inflexibly Buddhist—so much so that Buddhism in
But that expression also describes a religion that, by appearing to cater more to the needs of the dead than to those of the living, is losing its standing in Japanese society.
“That’s the image of funeral Buddhism: that it doesn’t meet people’s spiritual needs,” said Ryoko Mori, the chief priest at the 700-yearold Zuikoji.
Mori, 48, the 21st head priest of the temple, was unsure whether it would survive into the tenure of a 22nd. “If Japanese Buddhism doesn’t act now, it will die out,” he said. “We can’t afford to wait. We have to do something.”
While interest in Buddhism is declining in urban areas, the religion’s rural strongholds are being depopulated, with older adherents dying and birth rates remaining low.
Perhaps most significantly, Buddhism is losing its grip on the funeral industry, as more and more Japanese are turning to funeral homes or choosing not to hold funerals at all.
Not only has the number of Buddhist temples in Japan been dipping—to 85,994 in 2006, from 86,586 in 2000, according to the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs—but membership at many temples has fallen.
In addition, an increasing number of Japanese are deciding to have their loved ones cremated without any funeral at all, said Noriyuki Ueda, an anthropologist at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and an expert on Buddhism.
“Because of that, Buddhist priests and temples will no longer be involved in funerals,” Ueda said.
Source: NYT NEWS SERVICE