Buddhism in Crisis? Institutional Decline in Modern Japan
Keywords:Crisis, temples, households, death, funerals, butsudan (household Buddhist altars), ancestors, secular funerals, depopulation, urbanization, nuclearization, ossification, pilgrimage
AbstractConcerns that established temple Buddhism in Japan is in a state of crisis have been voiced by priests in various sectarian organizations in recent years. This article shows that there is a very real crisis facing Buddhism in modern Japan, with temples closing because of a lack of support and of priests to run them, and with a general turn away from Buddhism among the Japanese population. In rural areas falling populations have led to many temple closures, while in the modern cities people are increasingly turning away from the prime area in which Japanese people have traditionally engaged with Buddhist temples — the processes of death and their aftermath. Partly this is due to competition from new secular funeral industries, but partly also it is because public perceptions of Buddhism — which has become over-reliant on death rituals in Japan — have become highly negative in modern times. Even practices which have often been seen as areas in which Buddhist temples have been able to attract people — such as pilgrimages — are proving less successful than in the past, contributing further to a sense of crisis that threatens to undermine Buddhism’s roots in Japan.
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