SAKURAI, Nara Prefecture--Buddhist priest Koki Takiguchi turned to social media in an effort to halt a decline in footfall at remote Hasedera temple here, and now virtual visitor numbers are soaring.
Takiguchi, 36, has been posting his snapshots--from cherry blossoms in full bloom to the completion ceremony of one of Japan's largest hanging scrolls--on the Instagram photo-sharing website for the past two years.
The number of followers of the temple's Instagram account, which opened in May 2016, has topped 10,000.
Hasedera is the head temple of the Shingon sect’s Buzan school and one of the 33 temples honoring the Kannon Bodhisattva on a famous pilgrimage route in western Japan.
"I want to be a messenger to link people with the Kannon Bodhisattva," Takiguchi said.
The temple is far from central Nara, home to Todaiji temple and other tourist spots, and annual worshipper numbers have been on the decline from their peak period when more than 500,000 people visited there.
But Takiguchi, who is in charge of all processes from photography to image editing, said the inaccessibility to traffic provides an advantage to the temple.
"Hasedera has an attraction other temples do not have, as it is situated deep in a forest," he said. "The scenery around it is very picturesque."
Different flowers bloom in each of the four seasons. People describe the temple, surrounded by an abundance of nature, as "springing up from the forest." Its 399 stone steps with a roof also offers a magnificent view.
Images posted have captured the hearts of Instagram users, with one of many comments saying, "Hasedera boasts dreamlike beauty like in a fairy tale."
Takiguchi became a priest at Hasedera when he was 24 and began engaging in public relations three years ago.
While Takiguchi has worked to improve the photography skills he accumulated since his university days, he also frequently replies to messages from viewers.
The priest has even bought a super wide angle video camera.
Another temple has commissioned an advertising agency to manage its account and succeeded in winning more than 160,000 followers. But Takiguchi operates Hasedera’s Instagram account (@hase_dera) alone, attracting 10,000 followers.