Landmark Temple In Tokyo Hires Business - Minded Monk To Gain Followers

Landmark temple in Tokyo hires business-minded monk to gain followersEven the renowned Tsukiji Hongwanji Buddhist temple in Tokyo needed some spiritual advice in these tough times, so it turned to a former business consultant for help.
The appointment of Yugen Yasunaga, now a monk, as head of the temple’s administrative office has been described as “unusual” in religious circles.

His mission is to increase the number of followers in the Tokyo metropolitan area and surrounding regions of eastern Japan by using his management skills.

“A Buddhist temple should not be run on the capitalistic goal of solely pursuing profits,” said Yasunaga, 61. “But we cannot run a temple properly if we do not have funds. We need to reshape the organization and the system of a temple, as well as the mind-set of monks, akin to an ordinary company and its employees.”

The Tsukiji Hongwanji temple is a branch temple of the Jodo Shinshu (True Pure Land sect) Hongwanji-ha denomination.

Funeral services for prominent figures are often performed at the temple in Tokyo’s Tsukiji district.

Although the powerful Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha denomination boasts 10,000 member temples across the nation, it has not fared well in eastern Japan compared with its strength in western areas.

Yasunaga, who took office in July, envisions the establishment of what he calls a “virtual temple,” where any troubled soul can solicit help or advice over the phone or online.

The virtual temple, according to Yasunaga, will help individuals, for example, prepare for death, a theme covered by a large number of books and magazines in recent years.

“I want to appeal to a broad audience by utilizing modern tools,” he said.

He also wants to reverse the trend of corporate clients using hotels instead of temples for company-wide funeral services for top executives.

His other ideas include a “spiritual school” for troubled salaried workers and integrating temples that are on the brink of collapse in rural areas where the population is dwindling.

Yasunaga became a full-fledged monk when he was in his late 40s, so his appointment came as a big surprise in the Buddhist circle. The post of “somucho,” which manages administrative affairs of the temple, has traditionally been taken by a Buddhist priest with many long years of service.

Yasunaga, a former bank employee, established his business consultancy in 2000. While steering his company, he enrolled in a human resources training school of the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha denomination. His parents were followers.

“I wanted to live an honest life,” Yasunaga said, explaining why he entered the school. “I was also searching for a true self.”

After accumulating experiences at a temple in Tokyo, he became involved with the group’s business management several years ago.

Yasunaga was named to the senior position after he took part in a project to increase devotee numbers in the Tokyo area.