Recommended Shrines and Temples in 2023
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The Current State Buddhism in the Reiwa Era, Fukugon-ji Temple (Komaki, Aichi Prefecture)

Introduction: A temple that gets all the attention, Fukugon-ji!

With so many events in the works, December will be a lively month indeed.
Whether you are one those who enjoys visiting temples and shrines or not, after hearing the sound of the bells on New Year’s Eve, you will be making your way to a shrine or temple for your first visit of the New Year to make your New Year’s wishes. It’s that time of year again.
The last introduction I would like to do this year is the temple, along with its chief priest, that I am most interested in at the moment.

Fukugon-ji  Bell tower gate
Fukugon-ji Bell tower gate

Fukugon-ji, Komaki, Aichi Prefecture.
With its 540-year history, Fukugon-ji was originally a temple of the Sōtō sect of Zen Buddhism.
The temple was founded in 1476. The time was near the end of the Ōnin War. The founder was the Buddhist monk Seizen Dōshaku.
It is said that the temple was built by the lord of Ōkusa Castle at that time, Nishio-Shikibu-Michinaga, who had become a disciple of the renowned priest Seizen. This temple is not one that has been famous as a tourist attraction since long ago. It is a temple that has been well-loved by the local people who it has drawn there to worship.
Fukugon-ji is situated in the eastern part of the city of Komaki, an idyllic town that stretches out into the countryside.
The photos were taken when I visited there on a weekday.
From the parking lot, I proceeded to the temple grounds along a road that skirted the edge of a large pond, and what first caught my eye was an impressive, timber-framed bell tower gate.
Even though it has faded from the exposure to the elements, it has a handsome appearance and it's no wonder that it originally belonged to the Sōtō sect of Zen Buddhism, one that sets a high value on Zen meditation.
The main hall of Fukugon-ji, which comes into view on passing through the bell tower gate.
Are those copper tiles on its massive, tiled roof? Its patina stands out beautifully against the blue sky.

However, the reason why Fukugon-ji has caught my interest is not the beauty of its construction or its appeal as a tourist spot.
There is a different reason why I recommend this Fukugon-ji temple.

The Allure of Fukugon-ji (1): The first temple of the Busshin sect in Japan

Fukugon-ji is the first temple of the Busshin sect (independent Sōtō sect) in Japan.
The Busshin sect? If you think this is an unfamiliar denomination, you are correct!
The Busshin sect is a new denomination that was established by the current chief priest, Osho (“Master”) Taigu Gensho.
The reason why I am interested in this temple. That is because I would not be overstating things by saying Fukugon-ji itself is what is propelling the current search for a new form of Buddhism in Japan into which it can be reborn.
Talk of Japan experiencing a shift away from religion is nothing new. To put it even more precisely, we might want to describe it as a shift away from temples and a shift away from shrines. Temples with declines in the number of parishioners are struggling to run their facilities, incidents have even occurred where Buddhist statues and images have been stolen from abandoned temples, and a sense of crisis is spreading throughout the Buddhist community in Japan.

The form of temples in Japan that still continues to exist to this day was finalized in the Edo period.
Starting in this period, the shogunate began to exert control over its people through the temples.
The Terauke system stipulated that “all people must become parishioners of a temple” and that “funerals and ceremonial occasions must be presided over by a Buddhist priest,” while the Honmatsu system ordained that “all temples must be an affiliate of one of the head temples.”
Through these two systems, temples in each region fulfilled the major role of being the local facilitator for the compilation of family registers and the administration of the local residents for a span that lasted as long as 300 years.
Buddhist temples increasingly became more of a local community infrastructure than a place of refuge for the soul.
However, this system that lasted for so long produced the side affect of losing its flexibility as a religious organization.
During the Meiji period, the new government protected state-sanctioned Shinto while weaking the power of Buddhism. The separation of Shintoism and Buddhism moved onward and a backlash against the hitherto privileged class of Buddhist clergy led to the movement to abolish Buddhism, devastating temples all over the country.
In spite of that, in the world of Buddhism, there were still strong roots in the systems, including the parishioner system, that had been in place during the Edo period.
Taishō, Shōwa, Heisei, and then Reiwa.
As the frameworks within Japanese society and its lifestyles changed drastically, the ways of Buddhist temples became increasingly rigid, being reduced to the skeletal state of the so-called “funeral Buddhism,” and Buddhism gradually became unsuited to the modern conditions of society.
This is the true reason why the people of Japan have detached themselves from religion and from Buddhism.
In order to break free from this situation, Osho Taigu founded a new sect independent of the Sōtō sect. This is the Busshin sect.


The Busshin sect aims to respond to the concerns of people without the strictures of convention, and it employs a membership system instead of a parishioner system.
Founding a new sect is easy to say, but it is no easy task in these modern times.
First of all, this means a secession from the Sōtō sect and the establishment of an independent sect. This cannot be realized without persuading and obtaining the consent of the local parishioners who have supported the temple for generations, not to mention the former chief priest and his family. There must have been some parishioners who left. Also, leaving the head temple has the drawbacks of losing personal connections and the backing of that temple, so it is something that can only be done with a great amount of steely resolution.
However, to successfully pull this off is primarily due to the passion and finesse of Osho Taigu.
One may say that Fukugon-ji is a standard-bearer for reviving the Buddhist world, which is in a perilous state. It is a downright captivating temple, don't you think?

The Allure of Fukugon-ji (2): Osho Taigu, a Priest Who Acts

Now then, what kind of person is the head of Fukugon-ji, Osho Taigu Gensho?
In his book, "How to Let Go of Suffering" (Diamond, Inc.), Osho Taigu looks back on his past and states that he rebelled against his father, the teacher, who was strict and followed uptight traditions, and that he had never desired becoming a Buddhist priest.
So, he set up a number of businesses with hopes of becoming self-reliant, but he ended up accumulating heavy amounts of debt due to his not being able to manage them well. At that time, what provided him with emotional support was the teachings of Buddhism, which he had been familiar with since he was a small child.
Osho Taigu realized this fact and used the wisdom imparted to him through Buddhism to reestablish his business and thereafter resolved to return to the temple. At the age of 42, when he became the 31st chief priest at Fukugon-ji, he founded a new sect called the Busshin sect.
No, it was not that the Buddhist teachings themselves had become ossified and its followers had left.
The issue was the skeletonized form of modern temples.
Today as much as yesterday, people's troubles are not much different as those experienced 2,500 years ago when the Buddha Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment.
There are still the hardships of relationships, there are still those struggling to find a reason to live, and there are still those enduring the ravages of old age or illness.
While I spoke of the shift away from religion, the occult and spirituality still enjoy a high degree of popularity, and the terms power spots and power stones have become firmly entrenched in our lexicon. Nowadays, collecting ‘go-shuin matome’ (collecting seal stamps that are given to you when you visit a temple or a shrine) has become a bit of a fad, and the memory is still fresh in our minds of the popularization of the myth of Amabie during the Covid pandemic.
The thing that exists here are the profound collective wishes of the people to be rescued by something, or to b for this is the earnest wish of people to attain salvation from something, or to receive some form of help.
In lieu of fossilized Japanese Buddhism, we those who seek spiritual relief elsewhere.
Osho Taigu of Fukugon-ji is grappling head-on with this issue of how temples should be in the Reiwa era.
No doubt there are other temples that are trying to develop a stronger affinity between the people and Buddhism, with such efforts as having live sutra chanting accompanied by guitar, or monks giving talks at bars, to name a few.
However, I am struck by the sincere bearing of Osho Taigu, who went back to his original role of "responding to the concerns of people," grappled straight-on with the whole concept of modern Buddhism, and founded a new sect.

His YouTube life counseling channel "Osho Taigu’s One Question & One Answer" has over 560,000 subscribers as of December 2022.
These figures are the impressive actual proof that the strength inherent in Buddhist teachings is very much alive, and that it is vital that temples to modify their ways.
On top of YouTube, Osho Taigu is also active on social networking sites such as Uchi-deshi Dojo (“Apprentice Dojo”), online Buddhist courses, and Twitter, imparting Buddhist wisdom and serving as a model for the resurgence of Buddhist temples in Japan.
First, one must take action and communicate. That transcendent ability to take action and warm personality are the reasons why this individual, Osho Taigu has established himself as an icon of modern Buddhism.

The Allure of Fukugon-ji (3): Experience it! The Akiba Grand Festival

At Fukugon-ji offers a variety of festivals that welcome the public, including the Setsubun Shusho-e and the Hana-Matsuri Busshin Taisai.
Among the chief events of the year, the festival that garners the most attention is the Akiba Grand Festival.
This is the festival of Akiba Sanjakubō Gongen, a deity from an amalgamation of Shinto and Buddhism who has the miraculous power to prevent fires. Akiba Sanjakubō Gongen was an actual holy man named Sanjakubō, who through his came to be worshipped as a deity due to his virtuous deeds during his lifetime. According to legend, he attained divine powers through his ascetic training and took the form of a tengu (a red-faced and long-nosed mountain goblin) and is familiar throughout Japan as the god of fire prevention at temples and shrines.
About the Akiba Grand Festival at Fukugon-ji, Osho Taigu said the following in his aforementioned book, "How to Let Go of Suffering."

“This festival is held to honor the legacy of Akiba Sanjakubō no Dai-Gongen, known as the god of fire prevention, and to “quell the three poisons of the heart of man” through two rites: “prayer” and “firewalking”.
The great virtue of Akiba Sanjakubō Dai-Gongen, was his power to control "two kinds of fire.
“One is the power to control the physical fire that causes fires. The other is the power to control what are referred to as the three poisons, the “fires of the spirit” that are idiocy, greed, anger, jealousy, resentment, and frustration.”

The Akiba Grand Festival is a festival where people walk across burning fires to give themselves the strength to control the two fires: actual fire and the negative emotions that eat away at the spirit.

Fukugonji Akiba Grand Festival
Fukugonji Akiba Grand Festival

In 2022, the annual Akiba Grand Festival was held on December 3, and I went there for the first time with my partner.
A temporary parking lot had been prepared in anticipation of the crowds, and from that parking lot it took three minutes to get to Fukugon-ji on foot.
At the side of the road a big signboard had the words "Fukugon-ji Akiba Grand Festival" written on it, along with a picture of a feather fan, the trademark of the tengu, who represents Akiba Sanjakubō.
On the way up to the temple grounds, there were food trucks from local restaurants lining the road that were selling crepes, fried chicken, sandwiches, and other treats, even some item called “Taigu-ni” - a dish named after Osho Taigu!
Tables and chairs are set out, and parents and children can be seen eating and drinking, and enjoying the workshops.


Something I noticed was that there were a lot of young staff members.
Maybe they are members of the Busshin sect who sympathize with Osho Taigu’s activities.
A lot of the visitors to the festival are young too, and many of them seem to be children from Taiyo Kindergarten, which is run by Fukugon-ji.
Nearing the end of the line for the firewalking ceremony, a female staff member walked up and started talking to us.
‘Hello! Where are you from?’
She is showing us a board with maps of Japan and the world on it.
‘Everyone is really coming here from all kinds of places!’
She proudly told us, smiling away.
If you look, you can see a lot of stickers are on there, not only from Aichi Prefecture, but Tokyo and Osaka too. People have come all the way from places like Vietnam, England, the US too! We felt how highly popular Osho Taigu is. We put our stickers on there too and got in line.


A special Buddhist sermon by Osho Taigu had already begun on the temple grounds.
‘...In our hearts, there are always the three sparks of greed, hate, and delusion. ...(omitted)...My teacher said, "If you want to lead a happy life, fear what you ought to fear. What is it that we should fear? One of them is the very fire that Akiba Sanjakubō tried to cultivate...’
On YouTube, the sermon continued in the same subdued, faltering tone.
His deliver is easy to understand and endearing. However, he also has some sharp words in some instances.
The doctrine of the Busshin sect is "to foster compassion, wisdom, and the merciful nature of Buddha."
As far as the Osho Taigu believes, temples exist to convey the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha to the people and to lead them toward comfort.


Monks with torches in hand passed around the temple grounds following the sermon, and at last the flames were lit.
Sutras are chanted by Osho Taigu as he walks through flames taller than his back, all-the-while with his pewter staff in hand. Here begins the firewalking.
Behind him follow some young monks dressed as yamabushi (mountain hermit priests) blowing conch shells. And following them is a long queue of festivalgoers from the general public that starts to move.
As it became darker and darker, the brightness emanating from the many lanterns that lit the spacious grounds of the temple shined around our feet, which added to the festival-like atmosphere. For us it had been quite a long time since we had seen a festival like this, thanks to the Covid pandemic. This liveliness made us think of the good times from the past and further lifted our spirits.

As the moon glitters over the splendid bell tower, the cold air rose from around our feet.
Walking through the temple precinct, there stood many lanky bamboo trees with ropes tied around them.
Sacred ropes are tied around the standing bamboo trees, which are purportedly pure plants, to form a sanctuary within which Akiba Sanjakubō Dai-Gongen is prayed to.
Flapping in the air among the bamboos are four-colored banners with the names of the eight great dragon kings written on them, such as Nandaryūō and Sakararyūō.
Ryūjin (Dragon Gods) are water gods and are regarded as guardian spirits of Buddhism. This casting is literally perfect for a festival that is dedicated to the cultivation of fire.
The fire is actively stoked within its confines and I feel my body getting warmer from the cold.
In the four corners of this sanctuary of fire stand priests donning tengu masks and young monks dressed as yamabushi blow conch shells in this austere atmosphere while praying contnuously.
The distance of the fire-walking is roughly 10 meters.
Those standing in line await their cue one by one, upon which they walk across the fire with their hands pressed together in prayer while they are toasted by the fire on both sides of them.
It was probably the first time also for the bubbly little children. Wearing grave expressions on their faces, they clasp their tiny hands together and march valiantly forward across the fire.
Some of the children froze in fear along their way across the fire and were picked up and carried by the monks...


When my turn came up, I stood there and winced at the force of the fire.
These are the three poisons: greed, hate, and delusion – the fires that burn us all.
I receive the signal to proceed from a monk gave, I put hands together in prayer and begin to walk forward with my mind blank of any thoughts.
The fire was definitely hot, and the 10-meter walk felt long, but I was able to get through this without getting burned.
The big smiles on the faces of those who had finished their journey through the flames and were free of their previous nervousness made an impression. crossing, relieved of their nervousness. As for me, I felt cleansed. Had I been able to suppress the three poisons within myself a bit?
I went in to visit the hall of Akiba Sanjakubō Gongen that was in the back of the temple compound, and the Akiba Grand Festival came to a successful conclusion.

The End: The Current State Buddhism in the Reiwa Era

I wonder what those children who participated in the Akiba Grand Festival must have felt as they crossed the fire, which toward over them.
Our childhood memories stay with us a long time and have a great impact on our lives.
The children may not understand now, but one day they will reminisce on crossing the fire with a blank mind except the words of Osho Taigu and understand what they learned at that time.

The sign at the entrance of Fukugon-ji Temple says in large letters, “Busshin Sect”.
I think once again. I wonder how tough it must have been for a large temple with a long history to change its religious affiliation and then launch a new sect, even though it was a local temple.
The reason why Osho Taigu’s activities garner support is because many people have the same thoughts and find serenity and hope in the teachings of Buddha that he preaches. As the participants’ signboard shows, Busshin's efforts are increasingly spreading out over a wide range of people in a wide span of areas and age groups.
The wisdom of Buddhism, which has been handed down over 2,500 years, is being delivered in a new way that is in step with the times.
This is one of the goals of Buddhism in the Reiwa era.
I was able to witness this at the Akiba Grand Festival, and I felt deeply that Fukugon-ji should be known by as many people as possible! I felt really strongly about this

During the year-end and New Year's holidays, I plan to visit a local temple to ring the temple bell on New Year's Eve, and on New Year's Day, I will pay a New Year's visit to the Ujigami Shrine.
I would like to pray in anticipation that Buddhism will once again become the spiritual aid of the people of Japan.
Please pray that this new year will be a good one.