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Be a nun for a day at a Kyoto temple

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Minako Yamamoto, second from right, reads sutras at Ryugenji temple in Yamashina Ward, Kyoto.

By Minako Yamamoto / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterKYOTO — On a hill overlooking Yamashina Ward, Kyoto, there is a temple that has long come to the aid of weary women. I visited in the middle of January, when the snowfall from a few days earlier was still on the ground.

Ryugenji temple is the Kyoto branch of Kawasaki Daishi Heikenji temple in Kawasaki, which belongs to the Chisan sect of Shingon Buddhism. The Kyoto temple was opened in 1979 by nun Seiko Kasahara, who died in 1990.

The temple offers women the opportunity to take part in ascetic practice for monks and nuns. The one-day program has became popular because of its convenience — about 10,000 women have taken part so far, the temple said.

“There are people who just come here as part of their trips, or if they enjoy cosplaying,” said head priest Ryuyu Kasahara, 52, who is also Seiko’s grandchild, as he warmly welcomed me with a smile. “Even so, we still appreciate it if participants become interested in Buddhism after taking part.”

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Senyu Kasahara, left, guides participants to the temple’s main hall.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Shojin ryori Buddhist cuisine is served for lunch.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

I joined the one-day program with Yuka Osame, 21, a company employee from Hirakata, Osaka Prefecture, who learned about the program online.

We changed into white gowns and underwent a mock okamisori ritual shaving — usually performed on people who become nuns or monks — in which we imitated the act of shaving our hair. We then put on hooded clerical gowns which made us look like real nuns.

Participants can take part in one-day practice sessions up to five times. Each session varies, with meditation, sutra reading and drawing a Buddist statue among the options offered. Our day started with making juzu prayer beads. We spent an hour threading 108 beads, the same number of earthly human desires in Buddhist dogma. We then sat in the zazen kneeling position in the main hall, meditating while holding the beads we had made.

“Focus on your breathing if you want to get rid of worldly thoughts from your mind,” Ryuyu said.

I’m usually swamped covering crime stories, accidents and local news, but I’d never had such a peaceful experience in my life.

For lunch we had shojin ryori, vegetarian cuisine based on Buddhist teachings. The menu uses seasonal ingredients deftly prepared to maximize their flavor. Ryuyu’s wife Senyu ate with us.

“Just like people, it is best to appreciate them as they are,” Senyu, 47, said about how the food was cooked and seasoned.

Afternoon practice included a sermon about Buddhist teachings, prayers honoring the gods from the 88-temple pilgrimage route in the Shikoku region that are enshrined at the temple, and the goma rite of burning pieces of special wood. I was given a Buddist name using one of the kanji in my first name after finishing the seven-hour program.

“I came here to change something in myself. But I realized I don’t have to think so hard about it,” said Osame after the event.

After spending an incredible day at the temple, I also began to think it’s not so bad to simply be my usual self. The practice makes people feel positive about themselves, and that is probably why this temple appeals to so many women.

Memo

The one-day practice at Ryugenji temple is offered on the 18th and third Sunday of every month, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and costs ¥8,000. The temple can also offer practice sessions on other dates upon request. Participants need to bring tabi split-toe socks and a koshihimo kimono cord. The temple is a 20-minute walk from Nagitsuji Station on Kyoto’s Tozai subway line. For more information, call (075) 572-9400.

To find out more about Japan’s attractions, visit http://the-japan-news.com/news/d&d

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