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Praying To The Anime Goddess

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It's said that there is a religion for everyone. Otaku are no exception.

Ryohoji Temple, a Buddhist temple in Tokyo's Hachioji, might have been built in the 16th century; however, it is anything but traditional. CNNGo reports that in June 2009, the temple's chief monk Shoko Nakazato created a manga-esque sign to "tell the people that temples are a fun place to visit".

The temple didn't stop there, going on to create its own character called "Toro Benten" and own theme song. Yes, there are even karaoke versions of the theme songs. The character appears on merchandise sold at the temple that includes good luck charms, capsule toys and t-shirts. The priest's business cards even have the character on them.

On the temple's You Tube site, there are clips of Toro Benten as well as footage of monks praying to the character.


The temple is known as the "moe-dera" with "moe" referring to the nebulous otaku concept of cute and "dera" meaning "temple".

Religion in Japan changed radically after the war, with more and more individuals shunning it altogether, perhaps feeling burned over the way it was used to drag Japan into foreign expansion and ultimately war.


Yet, religion in Japan is highly flexible. When babies are born, they are blessed in Shinto shrines. When they grow up they have Christian-style weddings — in artifice only. And when they die, a Buddhist priest typically performs the funeral rites. Because of the strong connection with funerals and funeral memorial services (called "hoji" in Japanese), many young Japanese equate temples with death. Tourists might enjoy visiting temples because they are peaceful and beautiful, but young Japanese might be more reluctant. Ryohoji Temple is attempting to change that by making it more approachable. Ironically, just as some will be attracted to the temple because of its colorful characters, others will be utterly repelled by it.

Buddhism in Japan has traditionally been broken into many sects in order to produce a religion that's most relevant to believer's daily lives. Shinto shrines in Japan are doing this by tapping the appeal of anime, so why not Buddhist temples?

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