Buddhist temple reincarnated

The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb 2, 2008

Former house of prayer enjoys new lease on life as community center

Komatsu, Japan -- A former temple is enjoying a new lease on life as a recreational and day care facility - replete with refreshing hot spring baths.

About 300 people attended the Jan. 13 opening ceremony for Sanso-nimoku Saienji in Komatsu, Ishikawa Prefecture, a center that retains the name Saienji, a temple established in 1473.

Sanso-nimoku, which literally means "three kinds of medicinal herbs and two kinds of trees," is a Buddhist term implying that everyone benefits equally from Buddha's teachings to save the world.

The main idea behind the facility is that it will serve as a center for exchanges between local residents and physically disabled people in the community.

The temple fell into disuse three years ago following the death of its chief priest.

As residents in the community thought it would be a waste if the historic temple was torn down, they held meetings to discuss how it could be saved.

Several residents, who had family graves at the temple and supported it financially, contacted the welfare corporation Busshien based in Nomi, Ishikawa Prefecture, asking for suggestions. Busshien means "house of Buddha's children."

Busshien manager Ryosei Oya suggested the temple be remodeled into a welfare facility and requested help from the Nippon Foundation.

The remodeling project was completed for about 60 million yen, with half that coming from the foundation. Although the Nippon Foundation has previously helped to turn more than 800 ordinary structures into welfare facilities, this is the first time it has been involved in giving a temple a makeover.

Sanso-nimoku Saienji has a floor space of 1,745 square meters, and the main temple hall has been turned into a 70-seat cafeteria.

A hot spring source was excavated, and the chief priest's former residence was turned into a bathhouse, including an open-air bath. An ashiyu footbath also was built, which visitors can use for free.

The facility has 40 employees, 30 of whom have disabilities. "We're making the best use of the former temple, and the staff and visitors enjoy relaxed and friendly interactions," Oya said.

The facility is open between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m., but is closed on Sundays and national holidays. Bathing fees are 400 yen for middle school students and older, 150 yen for primary school students and 50 yen for those under 5.