Graffiti mars temple's famed bamboo garden

IHT/Asahi, March 15,2005

KAMAKURA, Kanagawa Prefecture (Japan) -- Modern worldly carelessness is leaving an indelible mark on the famed centuries-old bamboo garden at the Hokokuji Temple here.

The sacred stems increasingly are being defaced with graffiti. Even worse, the damage can kill the trees. Mostly, visitors carve their names or phrases to record their visits. But once the bamboo is scarred, the stems can rot and die, temple gardeners say.

"These acts blaspheme the Buddha,'' says temple worker Motohiro Ujihara. ``I am so sad that I can find no other word than `regrettable' to express my sorrow.''

Of the more than 1,000 bamboo trees in the garden, about 100 have been defaced.

In the words of a temple official, the rampant graffiti is a sign of ``the moral degeneration of Japanese people.''

The temple, which belongs to the Rinzai Sect of Buddhism, was constructed in 1334 by Ietoki Ashikaga, the grandfather of Takauji Ashikaga (1305-1358), the founder of the Muromachi Shogunate (1336-1573).

In the rear garden of the main temple hall, in Kamakura's Jomyoji district, mosochiku bamboo trees tower majestically. Mosochiku is a giant species that can grow more than 10 meters. Stems typically measures 20 centimeters in diameter.

The graffiti is mainly carved on bamboo trunks that line a small path and cannot be seen from other areas. Many couples carve their names in a heart-shaped silhouette with dates. Mostly, the language used is Japanese but phrases in English and hangul also appear.

While graffiti is not a new problem, temple officials complain that it has increased markedly in recent years.

Gardener Izumi Tokumitsu, 53, is responsible for the garden. Since penknives are often used to carve the graffiti, the damage is often irreparable.

Many temple visitors complain about the graffiti.

One said: ``I saw someone carving something on the bamboo. But I was too afraid to ask him to stop because the man had a penknife in his hand.''

The temple is now considering steps to crack down on the graffiti, including increasing garden patrols or using stronger wording in warning signs.

``If we find that someone is writing on them (the bamboo), we can warn him or her not to do so,'' said Noboru Yui, 74, a temple employee. ``But it is impossible to watch out all day long.''