Many religious leaders would like to liven up their services to attract a younger, hipper flock, but few have the necessary background to pull it off in a truly impressive way. Not so for the Japanese Buddhist priest Gyōsen Asakura, who answered the higher calling after a career as a DJ but evidently never lost his feel for the unstoppable pulse of electronic music. Getting behind his decks and donning his headphones once again, he has begun using sound, light, and the original splendor of Fukui City’s Shō-onji temple to hold “techno memorial services.” You can see and hear a bit of one such audiovisual spiritual spectacle in the video just above, shot at a memorial service last fall.
“Buddhism may be approaching something of a crisis point in Japan,” reports Buddhistdoor’s Craig Lewis, “with 27,000 of the country’s 77,000 Buddhist temples forecast to close over the next 25 years, reflecting shrinking populations in small rural communities and a loss of faith in organized religion among the country’s population as a whole.”
He also sites an Asahi Shimbun survey that found 434 temples closed over the past decade and 12,065 Japanese Buddhist temples currently without resident monks. Can this temple in a small city, itself known for its phoenix-like rise from the ashes of the Second World War, do its part to reverse the trend?
Gyōsen Asakura frames his techno memorial services, however incongruous they might at first seem, as in keeping with the traditions of his branch of Pure Land Buddhism. “Originally, golden decorations in the temple are expressions of paradise light,” he told THUMP. “However, the light of a traditional temple has not changed its form from 1000 years ago to use candlelight, even after electricity was invented. I felt doubtful about that, and then I thought about expressing paradise with the latest stage lighting such as 3D mapping.”
After all, as he said to Japankyo, “people used to use the most advanced technologies available to them at the time in order to ornament temples with gold leaf,” so why not harness today’s technology to evoke the Buddhist “world of light” as well? And in any case, ecstatic sensory experiences are nothing new in the realm of faith, though ecstatic sensory experiences of Gyōsen Asakura’s kind do cost money to put together. And so he, in the way of most religious projects the world over, has asked for donations to fund them, using not a bowl but the crowdfunding site Readyfor. Judging by 383,000 yen (more than $3300 U.S. dollars) he’s already raised, quite a few techno-heads have seen the light.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.
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