Kannonji in Wakayama—aspects of Buddhism in contemporary Japan (& a belated memorial: Tokoro Teruyoshi)

Tokoro Teruyoshi born 14 Aug 1949, died 1 Aug 2016.

Tokoro san was a quiet man who I knew when I was studying on Koyasan in 1982–83. My late teacher encouraged the Tokoros to assist us, no doubt because both husband and wife spoke English well. His daughter, Keiko, and our daughter (known in Japanese as Hanako, that is, flower child) became friends quite naturally. Tokoro san was both kind and quite helpful to my family while we lived on Kōyasan, and continued to demonstrate those qualities long after as well.

Suddenly, three and a half decades have gone by. Like what, morning mist lingering between the giant cryptomeria on Kōyasan vanishing away in the sunshine? But that sounds too sweet, since I recently learned of Tokoro san’s death. Untimely in my mind, since one of those coincidences that helped to create a friendship is that we were born three days apart.

What then of the aspects of contemporary Buddhism in Japan of the title? Tokoro san’s daughter, Keiko, inherited a temple from him, Kannonji, which is located in Wakayama city, south of Osaka. She and her temple represent three aspects of the changing institutional nature of Japanese temples. First, she is the head priest, serving in that function rather than her husband. Second, Kannonji provides funeral services for pets. And, third, the temple is the location of Keiko’s restaurant, Otera de Dining Kannonji. From the photos on Facebook, she makes outrageously delicious pastries and desserts.

These sociological changes from the standard image of Japanese Buddhist temples have drawn the attention of several scholars, as for example John Nelson in Experimental Buddhism, Barbara Ambros in Bones of Contention, and Stephen Covell in Japanese Temple Buddhism.

I hope that I can visit Kannonji in Wakayama, visit Keiko, and see this temple that so fully instantiates the contemporary changes in Buddhist institutions in Japan.

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