Japan’s Priests Turn to Property DevelopmentBy
Shrines are costly to maintain, and they occupy prime land.
Shinto elders at the centuries-old Unesco World Heritage Site of Shimogamo Shrine upset some neighbors when they bulldozed a swath of old Kyoto forest to build an apartment complex with units selling for more than $2 million apiece. “They should call it the Shimogamo Corporation,” says one angry parishioner, Akira Hitomi.
Skepticism of religion is common enough in Japan that there’s a saying, “If you want to get rich, become a priest.” In truth, many of Japan’s 180,000 temples and shrines are in deep financial trouble, says Yoshihide Sakurai, a professor of sociology of religion at Hokkaido University. “They need side businesses to make ends meet.” Many people in Japan visit Shinto shrines for weddings and New Year’s Day, and Buddhist temples for funerals, but fewer than 40 percent consider themselves religious, according to surveys by public broadcaster NHK. Fewer still are devoted enough to pay for the upkeep of places of worship, many of which are hundreds of years old and made of wood…
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