Thinking “How one becomes a monk” at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa on 24 June


Many thanks to guests who joined the morning and afternoon tours on that day. On that day we welcomed total of 10 guests from USA, Canada, France, Spain, and Sweden. The two tours were in contrast of weather. In the morning time, it was rainy and cold but in the afternoon it turned sunny and hot.

As we explain to our guests, Sensoji Temple is a Buddhist temple, established in 7th century. It was a time Buddhism arrived in Japan from China. Buddhism was originated in India. But as it was passed onto other nations, style and some of teachings were altered to adopt itself to local societies. So Japan’s Buddhism is different from those in other countries.

There are several denominations in Buddhism like Christianity has Catholics and Protestant. Sensoji belongs to Tendai denomination originally but today the temple claims their own independent denomination.

At a temple, monks are working for others like pastors in Christianity, Imam in Islam or Rabbi in Judaism. They pray inside temples for those who need salvation. For funerals monks visit people’s residences to pray for the dead so that souls of the dead can reach the heaven peacefully.

How one becomes a monk is a question of many. Monks usually went through training at certain temples of their denomination to receive credentials. In Wakayama prefecture, there is a town dedicated for that purpose, called Koyasan. There is a university for those who wish to be a Buddhist monk of Shingon (Esoteric) denomination.

Thousands of residents are mostly monks or trainees of monks. It is located high on the mountain, which takes 2 hours from Osaka by train, cable car and bus. There are tens of temples and cemeteries there. Because of this uniqueness, the town is designated as one of World Heritage sites.

Anyone can visit the town as a tourist. I visited Koyasan in April. There are pensions called Shukubo managed by temples. Exterior and interiors of the pension is very Buddhist. Monks serve meals and prepare for bed. In the morning, guests can participate in morning chanting.  You can feel like staying in a holy world. In daytime, you can visit various temples and attend sermons by monks.

Surprisingly, although it was a traditional Japanese Buddhist town, most visitors were westerners. Is there any commonality between Christianity and Buddhism? Monks in Koyasan told me westerners are welcome as well. Just like Christianity, Buddhism treats all the people equally.

Some Buddhist monks claim, although people enter from different paths to climb the mountain, the goal is the top of the same mountain.

We share common goal of purifying our souls. That is what anyone can learn at Buddhist temples including Koyasan and Sensoji.