Light Shows and Statues at Koukokuji Buddhist Temple

14.03.2020

WordsManon Baeza

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Located in Tokyo in one of the calmest areas of the usually busy neighbourhood of Shinjuku, the Buddhist temple Koukokuji is full of surprises. The specificity of the space is revealed inside with its columbarium filled with 2046 crystal buddhas which are lit with individual LED lights.

This unique temple sits at the foot of a very ancient tree, nicknamed the ginkgo biloba. Its external architecture resembles a traditional buddhist funeral building with large wooden doors and a sloped roof. According to tradition, each alter contains a drawer in which the ashes of the deceased are stored. However the space is devoid of incense sticks and commemorative plaques inside, with only flowers being left by loved ones.

Anyone with a loved one in the temple is able to light up the corresponding statue with the help of a sim card directly connected to the Buddha in question. The card is handed over to the family of the deceased when the ashes are placed inside the building. The ashes are stored for 33 years inside, before being buried underneath the building. According to Japanese tradition, the family is in charge of the cremation of their loved on, however in recent years, there has been a growing trend towards old people preparing their own funerals before they die.

While most cemeteries, aside for a choice few, are rarely visited in Europe, Buddhist temples are a major tourist attraction in Japan. Koukokuji attracts a particularly large number of visitors thanks to its curious light installations. Moreover, the temple sits in an impressive garden, home to a number of rare plant species. Here you’ll find ginkgos that are over 300 years old, surviving even the Kanto earthquake in 1923, and the air raids of 1945. You will also find a small cemetery surrounded by ancient trees, each with an individual plaque at the base of their trunk providing information about their age.

The doors to the columbarium are normally left open, however if you don’t have a card to light up the buddhas, you’ll need to ask the temple guard for assistance. If you ask nicely, they will start a 15 minute light show with the statues changing colours over time, throwing shadows across the interior walls of the building. Somewhere between traditionalism and technology, the Koukouji temple is a rare gem in the heart of the bustling city.

The Koukokuji Buddhist Temple is a 10 minute walk from the West exist of the Ushigome-Yangicho station on the  Oedo line, 2-20 Haramachi, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 162-0053.

 

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