Monday, November 30, 2009

apanese temple resorts to manga to woo visitors


HACHIOJI, Japan — Girls clad in maids' outfits are not traditionally associated with Buddhism, but that has not stopped monks at a centuries-old temple using Japanese pop culture to woo visitors.

The Ryohoji temple, built in the late 16th century in a Tokyo suburb, erected a colourful manga-inspired sign at its entrance in June and has since seen visitor numbers perk up -- especially young men.

But it went a step further at the weekend, setting up tents and opening up a temporary cafe staffed by bonnet-wearing girls sporting classic frills, one of the recent popular themes among fans of anime and costume role-playing.

The "maids" look authentic and old-fashioned in every way -- save for the short length of the skirts and the fake cats' ears on their heads.

And it seemed to work, the temple drawing hundreds of visitors on Saturday as the event coincided with a local autumn festival in Hachioji, on the western outskirts of Tokyo.

"I came over because this temple has been the talk of the Net," said Mitsutaka Adachi, a 26-year-old telecom software programmer, one of many first-time visitors to the ancient temple.

"I was a bit surprised to see this but it's fun," he told AFP. "This can motivate people to come here."

One of the maids, who only identified herself as Yurin, said it was "good that young people come to the temple."

"This is my first experience as a maid but I'm enjoying myself," she added.

Ryohoji's chief monk, Shoko Nakazato, 45, said he did not think it was inappropriate.

"I'm a manga generation who grew up watching them on television. I have little resistance to manga.... I wanted to tell the people that temples are a fun place to visit," he said.

Ryohoji previously had almost no visitors during the week, but recently up to 30 people, mostly young men, had come every day, Nakazato said.

Adding to the spectacle, Toromi, a singer who drew the manga characters on the temple's sign, was in a red-and-white costume inspired by a goddess worshipped at the temple.

"I'm so happy as unexpectedly many people came," said Toromi, who goes by one name and is a common sight in Akihabara, Tokyo's electronics district that is frequented by computer buffs and fanatics, known in Japanese as "otaku."

Ryohoji is also selling a 500-yen (five-dollar) card with cartoon characters which allows buyers to download three-minute motion pictures on to their mobile phones of chief monk Nakazato chanting prayers.

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.

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