Mr. Joji Inoue
Mr. Joji Inoue
Chief priest of Shoudaiji Temple / Tegamidera Temple
Shoudaiji – A Temple with 1200 Years of History
Shoudaiji is a large Buddhist temple with 1200 years of history. It originates in Zokumyouin Temple in Dazaifu, Fukuoka (northern part of Kyushu) which was established in 835.
Zokumyouin was the first end-of-life care facility in Japanese history. Dazaifu has prospered as a trading port with Korea and mainland China, and has employed many soldiers called “sakimori” from various regions of Kyushu for the country’s defence.
According to the record, many people including sakimori lost their lives because of a famine and an epidemic disease which has spread throughout Kyushu in those days. Zokumyouin was established as a facility to accommodate such dying patients, and it encouraged them, “It’s okay, don’t be scared, we are right here with you.”
Zokunyouin is said to have housed the following three Buddhist statues;
Amida Nyorai – the Buddha of Limitless Light
Amida Nyorai is also called “Iou”. Its role was a doctor who exerts all its powers to cure people.
Kanzeon Bosatsu – the Goddess of Compassion and Mercy
“On” of Kanzeon means “voice”. Its role was a nurse who listens to people’s worries and hopes.
Yakushi Nyorai – the Buddha of Medicine
Yakushi Nyorai holds a small jar of medicine. It played a role of a pharmacist.
Unlike the modern world with vaccines, Zokumyouin must have been nursing patients and present at their deaths with these three Buddhist statues installed in its temple.
A Letter from My Father That Changed My Life
Looking back on my life, the first thing on my mind is a letter from my father, a former chief priest of Shoudaiji Temple.
When I was a teenager, all I did was to rebel against my father and I hardly spoke with him. But when I was a little past 20, he collapsed from his illness and we knew that his days were numbered. That was when I was forced to confront the reality that I have been neglecting – my fate to succeed the chief priest of Shoudaiji.
There was an unforgettable incident which happened to me around the 7th anniversary of my father’s death. Back then, I was distressed by the management of my temple. I had so many difficult discussions on the temple’s future with the senior staffs and the families who have been the supporters of my temple for many generations. Opinions were divided whether we should upgrade the temple as a place to listen to Buddha’s teachings, or we should give more priority to the management as a business. I, myself, had no idea which was the right thing to do.
Through such difficult times, I used to write to my father to ask for his advice. One day, when I was writing to him as usual, I heard a voice. It was my father’s. It said, “I have a letter for you over the Buddhist statue in the main building of the temple. Read it.” I searched the attic with a stepladder, and there it was! I found a letter from my father right where the voice said it was!
His words were simple.
“To a successor, never let the teachings die out.”
I was strongly encouraged by his words.
“I will never lose my way anymore.” That was the moment when all my worries were vanished and I could see the light at the end of tunnel. I received the baton of wish from my father, to play my temple’s role to spread the teachings of Buddha.
Face Yourself Through Writing a Letter.
As a chief priest, I have many opportunities to interact with the supporters of the temple through funerals and memorial services. Many people are afraid of death. But death is not a separation. Funeral and memorial service give you a chance to see the deceased again and face yourself sincerely.
Say, why not write to your deceased parents? Do you have any idea how deeply your parents loved you? Once you confront the mixed emotions or feelings of resentment you may have, they will start to dissolve little by little. Writing and sorting out your feelings will lead you to live your life to the fullest.
Hoping to support you, we offer “Tegamidokoro”, a facility where you can sit down and write to the deceased whenever you visit a grave.
Writing a letter to the deceased may sound overwhelming, but you don’t have to write anything special. You can talk about a small thing like what happened to you or to your family recently, or your memory. Just thinking about and talking to the deceased in your letter will calm your soul.
Talk to them as if they were sitting right there in front of you. At the same time, you will face and talk to yourself, which I think makes the real prayer.
Thanks to our architect, our “Tegamidokoro” won the Best Religious Architectural Award in 2017 which was sponsored by American architects, and our “visit-a-grave-by-writing” system won the Grand Award of DFA (Design for Asia Awards) in Hong Kong.
Send Your Letter to the Deceased
We receive 100 and more letters from all over Japan monthly, and the monks burn them with prayer once a month. This is how we send the letters to the deceased. But in fact, the act or writing itself sends your soul through time and space so that you can have a conversation with them.
Here are some of the feedbacks we have received;
“I wanted to talk with them like this while they were alive. By writing, my wish has come true.”
“I intended to write “I’m sorry” but I wrote “thank you” instead. I felt like they had forgiven me.”
Writing a letter to the deceased links to the teachings of Buddha. Remembering and respecting them will encourage you to live your life more strongly.
Lastly, we have different ways of saying “thank you” in Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean and Japanese, but they are all based on the teachings of Buddha.
The word “arigatou (thank you)” in Japanese means “difficult to exist”, and “nothing should be taken for granted.” Doesn’t other people’s kindness mean anything to you? Don’t you have to be thankful for the food if you pay for it? Well, I don’t think so.
“謝謝” in Chinese, “多謝你” in Taiwanese and ”감사합니다” in Korean all mean “thank you”, but they also mean “I’m sorry for having taken things for granted.” Words for “thank you” and “I’m sorry” are linked together.
I would be very grateful if you take this opportunity to feel closer to Japan and Buddhism.