While you might think religious institutions are the most traditional, unchanging, tech-averse establishments, they’ve often surprised us with their ingenuity. Technology is part of daily life and many religious institutions are staying updated and serving their community in the present. At Tokyo Weekender we have previously written about techno temple Sho-onji in Fukui Prefecture with Gyosen Asakura, Sho-onji Temple’s chief priest, introducing techno music and projection mapping into certain services. In 2019, Tensho Goto at Kodaiji Temple in Kyoto introduced Mindar, a robot version of the Kannon bodhisattva, that reads sutras and chants. Similarly, Ryuganji Temple in Kyoto has been flying a Buddha on a drone since 2018.

Drone Buddha Takes Flight in Kyoto

In November 2018 at Ryuganji Temple in Kyoto, the flying Buddha statue debuted at the Cho Juya-sai (Ten Nights Festival). This was alongside a techno religious performance by Asakura, the priest from the aforementioned techno temple in Fukui. The Buddhist idol group Tera*Palms also performed.

Well-known Buddhist sculptor Yozan Miura designed and 3D printed the Buddha statue. The sculptor usually works with wood, but for this challenge, he also had to think out of the box in terms of materials and techniques. The Buddha had to be light enough to be carried on the drone.

Though some might criticize the entertainment element in religion, the temples that are innovating and using new technology are doing it with a noble purpose. “We need to make an effort these days to get people to deepen their understanding of Buddhism,” Ryuho Ikeguchi, Ryuganji Temple’s chief priest was quoted saying in the Yomiuri Shimbun. Everything is also done thoughtfully, as in this case the flying Buddha is a reference to Amitabha Buddha who is said to descend from heaven on a cloud.

Image via ryuganji.jp

The Ingenuity of Ryuganji Temple

The drone Buddha is just one of many creative ideas at Ryuganji Temple. Buddhist sculptor Miura formed the Buddhist altar-related pop unit Butsu Butsu Bu (roughly translating to Buddha Buddha Club) in 2019 and they’ve been releasing catchy pop songs as part of Ryuganji’s activities.

He also developed the Buddha gacha-gacha project at Ryuganji Temple. The two capsule toy machines dispense 3D-printed mini Buddha statues by Miura. Starting in 2023 the statues are lacquered by painter Yasunori Ito. There are nine types in the lineup, three of which are Buddha statues, but there are also items such as incense holders. Each capsule is ¥2,500.

On top of all of this, the temple has a maid of the maid café kind. Her name is Kutan, she has a background in literature and art, and she’ll discuss Buddhism and philosophy with visitors. The temple’s maid café only takes place a few times a year, but it’s one of many activities that foster connection and community.

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