Internet offers new opportunities for survival

An increasing number of temples and shrines are collecting donations through online crowdfunding services to cover maintenance and running costs. In addition to securing funds, crowdfunding has the potential to expand the circle of support for such facilities.

In mid-June, Horyuji temple in the town of Ikaruga, Nara Prefecture, began soliciting donations to cover landscaping costs in preparation for the 30th anniversary next year of its UNESCO World Heritage listing. The ¥20 million target was surpassed in just half a day.

The number of donors has now reached about 7,000, so many that there is reportedly a shortage of donation gifts — which differ depending on the amount donated — for people who have made contributions. Many people probably wanted to support a temple they had visited on school excursions and other trips.

While government subsidies are provided for the repair of national treasures and important cultural properties, funds for mending cultural items that have not received an official designation and maintaining temple grounds must be raised privately. Horyuji has conventionally used revenue from visitor admission fees for such purposes. However, visitor numbers have plummeted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is said that the temple’s financial situation has worsened.

Even before the pandemic, many temples and shrines had been suffering from a fall in worshipper numbers due to depopulation, and a shortage of successors.

The use of crowdfunding could possibly be a way out of this situation. One leading crowdfunding site reported that the amount of support for projects related to temples and shrines last year increased by 50% from the previous year.

A building at Yamaguchi City’s Koryuji temple, which is said to be the family temple of the Muromachi-period (1336-1573) Ouchi clan, had been suffering from leaks and corrosion. Since 2019, the temple has raised more than ¥7 million for repairs through crowdfunding, with donations received from all over Japan.

It can be said that we have entered an era in which it is now possible to collect a large number of modest donations from a wide range of sources, rather than relying on prominent local figures. Each temple and shrine is urged to devise initiatives and work harder than ever before.

However, if crowdfunding is conducted repeatedly with unclear objectives, and if projects compete for funds by offering lavish donation gifts, it would lead to a muddling of priorities and could undermine trust in temples and shrines.

To increase transparency when seeking funds, the facilities should carefully explain why the money is needed and how the donations will be used. Temples and shrines must treasure the connections they establish with donors. They must not neglect efforts to cultivate relationships so that the donors continue their support, and encourage them to visit the facilities in person.

If temples and shrines are able to raise funds through crowdfunding when needed, it may be possible to reduce government and municipal subsidies in the future.

Many temples and shrines at the core of local communities that possess valuable cultural assets lack expertise in crowdfunding. The central and local governments must introduce successful cases of crowdfunding to encourage facilities to help themselves to survive.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 23, 2022)