Shiga: Pianos draw people together to temple

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tetsugen Maki plays piano as onlookers listen, in Saiho Temple in Kusatsu, Shiga Prefecture.

KUSATSU, Shiga — A temple has placed pianos on its grounds to create a recreation space for locals. A vice priest from the temple got the idea from an urban project called “street pianos” that are placed around towns for anyone to play.

There are three pianos at Saiho Temple in Kusatsu, Shiga Prefecture. The first and second ones are upright pianos located inside of and in front of the main hall. The third one that was brought in October is a grand piano.

Saiho Temple, which belongs to the Jodo sect of Buddhism that worships Amida Buddha, has tried to become more open to the community by, for example, hosting a market with vendors selling food, drinks and other goods, yoga classes and cram schools for children.

However, these activities have had to be canceled or scaled down due to the pandemic since last spring.

Tetsugen Maki, vice priest of the temple, and his wife focused their attention on street pianos that have been placed at train stations and airports across the country and are now a hit.

Maki loves music and learned to play the piano when he was in elementary school. He has also played guitar and drums in bands since junior high school. When he saw street pianos attracting and entertaining people, he thought it would be a nice idea for connecting strangers with each other.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A grand piano is seen beautifully decorated in Kusatsu, Shiga Prefecture.

At the beginning of the year, he was fortunate enough to have an upright piano donated to the temple, and he placed it in the temple grounds.

“I wanted people to relax with music without being overwhelmed by the coronavirus,” Maki said.

Neighborhood mothers, children and junior high school girls began to drop by the temple grounds when the piano was installed under the eaves of the main hall in February. Later, people from farther afield could be spotted at the temple, including company workers with sheet music in hand, apparently on business trips. They learned about the temple through a website on nationwide street piano information. On the busiest days, about 10 groups play the piano a day, and worshippers listen to the music.

As Maki is good at arranging various songs with an up-tempo rhythm, he has also performed songs for children and even cheers for a pro baseball team. He said he feels an indescribable joy when more and more onlookers begin to sing the chorus.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

“It’s frantic while playing, but fun anyway,” Maki said with a smile. “Even if you can’t play well, the beauty of street piano is that you can enjoy playing with the sound.”

Maki purchased the third piano to make it the centerpiece of a new facility called “Tomoiki Terrace.” The small building was newly constructed in a corner of a cemetery parking lot as a place of relaxation for visitors and local residents. The word “tomoiki” is Japanese for “living together.”

The piano is decorated with ornaments created by Prof. Masahiro Fujita at Shiga University and three of his students who hope to be art teachers. The instructors of the painting class held in the temple precincts acted as liaisons.

The professor and students came up with the design based on red and pink. They asked a specialized company to make a sheet with that design and wrapped the entire piano in it. Children attending a painting class then pasted on glittering acrylic decorations.

Maki says he plans on holding a concert on the terrace.

“I hope people will enjoy playing or listening to the piano,” he said.