Interview with Reverend Jōkan

Dear Reverend Jōkan, first of all, thank you for honouring us with this interview. Could you, please, tell us more about your temple and your ordination?

Our temple, Fugenji, is located in a suburb of Tōkyō, Fuchū city. It was founded in 1469 as a branch-temple of Sensōji, which is the oldest temple in Tōkyō, so it was originally located in Asakusa. In 1924, we eventually moved to our present place, because of the great fires of the Edo Period and the Great Kantō Earthquake in 1923. After moving to Fuchū city, we re-established the temple thanks to the contributions of the temple members and believers.

As for myself, I am the 43rd Abbot of this temple. I got ordained when I was 10 years old and accomplished the training, Shido-Kegyō, when I was 20 years old at Mount Hiei. After I graduated from university, I became a businessman for a while to learn how the real and secular world is. I, eventually, came back to our temple several years later and decided to go to Mount Hiei again to practice and learn. After coming back to our temple, I succeeded my father and became the Abbot in 2020.

The temple is an important place for the congregation and the needs of local people affiliated with it. What are the most difficult challenges you have faced as a priest taking care of the needs of the community?

Our temple had a history in Asakusa area, a little far from our place, so the members and the believers do not live near our current place. We hold periodical ceremonies for the members. These ceremonies are strongly connected to ancestor worship, so members feel it is natural for them to come to the temple in accordance with Japanese tradition. I try to take care and pay attention to each family and individual member in daily life.

I also perform the Goma fire ritual service for members and non-members alike, but only a few people come to the service, so it is pretty hard to build new relationships in a new neighbourhood, but I think that keeping doing it and making the temple friendly is one of the most important things in our times.

In many countries in Asia and Europe, younger people seem less interested in religion and spirituality. As a young priest, is there something you would like to say to these people, ragardless of their religious or secular aspirations?

I would say that it is natural not to believe solely in religion because science has rapidly developed and become the reliable factor. We cannot easily imagine miracles whose evidence is not clear. However, I still think religion is the fruit of human wisdom. There are a lot of hints to live properly in any era. Furthermore, Buddhism is a very logical and rational religion to rely on. Thus, naturally, the population of Buddhists and people who have developed an interest in Buddhism has been increasing.

As His Holiness Dalai lama taught, blind faith is not considered proper behaviour in Buddhism. Our beliefs, actions and ideas should be logical and persuasive, and I believe Buddhism is a religion worth to believe in. In that sense, religion will also change and adapt, and will not disappear.

It has been several months since you started offering free shikan online classes in English. This is a rare and precious gift in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Would you like to tell us about the reasons and thoughts that led you to organising these classes?

One of my friends asked me to open the zazen session offered at our temple, and another friend and monk offers an online zazen session, so I decided to start one as well. Since I have studied abroad and speak English, I wanted to welcome people from all over the world. I thought it would be wonderful to share this precious time with people overseas, and I wanted to make use of this opportunity to get connected to all over the world.

More and more people in Europe and the United States have started developing a sincere interest in Tendai Buddhism. Some of them have ordained and try to train in the Tendai disciplines no matter how difficult this might be, especially for those not speaking Japanese. What do you think of this growing interest and what are your thoughts and wishes about the dissemination of Tendai Buddhism outside Japan?

I feel honoured to hear that more people in Western countries have developed an interest in the Tendai tradition. Thanks to Ichishima Sensei and the efforts of other great, senior masters, English speakers can also have the opportunity to get ordained and enter Tendai Buddhism, something I highly appreciate.

Unfortunately only a few Japanese Tendai priests can speak English and have an interest in overseas dissemination, but I think the teachings and ideas of Tendai are profound enough and worth to spread to the world. Compared to other sects of Japanese Buddhism such as Sōtō, Jōdo-shin and others, Tendai is far behind when it comes to overseas dissemination, but I have heard that a lot of people overseas have an interest in Tendai. That means we have not met their expectations so far. If I can make any contribution, I am very pleased to do so.

It is necessary for me to practice and study more to become a good preacher all over the world. It might take a lot of time to be good enough. I would like to visit other countries and share the Dharma actively someday in the future.

It has been nearly a year since the first signs of the ongoing pandemic. What is your advice to all those facing the devastating effects of COVID-19?

Year 2020 was very special because of COVID-19. In these hard times, Buddha’s teaching is very effective in my opinion. Everything is changing and Everything is interdependent. There have been many pandemics in human history and we have dealt with them somehow. Life, aging, disease and death are inevitable and they are things that we cannot control. No matter what happens, life goes on and everything is interdependent. If you do evil things to others, the world shall become worse. If you do good things to others, the world shall become better.

We need to help each other, show our compassion in these hard times, and realise our potential as human beings. We call this potential Buddha-nature. It should be the time to cherish it.