Korean Temples in Japan

A while back, I found this interesting article in the Japan Times about Korean Buddhist temples in Japan. These are called chōsen-dera (朝鮮寺) where 朝鮮 is the Japanese pronunciation of joseon (조선), which is the old name for the state of Korea.1

As I wrote about a while back, Japan has a large population of Koreans living there for 3-4 generations. During the Empire of Japan, some came looking for better jobs, while others were brought over by force, especially during the War. In either case, many of them live in the Kansai region, especially near Osaka.

Like many third or fourth-generation immigrants, they struggle to balance two cultures: their ancestral culture from Korea, and the culture they grew up in: Japan. The Chosen-dera represent a kind of balance between the two. The architecture of the temples looks more Korean-style, but the style of Buddhism itself looks more like Japanese. The sermons and topics discussed might sometimes pertain to things that the Korean population is particularly interested in, or it just might be general Buddhism.

A Korean-Japanese friend of mine told me about her family temple near Osaka. The temple is Jodo-Shu, which is a very popular Japanese Buddhist sect, but the temple population is mostly Korean-Japanese only. I’ve never seen it in person, but I would like to visit someday.

Anyhow, this phenomenon isn’t really that unusual. Afterall, in the US, we have many churches that are built around a specific community. There are Chinese-Christian churches, Korean-Christian churches, Finnish-Christian churches, and so on. All of them are Christian, and are all American immigrants, but they also help provide support for a specific ethnic community.

But, as the article explains, the Chosen-dera temples are getting fewer and fewer. Like immigrant populations in the US, younger generations of Koreans in Japan are becoming more Japanese and less connected with their Korean ancestry with each generation. When I used to go to a Japanese-American Jodo Shinshu temple here in Seattle, many of the members were elderly too, while younger generations did more “American” things or converted to other religions.

It will be interesting to see how these two religious communities (immigrants in the US, immigrants in Japan) will change in the next 50-100 years.

1 North Korea still uses this term regularly. South Korea uses hanguk (한국), which in Japanese gets pronounced as kankoku (韓国).

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Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

2 thoughts on “Korean Temples in Japan”

  1. The kanji used for Chosen suggest this might be where the ‘travel agency’ slogan ‘Land of the Morning Calm’ might have come from. (As Japan is ‘Land of the Rising Sun.’) There are lots of Koreans in Tokyo, although I have not heard of that type of temple before. It might be that there are more Christians than Buddhists among the Tokyo Koreans. Also, they seem to be pretty much divided into those supporting the north or the south, probably depending on where they have relatives.

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    1. Hi John,

      I never thought of it that way but that’s interesting. Wikipedia implied that the origins of the 朝鮮 kanji were kind of obscure and might be related to an old place-name. I’m not sure though. 🙂

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