In a recent article, we examined the unlikely accident that led to a Toyota Will VI backing into and destroying Japan’s oldest toilet. The 16th-century Tōsu toilet of Tōfuku-ji, in Kyoto, was not in use then and has not been used for decades, even if the damage it sustained is no less tragic.
But as recently mentioned on our Twitter feed, there is a more unfortunate, more preventable bit of temple toilet news, this time out of Nishinomiya City in Hyōgo Prefecture.
The culprits? To install Unmannerly hikers.
An Ancient Temple
Jurin-ji is a temple of the Shingon sect, located in Nishinomiya, Hyōgo Prefecture, on the slopes of Mount Rokkō. It isn’t the only religious institution to take advantage of these natural environs. There are Shinto shrines there, and one of the temple’s immediate neighbors is the Nishinomiya Cistercian Monastery.
Jurin-ji is one of the oldest. It was founded on the orders of Emperor Junna in Tenchō 10 (833) by Kōbō-daishi. Kōbō-daishi, also known by his monastic name of Kūkai, was the legendary Heian-era monk who had a formative influence on Japanese Buddhism. He is the purported founder of many temples, especially in the Kansai region.
Today, the temple sits astride a popular hiking trail. This is why it appears in hiking guides as an attraction and as the site of the last toilet at the end of the trail.
And here, unfortunately, is the root of the problem that faced Fujiwara Eizen, the temple’s abbot, and led to his having to take an unfortunately necessary decision with regard to the temple’s public toilets.
The Award Winning Toilet
Toilets – historically called tōsyou or secchin- are an integral part of traditional temple architecture. However, this was not a historic structure like the tōsu at Tōfuku-ji. The temple set up the toilet building following a generous donation from an elderly female parishioner in 2007. The toilet even won the 5th Annual Nishinomiya City Urban Landscape Prize, in the townscape architecture division.
The toilet was meant to serve both parishioners as well as transient hikers going on or coming off the local trails. It was built with Japanese and Western aesthetics in harmony. One wall even displayed the words of temple founder Kōbō-daishi.
Temple authorities had thought if the toilet was new, visitors would feel a measure of obligation to keep it as clean as possible.
Sadly, that didn’t happen.
Hikers left both the men’s and women’s sides in poor condition. Abbot Eizen reports that these visitors regularly soiled the toilets and didn’t show common courtesy in cleaning up after themselves. Other hikers in desperate need when coming off the trail would miss the toilets entirely and soil the floor. (And, again, not clean up afterward.)
Others would leave with rolls of toilet paper, then complain online that there was no toilet paper and that the stalls were dirty. And others broke the handwashing faucets. Many would wander around the temple buildings to sit and have bento in the middle of active monastic services.
As the abbot observes, he cannot spend his entire day tending to a public toilet. This issue had gone on for years, to the point that it was a nuisance to the community as well as the temple. He considered charging a fee, or asking the city to manage the building. Neither plan panned out.
So Fujiwara decided to take the extraordinary step of dismantling the toilet altogether. The structure will now serve as a changing room for parishioners doing waterfall meditation, as well as a more general sitting meditation space.
Per his remarks to Maidona News, Abbot Eizen is disappointed. He didn’t want to have to inconvenience the local community. When interviewed, he also took great pains to note that the issue was not all hikers but rather just a handful of the worst offenders over the years.
The issue has gone on for long enough that before her death, the donor who made the structure possible in the first place remarked shortly before her death: “I wanted to believe in people. What a shame!”
For his part, the abbot has tried to use a positive approach to inculcating better behavior. Again, to no avail.
As we mentioned in our coverage of the damage to the Tōsu at Tōfuku-ji, the understanding among monks was that the discipline of training didn’t stop when one relieved one’s self. Sadly, thanks to the bad behavior of some, those in the area will now have to exercise bladder discipline when visiting this part of Mount Rokkō.