Unseen Japan

The Japan You Don't Learn About in Anime.

If you were planning to join the Buddhist priesthood because a robot took your job...welp, I've got some bad news for you. (Picture: iLexx / PIXTA(ピクスタ))

A Buddhist Temple in Kyoto Gets Its First Android Saint

News   Posted on February 25, 2019 in technology, robotics, religion • By Jay Andrew Allen • Read Related Articles

Here at Unseen Japan, we like covering religion. And we like covering technology. So naturally, we get a little hot under the collar when religion and technology cross paths.

In an article back in November, I discussed several ways that traditional religions in Japan are attempting to leverage technology to retain people's interest. They included everything from Buddhist monks listing themselves on Amazon, to temples and shrines accepting donations via QR codes, to Buddhist temples that use drone-mounted images of bodhisattvas during ceremonies.

But the Kodai Temple (高台寺; koudai-ji) in Kyoto has taken things one step farther: it's actually using a "sacred" android to recite scripture.

Kodai has introduced "Minder" (マインダー). Minder is modeled after Kannon, a famous bodhisattva known in India as Avalokiteshvara, and in China as Kwan Yin. Bodhisattvas are specific to Mahayana (so-called "Greater Vehicle" Buddhism), and are thought to be beings who have received enlightenment, but opted to remain on Earth instead of going to Nirvana, so that they may lead others to enlightenment. Kannon is revered as the bodhisattva of compassion across multiple sects of Japanese Buddhism, and statues to her can be found throughout Japan - the most notable perhaps being the Oofuna Kannon in Kamakura.

Oofuna Kannon in Kamakura
The Oofuna Kannon in Kamakura. She may be full of compassion, but she could squash you like a bug. (Picture: ackey / PIXTA(ピクスタ))

Minder stands 195 centimeters tall, or a looming 6'5" - taller than your average Japanese man (1ho comes out around 170cm), and almost tall enough to star in the NBA. Minder's head and hands are covered in silicon, but the rest of its body is exposed aluminum. The effect is like someone started building an android and, Edward Scissorhands-style, died partway through.

But Minder's more than just a not-to-pretty face. After being unveiled at the memorial service to welcome it, Minder launched into a 25-minute sermon on the Heart Sutra (般若心経;hannya shingyou).

Footage of Minder reciting a lesson on the Heart Sutra.

Kodai is a Buddhist template in the Rinzai sect, a Zen school that believes in sudden enlightenment through the practice of Zazen. The Heart Sutra is a key text in Rinzai practice, typically recited by monks prior to sitting zazen.

It will be interesting to see how far this trend goes. As I've discussed elsewhere, Japan hasn't been shy about using all manner of technology, not just to spice up Buddhist ceremonies, but to offset labor deficits created by a rapidly dwindling population. A recent experiment that's drawn a lot of attention is the use of power assist suits at airports, which enable women and even the elderly to lift heavy baggage without fear of muscle strain.

However, the use of robots and androids has a few limitations. One key drawback is that robots break down and require maintenance. Indeed, the maintenance requirements proved so extreme for the robot-staffed Hen-na Hotel in Nagasaki that the hotel "laid off" half of its robot staff. Until robots can successfully and flawlessly fix other robots, the maintenance burden will be a continuing concern for any business that thinks it can go Full Automaton.

Time will tell whether Minder is more trouble than it's worth - or whether we can expect to see temples chock full of digital monks in the near future.

(JP) Link: World's First Android Kannon; A Move Toward Animated Buddhist Statues - Kodai Temple

世界初のアンドロイド観音像 動く仏像へ「進化」、高台寺 : 京都新聞

I'm the publisher of Unseen Japan. I hold an N1 Certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and am married to a wonderful woman from Tokyo.

Comments



You May Also Enjoy Reading...

Man with power assisted leg

As Tourism Skyrockets, Japanese Airline Equips Baggage Handlers with Power Suits

News   By Jay Andrew Allen  ·  February 13, 2019 • Tagged with business, economy, tourism, travel, airline, tech, technology, robotics

Cyborg baggage handlers? An influx of foreign visitors forces one airline to find an inventive way to handle the load.

A saisenbako, or change collection box used at Shinto shrines.

QR Code of the Gods: Will Tech Save Religion in Japan?

Essay   By Jay Andrew Allen  ·  November 28, 2018 • Tagged with religion, faith, culture, shinto, buddhism, technology

From drone-riding Buddhas to monk rentals on Amazon, Japan's temples and shrines are finding unique ways to stay solvent during uncertain times.

2.5D upcoming musical productions

Bring Me To Life: How 2.5D Musicals Bring Anime and Manga to the Stage

Essay   By Krys Suzuki  ·  May 06, 2019 • Tagged with anime, manga, entertainment, theater, technology, business

Many live-action manga and anime adaptations are received poorly. So how has musical theater captured the imagination of fans worldwide?

Woman looking at her checkbook in shock

Why Do Japanese Programmers Get Paid So Little?

News   By Jay Andrew Allen  ·  March 26, 2019 • Tagged with business, technology, software, money

Programmers, systems engineers, and software architects can command great salaries around the world. Japan, however, is a different story...

Cars and avatars

Nissan Wants an Avatar in Every Car by 2025

News   By Jay Andrew Allen  ·  March 19, 2019 • Tagged with technology, business, economy

Will people be projecting themselves into your car in six years? Engineers at Nissan are betting yes.