November 17, 2012

Zen and the Art of Temple Branding

Look, I am not one of those people who think that once you've seen one Japanese Temple you've seen them all. I have enjoyed visiting numerous temples and shrines for they each have their own unique atmosphere.

But if I'm being completely honest, they are pretty hard to distinguish from one another. Sure there's the Golden Pavilion and the famous stone garden of Ryoanji, but aside from those two, every other temple has been "the red one with the beautiful gardens, placid ponds, and the smell of incense in the air. You know, with all the Buddhas?" In my mind they may all be different, but it's hard to convey in words what separates one from another.

Well today I can safely say I visited the most memorable and unique temple of them all, which I will have no trouble describing to you. First of all, when you enter, they have fog!
Man-made fog beneath the entrance bridge
What is this temple called? No idea! Something-ji, but ji means "temple" so that doesn't get us anywhere. And if you're thinking "fog is cool, but not enough to make this place stand out" then you're absolutely right. Which is why the fine monks at Something-ji decided to create a mascot: a red wooden egg-doll.

And what's even more brilliant is for $6, you can purchase a small one and then leave it anywhere you want in the temple grounds. So you're essentially paying them $6 to decorate their own place. Brilliant! Please, as you view these photos,
try to calculate the tens of thousands of non-taxed dollars they've generated just from this single mascot and what a brilliant job of branding they've done for Something-ji:

These were just from the hike to the temple. When we finally arrived, I assumed the grounds were so holy that they would not allow such a silly toy to grace the temple-grounds:

But wait, what's that lining the walls?

Move over, Buddha, there's a new little fat man in town
And turn around from the temple and what do you find? A shop that sells these adorably grumpy dolls:

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. There were easily 10,000 small figures, and a few hundred larger ones which sold for about $25. Perhaps to justify the purchase, the monks have shoved pieces of paper with fortunes up the dolls' butts, but there appeared to be 10,000 people willing to pay the money to leave behind their little dolls. 

Kurumi's mother also took me to see a famous Osaka waterfall that was near this temple, but there was no mascot, so it's barely worth showing. 

This area is famous not just for the waterfall, but also for mean monkeys that live in the woods. There are signs that warn sightseers not to feed them (there's actually a fine). The irony is they haven't capitalized on this and made monkey mascot dolls! FOOLS!

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