Published by Ronald Gray on May 12, 2017

REPOST: Japan’s Priests Turn to Property Development

Places of worship in Japan, such as temples and shrines, are located in some of the most lucrative spaces in the country’s congested cities. This is probably the reason why many developers have turned to priests to negotiate on constructing what they call ‘pilgrimage lodgings.’ The full report on Bloomberg:


Many shrines are in bustling city locations. Photographer: Shiho Fukada/Bloomberg

Many shrines are in bustling city locations. Photographer: Shiho Fukada/Bloomberg

Shinto elders at the centuries-old Unesco World Heritage Site of Shimogamo Shrine upset some neighbors when they bulldozed a swath of old Kyoto forest to build an apartment complex with units selling for more than $2 million apiece. “They should call it the Shimogamo Corporation,” says one angry parishioner, Akira Hitomi.


Skepticism of religion is common enough in Japan that there’s a saying, “If you want to get rich, become a priest.” In truth, many of Japan’s 180,000 temples and shrines are in deep financial trouble, says Yoshihide Sakurai, a professor of sociology of religion at Hokkaido University. “They need side businesses to make ends meet.” Many people in Japan visit Shinto shrines for weddings and New Year’s Day, and Buddhist temples for funerals, but fewer than 40 percent consider themselves religious, according to surveys by public broadcaster NHK. Fewer still are devoted enough to pay for the upkeep of places of worship, many of which are hundreds of years old and made of wood.


To make money, Japanese priests have hosted speed-dating events, rapping battles, and televised flower-arranging contests. They’ve also turned to real estate, a sign of the times as Japan experiences a property boom fueled by ultralow interest rates and a new inheritance tax that’s encouraged retirees to shelter money in rental properties. Real estate investment last year accounted for about a third of the country’s economic growth.


Location, location, location—it’s the big reason consultants and developers, including West Japan Railway Co. and homebuilding giant Sekisui House Ltd., are pitching projects to priests. Temples and shrines occupy some of the best buildable spaces in the country’s jampacked cities. In the central district of Osaka, wrecking balls are busy demolishing an old building Otani Shinshu Buddhists used for weddings and funerals. When construction is finished in 2019, a 17-floor business hotel operated by the Excel Tokyu Hotel group will stand beside the temple’s main hall. In Tokyo, Mitsui Fudosan Co. has so far developed an office tower and two condominiums on land leased from shrines. One is a short walk from the country’s busiest train station.


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