The Eco-Temple Community Project

Tackling urban challenges through the
re-imagination of religious sites

In one of our last posts, we discussed how GLOCAL Cohort V students researched urban challenges and solutions from different parts of the world as part of the Creative Cities class at the University of Barcelona. The group consisting of Ilayda, Chang-Lin, Yan-Yin and Mel dealt with a very special project: the Eco-Temple Community Project, and more precisely with the Juko-in Temple in Edogawa, Tokyo.

Temple in Japan
Religious places in cities can play an important role in combating urban challenges. Photo: Ilayda Tenim

The temple in Tokyo is part of the worldwide network of so-called “Eco-Temples,” but what exactly distinguishes these temples? Mostly, it is about religious Buddhist buildings fulfilling other social tasks for the local population in addition to their actual purpose. As the name suggests, these are often linked to environmental, resource, or energy issues. For example, the people involved in the temple projects might offer courses on sustainable agriculture or energy self-sufficiency, or social institutions such as senior care homes or kindergartens are docked onto the temples.

“An Eco-Temple in every town in the world can transform our relationship with the environment.”

In the case of the Juko-in Temple in Tokyo, the abbot of the temple, Rev. Hidehito Okochi, has been providing a space for solar energy education workshops for decades and has made the entire temple energy efficient. Based on the teachings of “Engaged Buddhism,” the aim is to empower the local population towards self-determination and to provide space for self-initiated projects. A micro finance bank is also docked to the temple, as well as a home for the elderly, which is housed in a chemical-free building. The urban challenges that are being primarily addressed are social isolation and alienation from nature. 

Rev. Hidehito Okochi at his Juko-in Solar Temple
Rev. Hidehito Okochi at his Juko-in Solar Temple

As part of the project, GLOCAL students had the chance to interview various people involved in the Eco-Temple project and even received an online tour of the temple in Tokyo. They addressed the questions: What role can places like eco-temples play in combating social isolation and sustainable urban development? And: What can Western cities learn from the concept of eco-temples?

Social isolation is a current social phenomenon in Japan. Photo: Ilayda Tenim.

The conclusion was that the concept cannot be implemented one-to-one in different places around the world, but can be seen as an inspiration for local approaches to civic participation and promotion of community and of a simple lifestyle. Eco-temples are a promising concept and demonstrate how we can re-imagine the function of a religious space. They also highlight how ties within a community can be strengthened by empowering local people to address and tackle urban challenges together.