Cashless Donations at Buddhist Temples on the Rise

Cashless Donations at Buddhist Temples on the Rise

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Donation box (saisen) at a Buddhist temple
Picture: くまきち / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
More and more Buddhist templates are supplementing donation boxes with cashless donation systems - a trend that has some in Japan's Buddhist world worried.

A while back, I wrote about the various ways in which Buddhism in Japan was changing to adapt to the digital age. One development was the advent of cashless donations. According to Sankei News, the use of digital donations is on the rise – but it’s bringing with it all of the concerns of the digital revolution.

Farewell My Saisen-bako?

Anyone who spends time visiting Buddhist temples in Japan is familiar with the saisen-bako (賽銭箱), the donation box in which visitors toss 100-yen coins. These donations, along with larger annual donations and fees from various services rendered, keep temples afloat and operating.

But as I discussed before, contributions to Buddhism temples have fallen in the past decade. Temples in small towns have been hit the hardest. This has left temples scrambling to figure out ways to entice visitors and local parishioners to keep donating.

One weapon at temple’s disposals: cashless payments. Temples such as Byodoji (平等時) in Anaka, Tokushima Prefecture, are supplementing the traditional wooden donation box with a touch screen that lets users donate just by swiping their devices. Other holy sites have followed suit. Kyoto’s Shimogamo Shinto Shrine (下鴨), for example, now accept various forms of cashless payment at the juyojo (授与所), the “gift shop” area where shrines sell temple seals and charms.

Monks hope the new payment method will appeal more to foreign tourists, who are more apt than locals to walk around without cash. Additionally, with Reiwa 1 being the “Year of Cashless” in Japan, more and more locals are also eschewing currency.

It’s also a good anti-theft mechanism. Thieves have been known to rip off temples, especially when monks and workers attempt to haul their donations to the bank. Securing physical currency properly requires additional time and money that temples would, obviously, prefer not to spend.

お賽銭もキャッシュレス 防犯の利点、仏教界には警戒も

「キャッシュレス元年」とも呼ばれた令和元年も1週間を切った。その波は宗教界にも広がり、神や仏に奉納する賽銭(さいせん)を、電子マネーで受け付ける寺社も出てきた。小銭を持ち歩かない外国人旅行客への対応や防犯対策で利点があり、利用者の評判も悪くないという。一方、宗教に関する個人情報の流出や課税への可能性を懸念し、「不適切」と訴える声もある。 ■「現金にこだわる必要なし」 …

(JP) Link: Donation Boxes are Cashless Too: Good for Anti-Theft, But Concerns Over Privacy in Buddhist Circles

A Slow Uptake – and Privacy Concerns

Sankei notes that this shift to cashless is just yet another evolution in the way people support temples. Long ago, most donations to temples were in the form of vegetables, rice, and building materials. As Japan moved to a currency culture, so, too, did donations to temples. Cashless payments are just the latest progression in how temples support themselves.


But Buddha isn’t going digital so easily. Byodoji says use of their cashless system has been minuscule. Less than 100 people, or less than 1% of donors, have utilized it.

Additionally, some in the Buddhist world aren’t happy about the rush to cashless. The Kyoto Buddhist Association recently released a pronouncement calling the move to cashless “inappropriate”. The announcement chiefly cited concerns around privacy. If temples are collecting payments digitally, that also means they’re collecting people’s personal information. Temples will need to take care that people’s personal information isn’t leaked or stolen. The Association also argues that digital collection of money could be seen by the government as a for-profit activity. Digital donations, in other words, could be taxed.

The Association says it’s less wary about accepting digital payments for goods; its concern is mainly around digital donation boxes. Either way you slice it, the move to digital payments at temples isn’t going to move forward without at least some resistance.

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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