Photo/Illutration A Buddhist priest webcasts a memorial service at Tsukiji Hongwanji temple in Tokyo's Chuo Ward in May. (Ryo Oyama)

As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to rattle Japan, Buddhist priests are offering their first-ever online services for worshippers to offer prayers and participate in rituals remotely.

"When you feel anxious or lonely, we hope you watch our videos of memorial services and Buddhist teachings to make yourself feel at ease," said Yugen Yasunaga, head priest of the Tsukiji Hongwanji temple, in the capital's Chuo Ward.

Tsukiji Hongwanji is currently asking worshippers to refrain from visiting the temple, and has halted accepting reservations for sutra-chanting sessions and suspended its regularly held services, which offer spiritual advice.

Temple officials started streaming a series of videos titled "Obo-san's Ohanashi" (a priest's talk) on Tsukiji Hongwanji's official YouTube channel in April because they felt it was essential to deliver comforting messages now, more than ever, when people are highly prone to anxiety.

In the videos, priests from the sect speak about mercy and other themes, and preach about Buddhism's basic philosophy and manners.

Shintai Yanagawa, a priest at Kozenji temple in Tokyo's Minato Ward, spoke in a video about the importance of showing compassion to others, citing egocentric behavior such as the panic buying of toilet paper that erupted after the virus broke out.

The videos, which have subtitles and diagrams that explain Buddhist beliefs, have received positive reviews from viewers.

The Tsukiji Hongwanji temple now live-streams video from its main hall so that worshippers can watch priests recite sutras and perform other services between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. and offer prayers remotely. 

In one live webcast at the temple, which will hold online memorial services until the end of June, a priest chanted a sutra for bereaved families to mourn their deceased relatives.

By using the Zoom video conferencing app, bereaved family members can also remotely participate in the service without having to gather at the main hall.

The temple received six reservations for the first and other death anniversaries of relatives and other services in the first week it began offering online options, officials there said.