By CHISAKO YONEDA/ Staff Writer
June 23, 2022 at 18:14 JST
IKARUGA, Nara Prefecture--A crowdfunding drive has raised more than 100 million yen ($738,365) for a seventh-century Buddhist temple--one of Japan's oldest UNESCO World Heritage sites--after its finances were dealt a heavy blow by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
In just nine days since Horyuji temple launched its campaign to finance the general maintenance of its grounds, the funds have exceeded more than five times the initial target.
“The support we received went far beyond our expectations. We can’t thank you enough,” the temple said in an online statement.
The temple had prepared gifts in return for those who donated, but it said some of the items are running short given the overwhelming support.
Horyuji temple announced its fund-raising drive on June 15, saying it needed to raise 20 million yen to meet upkeep costs.
This kind of fund-raising effort is common among temples when they plan to repair and renovate cultural properties. But it is rare to raise funds for daily costs, such as maintenance of the compound.
The temple’s mainstay income is entrance fees. That income dropped over the past two years due to the pandemic as the number of visitors plunged.
In fiscal 2019, about 650,000 people visited the temple. But the number fell to 200,000 in the following year. In fiscal 2021, it was about 350,000.
The temple said the impact of that is significant since it does not have a system for collecting donations from parishioners.
The temple undertook cost-cutting measures to restrain spending.
It said it temporarily cut the renovation costs of large structures and the costs of repairing statues and paintings that are not on the list of designated cultural properties. The renovations cost around 50 million yen a year and the repairs typically cost 14 million yen a year.
If they are designated as cultural properties, the temple is eligible for subsidies from the central and local governments.
The temple also said it reduced the maintenance costs in the compound, including mowing grass and trimming trees. Before the pandemic, the temple used to spend about 20 million yen annually for upkeep.
Tree branches and leaves have been left overgrown in areas out of public view.
The temple, one of Japan’s first properties to be named a World Heritage site, will mark the 30th anniversary of its listing next year.
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