Tera Café in trendy Daikanyama is bringing Buddhist traditions into the modern world with classes, consultations and calm.
Like many faiths around the world, Buddhism has been struggling to keep up with the pace of modern life. The fact is that few Japanese practise the customs of Buddhism, perhaps with the exception of funerals, and maybe a holiday or two.
Tera Café is trying to change that.
With its location in the trendy Daikanyama district of Tokyo, Tera Café aims to connect the traditions of Buddhism to life in the 21st century. Owned and staffed by monks, the café strives to provide a low-pressure sanctuary where visitors can access counselling, learn more about Buddhism’s traditions and centuries-old teachings, or simply enjoy a relaxing place where they can get away from the everyday stresses of urban life.
The café’s modern twist on spirituality is attempting to solve a problem that many faiths are feeling in today’s world. Imported to Japan in the 6th century, Buddhism is firmly present in Japanese culture. But with the unique pressures of the fast-changing modern world, it has wan- ing influence on the daily lives of most Japanese. And just as we see in the West—for instance,
churches struggling to remain open in the face of declining attendance, and fewer people willing to identify themselves with a particular faith or church—Buddhism in Japan is experiencing similar threats to its existence. Tera Café is hoping to counter this trend by providing a contemporary atmosphere where people can relax as they might in a coffee shop while still learning and connecting with the traditions of Buddhism. The monks at Tera Café hope, just as the pioneers of Japanese Buddhism did over 1,500 years ago, that the fundamental teachings of Buddhism can still enrich everyday life.
Yet the staff acknowledge that, just as many people might feel uncomfortable going to a temple, they may feel the same way about taking advantage of the services at Tera Café. But that’s OK— the Buddhist services are available, but people are also welcome to simply sit, relax and enjoy a cup of coffee or something delicious from the menu. The ultimate aim is that Tera (which means “temple” in Japanese) may serve as a spiritual refuge for people, just as community temples once were.
The menu at Tera Café offers a variety of light dishes and snacks, such as grilled mackerel, assorted tempura and fried octopus, as well as pickles and edamame. Everything on the menu is intended to be good for both the body and soul: there is an emphasis on using clean and healthy ingredients, with dishes designed to nourish your spirit and aid in digestion. For those who are looking for something truly traditional, Tera Café also offers vegetarian set menus based on the customary dietary restrictions of Buddhist monks. These meals have four essential elements: a boiled dish (like rice), a grilled dish, a salad of chopped vegetables and a palate cleanser such as Japanese soup.
For those looking to discover Buddhism through a more interactive experience, Tera Café also offers lectures and workshops, with some English assistance, to help people get in touch with the traditional aspects of Buddhism and the life of a Buddhist monk. In addition to one-on-one consultations, you can sign up for daily workshops to make your own Buddhist prayer bracelet, practise writing the sutras, or listen to talks given by monks about their personal experiences and gain insights into their customs and lifestyle.
Buddhism facts and figures
Before you step into Tera Café, here’s a primer on some essential elements of Buddhism.
- A sutra is a Buddhist scripture that is intended to provide a lesson or life advice. These are often long, but repetitive, to help people remember them.
- Japanese Buddhism arrived via Korea in the year 538.
- Initially, Buddhism was highly politicized in Japan, and many temples were militarized.
- While many Japanese only practise Buddhist customs for funerals, it is also common for families to have small altars in their homes.
- Many monks in Japan have other jobs, and many are business owners like those at Tera Café.