The grounds of an overgrown and abandoned temple in Shimane Prefecture will be acquired by the national government in what will be the first of its kind.

The extraordinary step of nationalizing the property is to prevent the religious organization that owns the property from falling into the wrong hands where it could be used for tax evasion purposes. Normally, dissolving the organization would require the sale of the land and buildings. However, the temple is located in a rural and depopulated region where a buyer is unlikely to be found. 

According to the Agency for Cultural Affairs and the Japan Buddhist Federation, there were approximately 3,528 non-operating religious organizations registered in Japan as of 2018. Religious organizations receive favorable tax treatment, making them an ideal target for criminal groups looking to evade taxes and hide assets. 

Kinko Temple is a 20-minute drive from Oda City and 4-kilometers from the Sea of Japan. Its history dates back to the Warring States period in the 1400s and 1500s, with the temple registered as a corporation in 1953. Rapid depopulation of the surrounding area has seen parishioners drop to just 20 households, while the chief priest passed away in 2013 with no successor. The temple grounds include the main temple building and 30 acres of forest. Attempts were made to sell the property in the past but the risk of landslides and forest fires saw the prefecture, city and local forestry association refuse to take over the low-valued land. 

A liquidator has been appointed to carry out the procedures for the property to be transferred to the national government by the end of the year. The main temple gate and belfry will be demolished as they pose a risk to neighbors, while the main temple building will be left to rot. Gravestones will be relocated. The Agency for Cultural Affairs says this is the first time this has happened since the Religious Corporations Act was introduced in 1951. 

Source: The Mainichi Shimbun, November 27, 2020.

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