Japan As They Saw It

Buddhism and beer

    Within the limits which probably mark the old city of Kama-kura may still be seen the colossal bronze figure of Dai-Bootz, which means simply the great Buddha. It is about fifty feet high, and had at one time a temple over it; the bases of the columns can still be seen in the garden. The interior of the figure is now the only temple, and it has an altar with Buddhist figures and incense vessels.
    A Buddhist priest lives at the place, and combines the practice of his faith with the sale of beer to strangers and Europeanized Japs. I managed to get this man’s views of the changes going on in his country, and as he expressed himself very frankly on the matter, what he said is worth recording. The priesthood, he said, was, as a line of business, not worth following; at least to be a Buddhist priest was no good now, since the State had thrown it off. The people did not seem to care for it, and a living could scarce be made by it. He blamed the foreigners as the cause, not that they had any direct hand in disestablishing Buddhism; that was only part of the great movement going on, which was all due to this foreign influence. He did not speak bitterly, for he explained that he found the sale of the beer pay better than the religious services he performed to the few Buddhist devotees who now came. He talked of ceasing to be a priest, and becoming a merchant. From this it will be seen that the Almighty Dollar is becoming a Missionary, and doing something towards converting the heathen; nay, there is some chance of this new religious influence converting the great bronze Buddha himself. There are rumours that the Japanese Government have the idea of selling Dai-Bootz, and speculators have been computing already the quantity and quality of the bronze, to see what it would be worth for remelting and passing through a metempsychosis into a new coinage in England or elsewhere.

William Simpson, Meeting the Sun: A Journey All Round the World, 1874

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