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Tuesday, June 26, 2001


Guide pens temple-viewing booklet

Staff writer

OSAKA — Paul Satoh, a 70-year-old veteran tour guide and interpreter, is keen to introduce his English-speaking clients to traditional Japanese culture.

Paul Satoh penned a book on Japan's religious and cultural heritage.

And, having unearthed little written material on the subject in English, he has recently had his own version of events published. "A Handbook to Approach Cultural Heritages of Japanese Religions" is a 36-page booklet that introduces Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples and the historical background of several other aspects of Japan's rich cultural heritage.

"When foreign tourists come and visit shrines and temples in Kyoto and Nara, they may at first be impressed with the architecture and atmosphere," he said.

"After visiting several of them, many similar in style, they may lose interest."

Things would be different if these same tourists were able to distinguish between Shintoism and Buddhism and recognize the characteristics that separate different Buddhist sects, Satoh said.

Having served as a volunteer tour guide for around 40 years while he was employed in the corporate world, Satoh has been to a majority of the shrines and temples in the two ancient capitals, taking a number of foreign visitors with him. Now retired, he is devoting more of his time to his volunteer activities.

Last year he set up the Guide Interpreter Volunteer Club in order to organize various guided tours for English-speaking visitors.

His booklet starts by explaining the differences between Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, providing analyses of torii and shrine structures involving disparate architectural idioms.

The section dealing with Buddhism introduces contrasting temple structures, as well as four different categories of Buddhist images displayed in temples in Kyoto and Nara.

"I hope the booklet will help foreign visitors understand and enjoy seeing our cultural heritage better," Satoh said.

"I often hear that foreign visitors, even with Japanese tour guides, are not informed properly of details of the religious aspects of this cultural heritage."

He added that the booklet can serve as a reference point for Japanese guides.

Satoh said he acquired a basic understanding of religious history during his days at Sophia University, where he majored in comparative studies of culture and religion.

It took him around three years, nevertheless, to undertake the necessary research to complete the booklet.

"I have always thought that an English-language reference book on religious buildings would be helpful for Japanese guides like myself and for English-speaking visitors," he said.

The booklet contains a brief historical account of how Buddhism evolved in Japan and a chronology of Kyoto and Nara's cultural assets.

It also includes a table illustrating how Japanese periods correlate with Christian dates. It shows for instance, that the Nara Period ran from 710 to 794.

According to Satoh, this latter feature constitutes a direct response to the questions he is most frequently asked by foreign visitors.

Nowadays, his volunteer club conducts guided tours nearly twice a month, introducing foreign visitors to unique festivals and religious rites. These include the ninja festival in Iga Ueno, Mie Prefecture, and a rice-planting ceremony at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto.

"I feel very happy when tour participants enjoy visiting Japanese cultural sites and events in the region. I hope to see more of them," Satoh said.

Those who wish to purchase the booklet should send an 800 yen "yubin kawase" postal money order to Paul Shizuya Satoh, 3-6 Kori-motomachi, Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture 572-0083.

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