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Reclining Buddha temple priests frustrated by foreign tourists' bad manners

A sign showing prohibited behavior stands in front of a reclining Buddha at the Nanzo-in temple in the town of Sasaguri in Fukuoka Prefecture in southern Japan on Feb. 4, 2019. (Mainichi/Keisuke Muneoka)

SASAGURI, Fukuoka -- Priests at a temple here in southern Japan with one of the largest bronze statutes of a reclining Buddha are frustrated by the bad manners of foreign tourists as the steps they have taken so far, including installing a warning sign in 12 languages, have failed to dissuade them from eating, drinking or even skateboarding at the holy place.

Officials of the Nanzo-in Buddhist temple are now considering setting up off-limit zones in the precinct, one of 88 spots for pilgrimage in the town of Sasaguri in Fukuoka Prefecture.

"This is an important place of worship," reads one of the signs telling visitors how to behave at the temple, where a 41-meter-long, 11-meter-high "Nebotoke-san" bronze Buddha statue began to attract many foreign visitors about five years ago.

According to Nanzo-in officials, some foreign tourists are seen eating and drinking in the precinct, or riding skateboards. They also complain about some visitors who don't flush toilets after use, or leave chewing gum on the soles of the Buddha's feet.

The temple therefore suspended accepting foreign group visitors in 2017, and placed signs with etiquette instructions -- no smoking, no drinking, no eating while walking and no selfies. To the disappointment of temple officials, however, no improvements have been visible in foreign visitors' manners. Now the temple is considering keeping out visitors from certain areas including the charnel where the ashes of the diseased are enshrined.

"Some long-time worshippers have stopped visiting us because we have so many foreign tourists with bad manners," confided chief priest Kakujo Hayashi, 65. "They came all the way here and only ended up feeling terrible."

Meanwhile, many visitors have been coming to Japan from China with the advent of the Lunar New Year on Feb. 5. The bad manners of some Chinese tourists abroad are being discussed in their home country, and the national news agency Xinhua published an online article in late January warning its compatriots to be careful of their behavior while overseas -- no littering, spitting, jumping queues or making noises at religious places, the article warned. China's tourism ministry is also calling for its nationals to behave politely.

Fukuoka city transport officials who manage the subway system say they also receive complaints about foreigners with manner problems. "We just have to make steady efforts to improve their manners," said one official.

(Japanese original by Keisuke Muneoka, Kyushu News Department, and In Tanaka, Kagoshima Bureau)

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