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Rush of missives to living and dead entrusted to Japan's 'letter temple' amid pandemic

A letter addressed to a loved-one and entrusted to the Tegamidera organization is seen in its box in a storage facility in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, on Oct. 14, 2020. (Mainichi/Yuki Miyatake)

FUNABASHI, Chiba -- In a storage room in this city near Tokyo, small boxes neatly line the shelves, and in each box is a letter, and sometimes a keepsake, addressed to someone dear to the author.

    One reads, "There is a frightening disease going around in this world now called the coronavirus. ... Please watch over us from afar." This is just a single example of a sudden rush of letters entrusted to Tokyo-based general incorporated association Tegamidera (literally "letter temple") during the pandemic.

    Tegamidera is the brainchild of 47-year-old Joji Inoue, chief priest of Shodai-ji temple in Tokyo's Edogawa Ward. His father, the previous head priest, passed away when Inoue was still quite young. He was confused and worried about taking over the temple, until one day he found a letter from his father in the attic, addressed to him and bearing the words, "Do not let the light of Buddhism go out."

    This inspired Inoue to start the letter-holding service in 2016, based on his belief in the importance of writing letters to bring the author and the recipient face-to-face in a deep sense of the term.

    Tegamidera offers two services: accepting and storing letters from the living to the dead, and holding on to letters intended for delivery to the recipient only after the author has passed on. At the time of writing, 8,014 letters had been entrusted to the organization. However, since the government issued a state of emergency declaration over the coronavirus in April, inquiries have jumped to 2.5 times the usual pace, with many saying, "I want to send a letter because the coronavirus has made the future so uncertain, and I'm worried."

    Katsuta Hiroto, Tegamidera's 46-year-old representative director, commented, "With the state of society so chaotic right now, writing a letter can help people take a good second look at themselves, and perhaps achieve a measure of peace by imagining the recipient and thus coming face-to-face with that important person in their lives."

    (Japanese original by Yuki Miyatake, Photo Group)

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