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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Cellist priest revives temple

Jul. 14, 2017

Temples in Japan have long served not just as a venue for Buddhist ceremonies, but also as a kind of local community center. But these days, less people are visiting. Faced with the decline, a priest in Hiroshima has come up with a unique way to reverse the trend using classical music.

At 6:30 in the morning, the quiet grounds of a temple are filled with the sound of classical music.

Chisho Akitsu, the temple's chief priest, is playing the cello. He has been holding an early morning concert once a week since April.

"The bottom line is that I want people to come visit the temple," he says.

Akitsu, born at this temple, Gansenbou, started to learn how to play the cello from around 8 years old.

He later graduated from a music school in Tokyo, and played as a professional cellist with some of the top orchestras in Japan.

He succeeded his father 4 years ago as chief priest. Then he realized not many people in the community were visiting the temple any more.

"When I was a child, a temple was a playground for children. I want it to be a place where people can easily come and freely talk," he says.

Akitsu then came up with the idea of using his musical abilities to hold early-morning concerts.

First, he recites from the Buddhist scriptures. Then, he holds a 20-minute concert. This morning, he played Bach's Cello Suite.

At first, there was only one person in the audience. Now, about 10 people attend the concert every week.

"I think that music and the Buddhist scriptures both soothe people's minds. I am grateful we have an opportunity to enjoy both, first thing in the morning," says a visitor.

"It's very relaxing," says another.

He also started cello classes at the temple. People of all ages, from primary school children to retired people, are enjoying learning how to play the instrument.

A boy who is taking lessons says it's fun.

"I was surprised at first. But, then I remembered how we used to study at temples when we were young. I felt nostalgic," says his mother.

"A temple where people come to enjoy music before going to work -- that's the temple I want this to be," says Akitsu.

His dream is to have the public casually drop in, just like they did in the old days.