Followers of Tenrikyo open Flushing temple to non-adherents

Michael Yuge, administrative director of the Tenrikyo Mission New York Center, stands in front of the stage where musicians perform during the center's daily and monthly services. Photo by Connor Adams Sheets
By Connor Adams Sheets

The Tenrikyo Mission New York Center in Flushing opened its doors to all Saturday afternoon, exposing residents from across the city to a religion many in the area may have never heard of.

Although it has 2 million followers worldwide, Tenrikyo is a relatively unknown religion on the East Coast, where only five temples exist, the one in Flushing being its East Coast headquarters.

Started in Tenri, Japan, in 1838, the discipline has grown and ever more followers have learned to live according to its tenets, which emphasize that all people should live “the joyous life,” which they believe is the reason for humanity’s existence.

“The ultimate purpose of this religion is to have joyous life in this world. This is our purpose,” said Hidetoshi Sasaki, a secretary at the center, which has more than 300 members.

As such, the center hosts twice-daily services featuring music and prayer, and once a month hosts a larger celebratory service that draws more than 100 people and includes extensive performances, prayer and a large meal.

Michael Yuge, the center’s administrative director, helped explain the religion to visitors, who stopped by the center at 42-19 147th St. as part of the annual citywide Open House New York initiative.

“The services are to sweep the dust of our minds. We use the metaphor of dust to represent our selfish tendencies. It’s a natural tendency to do things that are self-centered. But if we can clear our minds, we can come closer to the natural intention of God, which is to live in harmony,” he said.

The building is an architectural wonder in and of itself, which is why the temple has been part of the Open House New York program, showing shows off New York’s most interesting edifices, both years since construction was completed in November 2008.

The structure is built in a Japanese style but with modern accoutrements, such as heated floors made of recycled tires, a graded paint scheme that gets brighter toward the front of the room and directs eyes that way, exterior cement panels that increase in size as they reach the back of the building — or, as Yuge put it, as they get closer to God.

A total of 70 Tenrikyo temples exist throughout the United States, with the vast majority on the West Coast.

Oriana Leckert drove from Brooklyn to visit the temple because she said she likes to experience other cultures.

“I just think it’s a fascinating way to look at the city you spend all your time in, and an excuse to learn and have new adventures. We learned so much,” she said. “I’m an atheist and I think other religions are really interesting so this was a good chance to see something new and different.”

Yuge stressed that the church is an open one and that all are free to attend its services and become members.

“The church is not limited to Japanese people. It’s a universal religion. The fact that there aren’t many Japanese people in the area is not a problem,” he explained. “It’s all about the universal pursuit of a joyous life. We believe the intention of God was for us, God’s children, to work hand-in-hand with one another and with God to be in harmony.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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