Virtual worshippers given online shrine

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The Independent Online

With typical Japanese pragmatism, a new website is bringing together busy people and some of the most revered temples in Japan, enabling users to pay their respects without tearing themselves away from their computer screens.

The new site is also designed to attract foreign and domestic visitors to Kyoto, either via the site or by convincing them of the attractions of the ancient capital.

The creators of the "Air Sampai" site - which translates as "air worshipping" and is derived from the air guitar phenomenon - do not want people to access the site to merely assuage their guilt at failing to visit a temple regularly. Users have to work for their religious experience at

"People usually go to a shrine for sight-seeing because most Japanese do not consider themselves to believe in one particular religion, but I think we need to go - in particular busy people - to purge ourselves," Yumi Tanaka, a spokeswoman for developer Kansai Multimedia Service Co., told Relaxnews.

"Our service has spread among young people by word of mouth and through the internet and our ambition is to convey the charm of each of these temples - particularly to young people and those who are perhaps indifferent to visiting these places," she said.

And even though a user of the website may not be physically visiting a temple, he or she is still expected to abide by the rules of decorum. When opening the home page, for example, a visitor is told to bow to the computer screen, stop smoking and remove anything that might act as a distraction, such as pens that he or she might fiddle with.

The site enables a user to "walk" through a number of Kyoto's most famous temples and shrines, such as Kiyomizudera, illustrating the walk with images and information about the shrine. To replicate the climb up the steep steps to Kiyomizudera, worshippers are told to stand up and squat and stand up several times.

The verbal instructions on the site are in English, but English subtitles are provided.
Kansai Multimedia Service is in the process of adding new venues to the service and plans to introduce instructions in several other languages. It also hopes to make the website available on mobile phones.