Travelling with new Indo-Canadian friends around Japan has opened my eyes to Sikhism. I admit that I have been ignorant to Sikhism in general and still lack a good understanding of the religion itself. I admit that I never had a great image of people of the Sikh religion and I readily admit that I haven’t had, and probably still don’t have the full understanding of this religion. It was refreshing to learn a lot about the basics of Sikhism from my new friends and also about the history of India and how it has shaped the India of today. To hear about the differences in people between the north and south of India is very interesting. To get a better understanding of the differences between the Hindi people and the Sikhi people is also interesting. Yes, I also learned that Sikhi is the plural of Sikh just as Hindi and Pakistani and so on are the plural of other groups of people in that area of the world. It seems to still be correct to say Sikhs too, but I won’t get into that argument or discussion here.
In Japan, there is only one, yes one, Sikh temple and it is located in Kobe. At least that is what I was told when I visited the Sikh temple. It is not an easy place to reach as it is located a good 15-30 minute walk from Shin-Kobe Station. It is not even a temple in the sense that it looks like a real temple. It was explained to me that most Sikh temples start out as simple homes with a room that was converted into a temple. It is easy to spot the temple as there is always an orange flag outside with the Sikh symbol on it. It took us a little while to figure out the location but within minutes of being in the general area we found it very quickly. It was a couple minutes before the temple keeper came out with his house clothes on and a very surprised look. As part of the Sikh religion, he had to invite us in and allowed us to visit the temple. The structure itself was a simple two floor house. The upper floor was the temple. It was carpeted with a central altar without a real “deity” to worship. Sikhism is not a religion that I had ever considered joining and due to the design of the religion, they are not in the business of creating converts. While I have not considered joining Sikhism, going to a temple and making an offering is one of the best ways to understand a religion, similar to making an offering at a Shinto Shrine or a Buddhist Temple. Needless to say, the process of prayer is a simple donation, bowing on your hands and knees, and a simple reflection. Unlike Muslim religions, men and women are allowed to be in the same room, however, they must be separated in order to prevent distractions when praying.
The lower floor of the temple is the kitchen or community room. It is a community room that is open to everyone regardless of your age, sex, or religion. The community room is where you prepare yourself to enter the temple area. There are many cloths available for all visitors within the community room where you tie it on your head, similar to a bandana, before heading up to the temple. In the Sikh religion, your body is holy and you shouldn’t do anything to it such as getting tattoos or even cutting your own hair. As part of the religion, you should cover your hair at all times, however more moderate Sikhs don’t do this, but they do have to cover their heads when going to the temple. Since the temple is a small temple, the community room could only hold about 30 people. It had a small kitchen and a small side room where the keeper lived. Many Sikh temples use this area as a place to serve the poor with a nice meal. For other visitors, you can go at nearly any time to get a nice meal provided you aren’t going specifically to get a free meal. Since this is a small temple, there was no food available at the time but the keeper did go out of his way to make us a nice chai with some crackers. It was the conversation about the Sikh community that interested me the most. While it was mostly done in their native language, Punjabi, there were some translations to help us understand things better.
The Sikhs in Japan are a small group that has gotten much smaller in recent years. They focus a lot on the import and export business. From what I could gather, most of them have left in recent years due to the downturn in the economy. They are groups of families that expanded their businesses to other countries and then when the business dried up in one area, they reabsorb that family into other areas of the business. Sikhs tend to be very family oriented. In Kobe, I was told that there are about 12 families still living there. Most of the Sikh families in Japan live in Kobe but there is still a sizeable group in Tokyo, from what I have been told. The group in Tokyo tends to be singles rather than families and there are many single men who marry Japanese women just for a visa. This is not untrue of many other men who are visiting Japan so I wasn’t completely surprised by this. I was surprised to hear that there is no temple in Tokyo, but after hearing about the demographics in Tokyo, I was no longer surprised about that. In my own short amount of research, I did see something about a shrine in Tokyo but I haven’t visited that place nor been able to confirm if it is a temple or not. Google Street View did show me the location and it is an Indian Visa office and no signs that a Sikh Temple exists there. Needless to say it is something that I may have to look into in the future.
Sikhism is a very interesting religion and when I read more and more about it, I start to wonder if it is a good religion for me or not. While I have been following the route of Agnosticism since I came to Japan, it doesn’t mean I am not open to learning about other religions. I love to hear about what their religions say and what their concepts of god and the afterlife is. I prefer to keep my own ideas about the afterlife and god to myself, in general, but I do enjoy a good conversation about religions. In the near future I do plan to take the time to read more and more about the Sikh religion. Meeting people of other faiths and other ethnicities helps to expand our understanding of the world. It helps us to realize that we are all the same people. With all of the hate in the world, I wish people would just look around and talk to each other and learn what we have to say about our ideas on life. I think we would all agree that life is precious and that living a good life helping others is the best way to live.
- Guru Nanak Darbar (Kobe Sikh Temple)
- Gurudwara Sahib (Tokyo Sikh Temple)
When I think of Sikhs, I think of turbans. Don’t male Sikhs wear small daggers as well? I guess the latter’s not allowed in Japan.
I caused consternation in my very conservative, very Christian neighbourhood when I refused to go to church as a young teenager. The Bible didn’t make any logical sense to me, and I got fed-up because the Catechism teachers (we had to go to “Sunday school” to learn about the doctrines of the Dutch Reformed Church) got angry at me for asking too many questions. My parents, to their eternal credit, let me be. ^^
Fast forward a few decades and I’m still agnostic, but fascinated by the different myths with which humans try to explain their world.
Were you raised in any specific religion?
Yes, many of them wear turbans, but it isn’t mandatory. Depends on how devout you are. They do have daggers called a kirpan. When I was young, there was a major problem in a school because a Sikh brought one in. It was completely tied up so you couldn’t remove it from the sheath but that’s not good enough in the school’s eyes. They also have to wear a special bracelet.
I was raised as Roman Catholic. Although my entire upbringing was very liberal. I was pretty strict with myself until I got to University. Then it slowly started to liberalize and now I’m more agnostic myself too. I love to learn more about various religions to see how people think and how they feel people should live their lives. My schools were all Catholic, so I had to learn religion for most of my life. I feel it was interesting though. They were very open to things and the teachers I had were generally really good. They didn’t care so much about people asking questions as they said it helps make the faith stronger. I ended up leaving but still lean towards Catholicism but still pretty agnostic now.
I’m catching up with my favourite blogs today. (My blogging activities always stall mid-week, when work takes over.)
You’re Catholic? When I was attending that Protestant school, we were taught that Catholics and Jews (specifically) were Very Bad People because the first bunch prayed to relics and the second bunch had killed Jesus.
I studied music (piano) at school, not just as a part-time activity, but as one of my official school subjects. My teacher wanted to take her students to a cathedral in Cape Town so that we could listen to a Catholic mass. She needed official written approval from all parents, and she had to give official written assurance that our young virgin minds would not be sullied by heathen superstitions.
Now do you understand why I refused to go to church? Even at that young age I simply couldn’t tolerate the intolerance.
Tell me about it. I am doing the same right now. Going on vacation to your hometown means very little in the way of free time to reply and read other blogs. I’ll try to catch up with your blog soon.
Yup, I’m Catholic, at least I was brought up that way. The way I was taught was that Protestants and Jews were just misguided. Jews killed Jesus but it was a necessary evil. They then didn’t change over. Protestants had disagreements with the Catholic church, kinda like estranged family. I doubt all Catholics think that way, but that is how I was taught to “think” at the time.
I can see why you refused to go to church. I doubt I would like it either, or I’d be a very intolerant man. I’m glad I had a very different upbringing that was very open.
It was really sad to know that religious hate is promoted in schools
“When I was attending that Protestant school, we were taught that Catholics and Jews (specifically) were Very Bad People because the first bunch prayed to relics and the second bunch had killed Jesus.”
What they should teach is that it is people who are good or bad. No matter what religion an individual follows, after all we are all Humans.
Sorry it is mandatory – for respect of the 10 masters.
There are 2 sikh temples in japan, one in Tokyo and in Kobe. The tokyo one is in the basement of the indian visa center its near the Myogadani station.
Thanks for the info. I will have to check it out someday when I visit that area. I didn’t want to say there was one until I could confirm it. I was told there was only 1 temple in Japan, but I guess the information was wrong or the translation was wrong. ^^
wahe guru je ka khalsa
wahe guru je ke fateha
i am fateh singh khatcha vachak.i am religious preacher.i
wish to promote sikhism throughout the world.in this process,
i have visited gurdwara of singa pore , malasysia and
worked in promoting teachings of guru granth sahib.
it gives me satisfaction whenever i work for sikhism and tells
people about teaching of sikhism please give me one chance to promot
sikhism inb your countury and oblige.
bhai fateh singh
POST OFFICE,GADHA PUR
It’s nice to hear from you Bhai. I hope Sikhism treats you well.
i am fateh singh from india. dear singh sahib je when you free conect me. i want talk to you.
This artical was an intresting read, i came across when searching for sikhs in Japan. Dru, u have writen it really well.
Yes you are very right, there a lots of misconception related to Sikihs, specially regarding Turban and small sword they carry (Kirpan).
For starter the word “Sikh” means student in Sanskrit.
Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you found it interesting. I never knew the origin of the word “Sikh”. I always endeavour to learn new things and hope to keep learning forever. 🙂
Then you are a part Sikh to, and literlaly speaking everyone is student for some part of his life.
Well it religious duty of Skhs to learn new things. Sikhs address god as “Wahe Guru” meaning Woderful Teacher. After all it is God who keep teachign you new things in your life.
In a way I guess I am. 🙂 Unfortunately I still can’t say I am Sikh but I do think learning about all religions helps us be more peaceful and understanding. 🙂
When you learn about other religions, one thing sure you learn is that they all talk about God, only in a are different manner.
i am fateh singh from india i want pormot sikh relision in tour countery
You can search Youtube for “basics of Sikhism” for some more information.
I want to do sewa in ur temple asa a granthi i can do kirtan also
good to learn that there r gurdwaras in Japan
I came across this article while casual search about Sikhs in japan.
An explanation on articles of faith seem necessary looking at the comments:
Sikhism is a religion wherein for higher spiritual growth one can remain a householder and a working person . There are no ritualistic practices It also lays stress on choice .There is no forcing a person.
With the higher spiritual pursuits being part of ones life one choice exercised by most Sikhs is to keep unshorn hair. There is a spiritual advantage. Almost all saints world over had full hair.
My view on this aspect led me to believe that the Sikh way of meditation known as Simran and inward focus has full hair connection. This view got one validity when i read that American native Indians keep long head hairs to be more intutive and in tune with nature. There are examples of them loosing the intuitive tracking ability if hair were cut.
Fact is Sikhs keep hair as the Guru’s kept the same. The hairs are combed and tied as a bun. To protect the hairs turban is tied.
Other articles of faith like klrpan(small dagger), a steel bangle and less known to others Kachehra ( underwear made of cloth have other spiritual significance. These are worn by sikhs who are taken in the fold of Khalsa by partaking Amrit ( sweet water prepared while reciting gurbani hymns during ceremony). This again is a choice . Meaning more commitment towards gaining spiritual knowledge and pursuing Simran – the sikh way of meditation .
So there are three categories of sikhs. Sehejdari Sikhs – who choose to believe and have adopted Sikh way of life , irrespective of whether born in sikh family or not.. The turbaned Sikh who keep full unshorn hair. These are in majority. Khalsa – who have choosen to move further and have partaken amrit.Meaning more commitment.
Incidentally all can and mostly live house holders life as a part of community.
I hope this small explanation would at least would give some clarity.
Thanks for the clarification. Always interesting to hear how people live their lives based on different cultures, religions, etc. I think it helps us all understand each other to be peaceful.
Hi! I work for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and I’d like your permission to use (with proper attribution) one of these photos in an online reading list about migration/diasporas around the world; we are including a book about the Sikh diaspora in Japan, and it would be amazing to feature a photo of a Sikh Gurudwara in Japan.
Sorry for the late reply. If you are still interested, feel free to shoot me an e-mail at email@example.com and we can talk further.