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.