++ Thursday night is Kino Night at Metropolis Cologne - tickets only €4 ++ Düsseldorf celebrates its 725th birthday this year with a program of events and city tours planned ++

EKÔ House in Düsseldorf

A few weeks I wrote about the Japanese community in Düsseldorf and explained how so many Japanese came to live in this city in the first place. After describing the shopping area with it’s many restaurants, I ran out of room for more! So today, I’m going to take you on a little visit to the Eko House of Japanese Culture. In fact, the Japanese cultural center was opened 16 years ago, in 1993. It’s located in a suburb of Düsseldorf called Niederkassel, which has a significant Japanese population.

The center was established so that the Japanese in the area could continue to cultivate their customs in Germany, and also so that Germans could get to know a bit about Japanese traditions. There are many events taking place here all year round. These include the types of things one would expect from a Japanese Cultural Center such as exhibitions, theatrical events, tea ceremonies, and musical performances. And then there are courses teaching some of the Japanese arts such as brush painting, calligraphy, Ikebana, music, dancing and cooking.

But what one might not have expected is the emphasis on Buddhism at the center. Buddhist festivals are regularly celebrated and the public is invited to attend. There are also readings of Buddhist texts and Buddhist ceremonies. And every second Sunday anyone can attend a Buddhist service with recitations from Shinran.

Celebrating Buddhism at the Eko House of Japanese Culture does not appear to have caused any kind of hostilities among the neighbors. There is even a temple there, with a large statue of Buddha Amida in the main altar. This acceptance of Buddhism is in stark contrast to the public outcries that the building of an Islamic mosque in the city of Cologne has caused. The mosque has been so controversial that it’s made news around the world. But Germans seem to be very tolerant of Buddhism.

In fact, a study in 2007 showed that Germans prefer the Dalai Lama to Pope Benedict, which is odd since Christianity is the major religion here. About 64% of the population are official members of Christian churches. Church and state are supposed to be separate in Germany, but the Finanzamt actually automatically deducts around 9% from each church member’s paycheck and gives it directly to the churches.

The acceptance of Buddhism was underscored a few years ago, when our Chancellor, Angela Merkel, invited the Dalai Lama for a visit. Strictly private, as she kept emphasizing. But this “private” event left the Chinese government angry and led to much dismay among German businessmen doing business with China. The visit prompted the Chinese to suddenly cancel an important meeting between German and Chinese industry representatives.

But these political problems are forgotten back in the temple’s garden. It is impressively designed, with azaleas, cherry blossoms and a sparkling pond. Here is where the visitor really has a sensation of having been taken out of Germany and into Japan. The impression continues upon viewing the “guesthouse with tea room”, which was built to invoke the feeling of old Japan. The small house is laid out with tatami mats, sliding screens and polished wood.

The Eko House is more than just a place to learn about culture. Here, classes in Japanese language are also offered. There’s also a well-stocked library and a scientific program. And to round it all off, there’s even a Kindergarten, for both German and Japanese children. For each class, there is a German and a Japanese teacher, too.

One of the highlights of the cultural center is New Year’s Eve, where bonfires burn all night and visitors can sample sake and eat Japanese delicacies. And when 12 o’clock midnight strikes, bells are rung over 100 times to mark in the New Year. Visitors are also encouraged to take part in the bell-ringing, which apparently stems from an age-old Buddhist tradition. It is said that each ring will eradicate a vice, so that one can meet the New Year in a pure state.

If you’re ever in Düsseldorf, you won’t want to miss this unique Japanese Cultural Center, the Eko House.

Text: Cheryl Watamura Martinez

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