Buddhist temples outside Japan’s cities are struggling. Dwindling membership and an aging population have forced resident monks to head to the cities for weekend work to support their temples, officiating at funerals and weddings. A few hundred such monks, for instance, are registered with the Grand Religion Co. and work as “dispatch monks,” taking on what amounts to temp work for clerics. In the case of Grand Religion, the agency takes a near 25% cut. Prices vary enough to confuse the public, who aren’t clear on exactly what they should expect to pay for the monks’ services, which can cost as little as 30,000 yen (about $320) and as much as 1.8 million yen (just over $19,000).

According to Akihiko Yoshino, the head of one dispatch service, funerals can serve as an introduction to Buddhism. He charges a flat 84,000-yen fee (roughly $900) for his monks, though more if a monk from a specific Buddhist sect is requested. “If they’re charged an exorbitant fee without any explanation,” Yoshino reasons, “they’ll naturally be suspicious.”

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