A Quiet Life: The Trappists of Hakodate

More than 120 years ago, just outside the city of Hakodate in Hokkaido, nine monks from France first set foot on the stony plains of Tōbetsu. They were there to found the first Japanese monastery of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, a Christian monastic order originally from the marshlands of France’s Burgundy and better known, even today, by the name “Trappists.”

A statue of the Madonna watches over the monastery church.

The camphor wood statue of the Madonna that hangs in the monastery church was sculptor Funakoshi Katsura’s first work in the medium. Although completed when he was still in his early twenties, its striking originality marks the beginning of his mature oeuvre. Funakoshi was Catholic himself, and when he was asked for a sculpture of Mary cradling the infant Jesus to be placed above the monastery altar, the commission weighed on him so heavily that he was unable to begin for an entire year. It was the idea of drawing on his own self-doubt to depict Mary’s that finally allowed him to begin.

The monks of Tōbetsu rise at 3:30 in the morning and retire at 8:00 in the evening. Their waking hours are spent in a quiet life of prayer, work, and devotional reading.

Easter, 2000

Tōbetsu Trappist Monastery

Access: 20 minutes’ walk from Oshimatōbetsu Station on the South Hokkaido Railway. (Limited portions of the grounds are open to the public; more extensive tours must be arranged in advance and are available only to male visitors. The monastery store offers butter cookies and other products made by the monks.)

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