With just over 100,000 units sold, the Nissan Leaf electric car is accumulating a diverse collection of owners.

But Wasei Hirai isn't your average commuter. Instead of sitting in an underground garage or on a city street, his Leaf adds a decidedly modern touch to the grounds of the 750-year-old Anyo-in Temple in Japan, where Hirai is chief priest.

Speaking with Nissan public relations, Hirai--one of the earliest Leaf owners--said the modern electric car compliments the temple "quite naturally," as both represent a spirit of innovation.

On a more substantial note, he also enjoys the smooth acceleration and quiet interior afforded by the Leaf's electric powertrain.

Hirai lives on the temple grounds, but uses the car for errands. He's put 12,000 kilometers (7,456 miles) on the Leaf so far, averaging 4,000 to 5,000 kilometers (2,480 to 3,100 miles) per year.

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Nissan Leaf at Anyo-in Temple in Japan.

Nissan Leaf at Anyo-in Temple in Japan.

To further minimize the environmental impact of his driving, Hirai will stop charging his Leaf with grid electricity and switch to solar power instead.

Many people buy electric cars to save money or cut emissions, but Hirai wants to use his unique position to raise the visibility of zero-emission motoring.

By having the Leaf around, Hirai hopes the Anyo-in Temple can broadcast a message of environmental consciousness, and encourage people to live in ways that are more considerate of nature.

The 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami occurred shortly after Hirai's Leaf was delivered, reinforcing this belief.

When faced with such disruptive events, Hirai said people should reconsider "what an ideal car should be."

He said he was confident that, eventually, "whenever people think of a car, it will be an electric car."

Plug-in electric cars still represent a very small share of sales in most countries (Norway is a notable exception) so envisioning a day when they become the norm still may require a certain amount of faith.


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