Kansho Tagai, the rapping monk.
Cute young monks are apparently gaining in popularity among young women in Japan. Whether the draw is the sage advice or unadorned good looks, an event held by young monks at Ginza Modern Art gallery in Tokyo has been attended by eager crowds of women in their 20s and 30s. Furthermore, the popularity of “The Illustrated Picture Book of Beautiful Young Monks,” published last month, seems to indicate that some women are focusing on the physical, rather than metaphysical, attractions of the Buddhist religion.
The Ginza event is called “Be Healed by Young Monks.” The idea of the monthly gathering is to create an easy-going atmosphere in which members of the public can chat with young Buddhist monks. To encourage an informal atmosphere, beer and snacks are consumed by both lay people and monks. Though sutras are read at the beginning, guests are not necessarily limited to consulting the monk hosts about matters of religion. According to an article in Sponichi, women also ask for advice on matters of the heart, posing questions such as, “Is it bad that I feel so jealous of my boyfriend’s platonic friendship with another woman?”
The event was created last year as a way for members of the public who have been under stress since the quake to get stuff off their chests. The rather salacious article in Sponichi, however, suggests that the women attending have other motives in mind. “The monk held my gaze as he talked to me. He was really adorable,” a 20-year-old university student tells Sponichi. “He spoke beautifully, completely different from the guys I know.”
Though this might not be exactly the kind of attention they are craving from Japan’s youth, some Buddhist monks seem to be willing to employ radical methods to get people interested in the religion. According to the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs, since 2000, hundreds of temples have closed every year. Monks serve up both alcohol and sutras at the bar Vowz in Shinjuku. Though the bartenders here aren’t specifically chosen to be easy on the eye, the monks of the Jodo sect who run this bar do have an easy-going approach to religious instruction. Hip hop is another unlikely weapon being used to entice young worshipers. According to CNN World, Kansho Tagai has doubled attendance by rapping sutras and holding hip hop events at Kyoouji Temple.
Can we expect Buddhism to be coming back into style? Perhaps. One reviewer on Amazon of “The Illustrated Picture Book of Beautiful Young Monks” pointed out that monks might be on the cutting edge, since the shaven head (non)hair style is “gentle on the purse and the environment.” Word.