Big in Japan: Buddhist monks strut it out on the catwalk

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Zen Buddhist monks?

If you guess raked pebble gardens, immaculately poured cups of green tea and the continual search for inner peace and enlightenment, you’re wrong!

This week, Japanese monks strutted their stuff on the catwalk in the hopes of promoting the Buddhist religion, especially amongst the younger generations.

Japanese youths have little interest in religion, which is a huge problem considering that Japan is a rapidly aging society.

(With that said, Christmas is all the rage here in the Land of the Rising Sun, though I can assure you that it’s capitalism and not religion that’s driving this recent fad!)

As reported by the Tokyo division of the Associated Press (AP), the fashion show took place at the historic and storied Tsukiji-Honganji temple (???????????), and opened with a traditional Buddhist prayer set to a hip-hop beat.

Yup – you read that correctly.

Zen Buddhist mantras and Biggie Smalls do in fact mix well on the turntables!

To keep reading about this utterly bizarre but fascinating event, click below.

As the beats started to break, five monks from each of the varying schools of Buddhism took to the runway.

Buddhist monks traditionally wear simple black robes, though in order to appeal to the youth, the monks wore multi-layered robes in vibrant colors with gold trim.

(Anyone who has ever been to Tokyo can attest to the fact that whether or not you like their style, you have to hand it to the Japanese – they know how to dress!)

Of course, as this was intended to be a religious event, the night wound down with a group prayer that was livened up with a grand finale of confetti that was shaped like lotus petals.

As with any Milan, Paris or New York fashion show, the high-profile event at Tsukiji-Honganji was well-attended. According to Sayaka Anma, a young woman in the audience, “Their robes were gorgeous. I was a bit surprised in the beginning, but it was very moving to watch.”

So why is it exactly that the Buddhist monks had to resort to rap music and high fashion to attract more followers?

Buddhism has an extremely strong foundation in Japan as the religion first arrived in the archipelago 1,200 years ago from mainland Asia. In fact, almost three-quarters of Japanese people are registered Buddhists, though the only time they enter a temple is on their death bed.

As a result, the vast majority of Japan’s 75,000 temples are in serious financial trouble. Although funerals are a huge source of income, especially given Japan’s aging population, the temples will have to attract new followers if they wish to thrive beyond the immediate future.

“Many of us priests share the sense of crisis, and a need to do something to reach out to people,” said Kosuke Kikkawa, one of the organizers of the event.

“We won’t change Buddha’s teachings, but perhaps we need a different presentation that can touch the feelings of the people today.”

Only in Japan…

** All of the photos in this blog post were taken by the Associated Press (AP) **