Big in Japan: Japanese monks down pints in the name of Buddha

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

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

Starting this week in Japan, a trio of Buddhist monks have secured a regular spot at the Chippie Sound Music Bar, a popular Tokyo jazz club.

Here, they seek to educate patrons about Buddha while simultaneously performing their unique shomyo (????; Japanese Buddhist chants) to an attentive crowd.

Yup – you read that correctly.

Zen Buddhist mantras and Miles Davis do in fact mix well under the limelight!

As reported by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the three monks took to the stage, rang a small bell to silence the crowd, and filled the bar with their hauntingly beautiful chants.

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

During the second half of the show, the trio once again took to the stage, silenced the room by ringing a small bell, kneeled in their gray robes before the crowd, and began to lecture an attentative audience about their faith.

One of the monks, Hogen Natori, believes that people are more receptive to complex philosophies when they are relaxing in a bar amongst friends.

“Many Japanese don’t want to come to temple. They think Buddhism is very difficult, and deep and serious, but Buddhism is much more than that – exciting, funny even. I want to spread this kind of teaching.”

So why is it exactly that the Buddhist monks had to resort to performing in jazz bars to keep their religion thriving?

Buddhism has had an extremely strong foundation in Japan since 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.

Furthermore, since Japan is a rapidly aging society, interest in Buddhism is virtually non-existent amongst Japanese youths who care little about religion.

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, the temples will have to attract new followers if they wish to thrive beyond the immediate future.

Although their effort to raise awareness about Buddhism’s lighter side are being applauded by most, the trio of monks is being accused by others of lowering themselves to the level of commoners.

To these critics, Hogen Natori offers these simple and succinct words:

“Come and join us. We are telling people what Buddhism is, what monks are.

Only in Japan…

Japanese Buddhism is undergoing a serious face lift these days. For coverage of a recent Zen fashion show here in Tokyo, be sure to check out the article Japanese monks strut it out on the catwalk.

** All of the photos in this blog post were taken by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) **