WORLD

Buddhism takes to the streets

SUZANNE TAYLOR January 28 2008
WORLD

Buddhism takes to the streets

SUZANNE TAYLOR January 28 2008

Buddhism takes to the streets

SUZANNE TAYLOR

Faced with the prospect of his beliefs being relegated to the history books, Gugan Taguchi, a 46-year-old Buddhist monk in Tokyo, now spends some of his devotional time at a local jazz bar owned by a fellow monk. “I can understand why younger people aren’t attracted to Buddhism,” he says.< “Most priests are getting on, and I’m not sure young people want their advice.” So after chanting prayers at the bar’s altar, the veteran monk shares a drink with local patrons. “I’m happy to come here and listen to people talk about anything they like. It’s up to them if they decide whether to heed my advice.”

Filled with ancient shrines and bustling nightclubs, quiet gardens and high-speed trains, geishas in traditional costume and Electric Town cafés where servers dress as maids, Japan has somehow managed to embrace tomorrow’s trends while staying firmly rooted in the past. But when it comes to religion, that delicate balance is being toppled. Though 84 per cent of the country’s 127 million citizens profess to following both Shinto and Buddhism, many visit temples only during the New Year or for weddings or funerals, leaving some ofjapan’s places of worship searching for novel ways of reaching out to potential worshippers.

Other monks are relying on more than the power of incense to draw crowds to their temples. Patrons of the Baijozan Komyoji shrine in Tokyo can now sip tea at a café outside its main hall, while the Zenkoji temple in Kyoto runs a beauty salon. The monks at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Honganji shrine threw pious modesty to the wind recently when they strutted down catwalks in colourful robes as part of a fashion show. “We won’t change Buddha’s teachings, but perhaps we need to present things differently so that they touch the feelings of people today,” says Kosuke Kikkawa, a 37-year-old priest and one of the organizers of the event. Let’s just hope an all-monk maid café isn’t in the works. M