‘It’s about the Buddha, yo. Hey brother, listen carefully! You got it? No? You don’t? Okay, baby, no problem.’
This hip-hop excerpt is just a small taste of a new wave of Japanese Buddhism that is becoming increasingly popular, at least according to a latest report by CNN, ‘Buddhist monks use hip hop, alcohol to attract followers.’
And it’s 49 year-old Japanese monk Kasho Tagai, a.k.a. ‘Mr. Happiness,’ who raps such lyrics at his 400-year old Kyoouiji Temple in Tokyo, in an attempt to modernize traditional sutras and make them more accessible to younger generations. So while many of his black-suited white-collar counterparts would have been reaching mid-life crisis points in their lives at 45, Tagai was busy taking on one of pop culture’s newest music forms. And as a result, in the past four years or so, he has increased membership at his temple by 50 percent. This is surely good news for Kyoouiji considering hundreds of temples are now closing down yearly in Japan. The Buddhist MC is also adding to his performance repertoire by learning tap dance, and he already operates a dial-a-monk hotline and radio program.
I imagine it won’t be long before this trendy monk gets a Facebook profile and adds Zenshin Fujioka as a ‘friend.’ Fujioka is another monk changing the face of Buddhism in Japan, by tending a bar in Tokyo’s bustling Shinjuku district where sutras are a part of the atmosphere, and patrons can learn about Buddhist teachings while sipping their ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ cocktails.