DJ Buddhist Priests? New Ways to Attract Youth to Buddhism
People in Japan have an interesting relationship to religion. Most are syncretic, or practice multiple religions, which are usually the two most popular, Shintoism and Buddhism. There is also a phrase used often to describe people’s relation to religion in Japan: born Shinto, marry Christian, die Buddhist. The births of people are often celebrated in Shinto-style, marriages are often celebrated in churches, and funeral rituals are most often done by Buddhist priests. Therefore, inevitably, Buddhism is often associated with the idea of death. Year after year there have been fewer people visiting the temple, and it seems that many participate in Buddhist ceremonies only when there is a death in the family.
There are also very different aspects of Japanese Buddhism in comparison to other countries. In other countries where Buddhism is practiced, there are often restrictions on eating meat, drinking alcohol, marriage and having children. But in Japan, although many Japanese Buddhist priests still do practice these restrictions, there are also many who do not. Therefore, you can find Buddhist priests drinking, happily married with children, and recently it’s common to see Buddhist priests even in popular media.
In 2013, a picture book featuring 40 different handsome Buddhist priests was published. The book in Japanese is called bibouzu zukan, or picture book of handsome bald men. In the subtitle, there are the words “Let’s go to temples”. The book aims to spark an interest in Buddhism within the youth through pictures of handsome Buddhist priests. Next to the pictures are explanations of the priests and their temples, so you could visit them if you’d like!
You can see Buddhist priests on television as well. There was even a show that just featured Buddhist priests called bucchakke-ji, though the show was cancelled earlier this year. In it, Buddhist priests gathered and talked about all different topics relating to Buddhist temples such as women as Buddhist priests, everyday life and work as Buddhist priests, the worries of Buddhist priests, etc.
Even though Buddhist priests in Buddhist religions of other countries do not allow the priests to drink alcohol, in Japan, many do. Therefore, there are also bars in which there are Buddhist priests as bartenders. At the bars, like VOW’S BAR in Nakano, the Buddhist priests may not be doing Buddhist chants, but they do try to help those who come to them. Many Buddhist priests act as supporters, advisers, and helpers of the community around them. Look at this article to learn more about VOW’S BAR!
Besides TV, books, and bars, you can also see Buddhist priests competing in a nationwide event held every year called the Most Handsome Priest Contest. Last year, a woman was actually crowned the most handsome Buddhist priest. There have also been performances that blend of a Buddhist service and techno music. The chief Buddhist priest at Shouon-ji temple in Fukui prefecture, who previously worked as DJ and lighting staff, asked for donations to set up Buddhist services that would use projectors and techno music. Like many other Buddhist priests, he worries about the growing disinterest in religion within the youth of Japan and hope that these performances may help to make Buddhism attractive again to them.
Some people outside of Japan, and even some within Japan consider these recent practices and the integration of religion into popular culture not traditional enough. They criticize events like the most handsome Buddhist Priest contest as idolatry. But, others argue that religion changes as time changes. As maybe an example of times changing, there has also been a Buddhist temple that started holding marriage ceremonies for homosexual couples.
Participation in religion has rapidly declined over recent years and it seems that many Buddhist priests feel as if they have to reach out to the younger generations. Besides the bars, the contests, the TV shows and so on, there have also been catwalks, and even hip hop music performed by the priests. For some priests, these actions are practicing their hobby, but for others it is stepping closer to the younger generation, and letting them know that there is a place in which they can confide their worries and look for support.
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