The Buddhist religion has largely remained the same over the past few centuries. But in Japan, the religious preferences of the Japanese have always been a bit complicated. Because most of the citizens there have both Buddhist and Shinto shrines in their homes. They typically attend Buddhist temples for funerals and at year’s end, Shinto temples to welcome the new year, and Christian churches to tie the knot in organ-accompanied ceremonies — all without a thought to the contradictions.
But with the rise in funeral parlors in Japan cutting into what had been a Buddhist monopoly, coupled with decreasing interest in Buddhism in general, Buddhist monks are worried about their future. Each year, lack of financial support shutters about 1,000 of Japan’s 80,000 Buddhist temples, some of them with vibrant histories stretching back centuries.
To counter this trend, a group of monks in Japan are using Hip-Hop music to attract new followers to the Buddhist religion and refers their style of teaching as “Buddhism 2010”. This new style of monks has dropped traditional Buddhist chants and has incorporated rap and Hip-Hop as a way to introduce Buddhism to the younger audience.
Outside the 400-year-old Kyoouji Temple, “Kansho Tagai”, dressed in his traditional monk robes, paused and began a sutra. He bobbed his head and then broke into a lyrical rap. He is a 49-year old Japanese monk who also known as “MC Happiness”.
“As a missionaries of Buddha, we are putting up a wall in front of us. We had to make ourselves accessible and wave people closer so that they can understand Buddha’s words.”
“Rap is the perfect means of communication because sutras have similar melodic rythms.”
Tagai's philosophy has won him many fans, and later this month he hopes to keep them interested by breaking into a new genre — mixing Buddhist chants with tap-dancing.
The monks are also putting a spin on traditional Buddhist temples to attract young people, by serving alcohol while they teach. They reason that their followers talk at ease in a bar-like setting, as opposed to the traditional temple, because they are disconnected with modern times.