Buddhism is a major religion in Japan. Around 90 million people in the country consider themselves as Buddhists. However, in people’s day-to-day lives, many aspects of Buddhist practices and teachings do not necessarily affect them nor are being practiced. It is also quite hard to meet a monk who will give proper guidance to the path of life. Most of the time, you’ll only get to meet them during New Year’s Day or in funerals where they conduct certain ceremonies. In order to narrow the gap between people and Buddhism, certain events are being done to get people’s attention into the religion. One of these is the so-called “Most Handsome Monk Contest” which is participated by Japanese monks who compete on their inner beauty.
It is said that Buddhism has long been practiced in the country since 552 AD. The religion offers a spiritual path for transcending the suffering of existence. It is said that the founder of Buddhism came from Nepal but the religion flourished to different parts of the world. Its long history was developed over time resulting in different types of characteristics and spiritual ideals. Buddhism is said to have played a significant role in shaping the Japanese society. Up to this day, it remains to be influential and many people are actually identifying themselves as Buddhists.
The arrival of Buddhism in Japan was made possible with the opening of the Silk Road, an ancient network of trade routes that were central to cultural interaction. After the religion was firmly established in the country, dozens of complexes followed. Various orders of priests were made, as well as skilled artisans who crafted the icons and other accouterments that were necessary for the practice of faith. Its foundation was further strengthened by Prince Shotoku who deeply accepted the Buddhist concepts and applied them for political ideas.
Although many people consider themselves as Buddhists in the country, not all of them are practicing the religious practices. Becoming a lifelong monk takes a lot of devotion, meditation, and helping others. Everyone is invited to consider walking the path as it is a unique way of deepening a person’s understanding, as well as the capability to help people.
You have to consider 4 important aspects before becoming a monk. First, you have to forget about personal tranquility as you will be very busy (taking care of people, organizing everything, washing the dishes, or cleaning the monastery.) Second is generally discovering your perception of desire through chastity. It means renouncing having sex which can be quite challenging for men. Third, you have to have the right environment and right guidance. Lastly, you have to abandon worldly concerns and have peaceful moments so you can build your inner peace. So go ahead if you have what it takes!
Though the number of people who consider themselves Buddhists is increasing, the gap between people and Buddhism is also widening. Many people are Buddhists yet fail to follow the real teachings and principles of Buddha. This is especially common among the younger generation who are more attuned to the physical world rather than spiritual matters.
However, believe it or not, many monks nowadays are trying to narrow the gap by doing extraordinary things such as rapping about the religion or establishing a monk bar where people can visit and receive advice or enlightenment while having drinks. Another way is through competitions being held annually such as the “Most Handsome Monk Contest” where spectators can actually get entertained and meet monks.
In the past, monks were actually prohibited from appearing on television or in magazines. People used to have a strong connection with religion by visiting temples and shrines frequently. But nowadays, religion is becoming less relevant.
The “Most Handsome Monk Contest” is organized by Kazuma Hayashi of obohsan.com (literally “monks.com”). He is the lead organizer who is also the head of a Buddhist funeral company. For him, the contest serves as a way of spreading the word of Buddhism to many people around the nation and making it more accessible in their daily lives. The contest occurred at the Life Ending Industry EXPO in the Tokyo Bay area last August 22, 2016. Along with this, several funeral industries exhibited many of their contemporary services and products in the said expo.
The widened gap between people and religion calls for a solution. People normally meet monks only during funeral or memorial services, thus people cannot stay attuned to Buddhism in their daily lives. To remedy its becoming more distant, spreading the religion is deemed significant. The contest is annually done with a question and answer portion. It also includes a showcase of unique talents where participating monks do meditation, karate, and so on in order to express their inner beauties. The spectators have the chance to vote for the monks they like. The monk with the highest number of votes wins.
This 2016, the competition scheduled 5 monks to participate but due to weather conditions, only 3 monks were able to attend. The first monk was Aigen Yokoyama from Chiba Prefecture. He mastered karate for a long period of time, thus his talent presentation included splitting 10 layers of cement tiles. The second monk was Renka Haseo from Aichi Prefecture. He is a monk and a radio DJ who impressed the audience with his radio show.
The last monk was Koyu Osawa who led the spectators into a placid meditative state. She’s considered to be the first female participant who joined the contest. She wishes to spread the ideal method of meditation to a lot of people around the world in order for them to connect with the religion.
The inner peace felt by many people during Osawa’s talent performance made her win the most number of votes.
The contest hopes to connect Japanese people back to their religion. It is also hoping to narrow the gap by following purity of intentions in everything we do in our daily lives. Although people in Japan have the freedom to choose their religion and should not be forced to believe in a particular set of values, it still wouldn’t hurt to introduce Buddhism to them as a tool to support their lives.