[From August Issue 2012]
Due to the fact that many Japanese believe in Buddhism, there are many Buddhist temples all over Japan. Some have even become famous tourist destinations. “Obousan” are monks responsible for carrying out duties such as preaching the faith and holding memorial services for the deceased. Recently, a free paper and book that introduce the personalities and actions of such monks have become popular amongst young women.
What kicked things off was the publication of “Bibouzu Zukan: Otera-e Ikou, Obousan-wo Medeyou” (The Illustrated Book of Beautiful Monks: Visit Temples, Love Monks) by Kosaido Co., Ltd., which featured photographs of 40 ikemen monks from various temples around Japan. Ikemen are handsome men who are attractive to women. Though people may think that the world of Buddhism is behind the times, the book shows that there are actually many cool guys involved.
The book’s editor is TAKADA Junko. “Many people immediately equate monks with funerals, so we wanted to introduce the public to the younger monks who were volunteering after the Great East Japan Earthquake,” she says, reflecting on the reasons for publishing the book. “Younger women find that they can more easily place their trust in monks when consulting them about troubles concerning affairs of the heart, or their careers. They are much more reliable than shady fortune tellers,” she continues.
HIGASHIYAMA Kyousei, Mirokuin priest in Koyasan (Wakayama Prefecture), who is featured in the book, is surprised at the attention he has received since the book was published: “It was the catalyst for many people to develop an interest in Buddhism. The numbers of visitors who tell me that they read the book and decided to come all the way to see me have increased. Now many people call out to me when I’m walking through the temple grounds. Sometimes they even ask if they can have their photo taken with me.”
There is also a free paper published every other month by a group of young monks from various sects, and other authors, titled “Furi-sutairu-na Souryotachi-no Furi-magajin” (Freestyle Monks’ Free Magazine). This publication has been put together to inform the community about the “Furi-sutairu-na Souryo-tachi” (Freestyle Monks) project, and is available at temples, shrines and cafés in Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo.
IKEGUCHI Ryuho, a monk from the Jodo (Pure Land) sect of Buddhism, works as the project’s representative. “In today’s society, young people are resistant to the idea of religion, so we are looking for ways to make Buddhism viable. As the magazine is edited mainly by young people, it is possible to make it a bold publication. It’s useful in helping us to spread the idea that Buddhism is not only for funerals. Many people have felt able to approach us with their troubles,” he says.
The appearance of ikemen obousan has made a positive impact on younger women who used to view Buddhism as being overly formal. A few books written by monks have been published and have received positive reviews; there is also a female monk that hosts concerts at temples. Who knows, this trend may even cross over into other religions with Catholic or Shinto ikemen priests.
Text: ITO Koichi