There is a potent hip-hop scene in Japan which is well worth your attention, but rarely doesn’t it link itself to any aspect of Buddhist culture. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t, it’s just that, on the face of it, there seems to be very little to connect the two. Turns out there is, in the form of the ‘Hoodie Monks‘. They’re based in the Yugasan Rendaiji temple in the Okayama Prefecture, home, primarily to a group of Shingon priests. Shingon is one of the more enigmatic subsets of Buddhism, but I doubt that anyone attempting to uncover their secretive ways could have imagined that they were harbouring a hip-hop revolution.
The Monks were founded by Gomyo, an American priest and rapper who found as much meaning in hip-hop as he did in the Buddhist faith, it would seem. He’s been a Shingon priest for around a decade and in that time he’s set about gathering together a collective of MCs, street artists, DJs and b-boys both in Japan and across the rest of the world. The aim? Promote Buddhist ideals and principles through the lens of hip-hop culture. I’ve long held to the view that you can teach anyone anything with the aid of hip-hop, from Shakespeare to theoretical physics, so this most certainly gives me the warm fuzzies.
Speaking to the Japan Times, Gomyo talks about there being very direct links between elements of hip-hop and elements of Buddhism (rapping – chanting, DJing – taiko drums, etc) and it’s easy to see where he’s coming from. Further still, Buddhism champions deep thought, meditative practices and physical well-being, among other things, and hip-hop literally means ‘knowledge and movement’. Hip-hop is, of course, far more widely appreciated among the younger demographic, which is part of the reason why this is even going on, Gomyo and others believe that the youth of Japan will be far more likely to regain an interest in Buddhism if it’s relayed to them in a mode that they not only understand, but appreciate and enjoy.
This is far from confined to Japan though, as mentioned, and many of the priests at the centre of the Hoodie Monks movement hail from America or Europe. In that sense you could almost say that it’s a perfect meld of Eastern and Western influences, with the East providing the spirit and the West providing the spit. In any case, what they’re doing is fascinating, and anything which manages to act as an ambassador for two such disparate, but important cultures is worth your attention. Gomyo himself is also a member of a group called FBSD (Free Buddha, Spit Dharma), who apparently have a CD dropping soon. I’m just counting down the days until Ghostface Killah decides to get involved.
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