Japanese monks take part in 'most handsome monk' contest

Japanese monks competed based on their inner beauty at a funeral expo to compete in the second annual “Most Handsome Monk Contest” on Monday (August 22).

Spectators voted for the monk who was the most inspiring after the finalists walked on a runway, answered questions in a Q&A session, and performed in a talent show that included the participating monks’ karate chops and meditation.

Five participants were scheduled to compete, but two could not make it due to the typhoon that hit central Tokyo earlier that day.

Aigen Yokoyama, a monk from Chiba prefecture and an avid karate practitioner, split 10 layers of cement tiles with his hand, a skill he mastered from his time at a sports college.

Renka Haseo, a monk and radio DJ from Aichi prefecture, presented a snippet of his radio show; and the first ever female participant of the contest, Koyu Osawa from Tokyo, led the audience of about 40 into a peaceful, meditative state.

Though many were impressed by Yokoyama’s agility, and entertained by Haseo’s radio program, the majority of the votes went to Osawa.

“The last person and winning monk meditated, and I myself was surprised at how much inner peace I felt at that moment. I thought this was an interesting way to discover Buddhism,” said Yuka Kimura, an audience at the contest.

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Osawa said she wished to spread not only Buddhism but its method of meditation to as many people as possible.

“This goes not only for Buddhism, but with meditation as well. I want to connect with people who have never tried it before, or have always wanted to try it,” said Osawa.

About 90 million people in Japan consider themselves Buddhists, however many aspects of the religion do not affect their everyday lives. Japanese people usually meet monks during new years’ to pray or to ward off evil, or at funerals.

The organizer of the contest, Kazuma Hayashi, who is the head of a Buddhist funeral service company, said he wanted people to become more attuned to Buddhism in their everyday lives.

“The distance between Buddhism and people have widened. For example, they would only meet monks during funerals or a memorial service. If that chasm were to remain, the purpose of Buddhism, which is something that should affect our daily lives, will become something more and more distant,” said Hayashi.

The contest took place at a Life Ending Industry Expo held at Tokyo’s bay area, where funeral industries exhibited their latest products and services.