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Young monks break dance to shine light on Buddhism

KYOTO >> Two young monks from different Buddhist sects have united to form a break-dancing duo, Kaiten Bozu (spinning monks). The men believe their unique fusion of Buddhism and dance is sure to appeal to their generation. After all, they say, dancing is something all can enjoy equally, which echoes the teachings of Buddhism.

Koki Kawahara and Jojitsu Asukai are both 24-year-old monks. Kawahara belongs to Chion-in in Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, the head temple of the Jodo sect; Asukai works from the Otsu-based Tendai Headquarters that oversees all Tendai temples across the country. They launched their acrobatic dance moves at Chion-in in early November.

Kawahara began break dancing in high school, while Asukai started in the sixth grade. They both belonged to the same dance club at Bukkyo University in Kyoto.

Following graduate school last April, Kawahara was hired at Chion-in and assigned to a department that spreads the teachings of Honen, founder of the Jodo sect. Every November, the department runs a monthlong event at the temple that features monks on stage performing in bands and doing magic acts.

Kawahara decided to participate in the event, saying he “wanted (to get) many people interested in Buddhism using my dance skills.” He approached Asukai about forming a cross-sect duo.

The monks recognized the parallels between Buddhist teachings and the universal appeal of break dancing — both encourage peace and equality, they said. Break dancing, they said, draws excitement from people of every country, race, age and gender. They point out it is a candidate to be added to the 2024 Paris Olympics.

With the approval of senior priests, they got the green light to appear in the Chion-in event.

The duo began training in May and choreographed a 3½-minute performance spotlighting signature poses of Kawahara holding himself up on one hand and Asukai standing on his head joining his hands in “gassho,” or prayer.

Kawahara and Asukai performed their dance twice on a stage under the Sanmon gate, a national treasure, on Nov. 4, attracting about 300 people. Their dancing generated enthusiastic applause.

“I was relieved to receive a positive response. We’re considering appearing in other events if it gives us an opportunity to have people experience the teachings of Buddhism through break dancing,” Kawahara said.

Said Chion-in Director General Yuko Igeta, “I hope the efforts of young monks will encourage people unfamiliar with Buddhism to come visit our temple.”

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