KYOTO — Two young monks from different Buddhist sects have formed a break-dancing duo named Kaiten Bozu (spinning monks). The duo believes that the unique fusion of Buddhism and dance will surely appeal to the younger generation because dancing is something everyone can enjoy equally, which echoes the teachings of Buddhism.
The 24-year-old monks are Koki Kawahara and Jojitsu Asukai. Kawahara belongs to Chion-in in Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, the head temple of the Jodo sect, while Asukai works for the Otsu-based Tendai Headquarters that oversees all Tendai sect temples across the country. They performed their acrobatic dance at Chion-in in early November.
Kawahara started break dancing in his second year of high school, while Asukai began dancing in the sixth grade in elementary school. They both belonged to the same dance club at Bukkyo University in Kyoto.
Kawahara, who went on to graduate school and found a job at Chion-in in April 2019, was assigned to a section to spread the teachings of Honen, the founder of the Jodo sect. This section is in charge of the temple’s annual one-month-long light-up event from early November and has had monks performing magic and performing in bands.
Kawahara decided to participate in the event by performing on stage, as he “wanted [to get] many people interested in Buddhism using my dance skills.” He then asked Asukai to form a cross-sect duo.
Break dancing has spread around the world due to its nature of getting everyone — regardless of race, age or gender — excited. Break dancing is a candidate to be added to the 2024 Paris Olympics.
The duo came to think that Buddhist teachings and dancing share the same philosophy of peace and equality. The two then asked their superior priests for permission to appear in the Chion-in event, and got a green light.
The two started training in May and choreographed an about 3½-minute-long performance. Their signature poses are Kawahara holding himself up on one hand, and Asukai standing on his head joining his hands in prayer, or a “gassho” pose.
Kawahara and Asukai said that they hope the audience feels close to us by seeing monks spinning.
They performed their dance twice on a stage under the Sanmon gate, a national treasure, in front of Chion-in on Nov. 4, attracting a total of about 300 people. Kawahara explained to the audience the desire for peace and equality, which is something both Buddhism and break dancing share. When they danced to the music, the audience clapped to the beat and applauded loudly at the end of their performance.
“I was relieved to receive a positive response [from the audience]. 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.
Chion-in Director General Yuko Igeta, 84, said, “I hope the efforts of young monks will encourage people unfamiliar with Buddhism to come visit our temple.”