One could say that 2012 is turning out to be the year of the Buddhist monk. A meet-up with the monks – a monthly event hosted by Ginza Modern Art gallery – has been gaining traction amongst young men and women in their 20s and 30s. And in March, “The Field Guide to Beautiful Monks” was published and became an overnight sensation. From “comforting” to “creamy,” the colorful picture book, which profiles 40 of Japan’s most hunky monks, sold over 10,000 copies in in its first 2 months on the market.
Now the story moves offshore to the island of Shikoku where devoted worshipers, or simply individuals up for a challenge, travel to take part in a 670-mile pilgrimage visiting all 88 temples (Gmap). If you decide to participate in what’s known as the Shikoku Hachijūhakkasho Meguri, at Eifukuji Temple you will come across the swanky new home of the chief monk who reside at the 57th sacred location.
And this isn’t just any old bare-minimum-roof-over-your-head house. Seventy-seven windows are cut into the thick walls and serve to frame views of the surrounding nature. Some windows are meant to muffle any disturbances from tourists and visitors while others provide a lens to capture a summer sunset. Completed late last year, it was designed by Tokyo-based architect Zai Shirakawa who, 2-months earlier, completed a temple office at the same location.
Whether designer priest homes or easy-on-the-eye monks help pave the way to enlightenment is hard to say. But what we do know is that there has been a clear increase in enthusiasm towards Buddhism in Japan. Whether it was the mechanics of economic deprivation, the impact of the earthquake and tsunami or Buddhist monks opting for slightly out-of-the-ordinary tactics, it will be interesting to see how this trend develops. Oh, you’ve heard of Kansho Tagai right? The Buddhist monk whose rapping sutras reportedly doubled attendance at his temple?