Priests Trade In Their Prayers For Cocktail Shakers At Monk bar

Category: Media & Culture / Mar 29, 2013 6:24PM EDT
Gongs and prayer beads may part of the usual daily paraphernalia of Buddhist monks in Tokyo, but cocktail shakers and ice picks are not. That is unless you're Buddhist priest Yoshinobu Fujioka who is also the owner of a popular bar in central Tokyo. The 36-year-old monk entertains customers daily at the 23-seater "Vowz" Bar which is often packed with patrons looking for a good soul-cleansing tipple. "Every day, my heart gets tainted by dirt in the secular world, so I come here to repurify it over some drinks and fun," 42-year-old businesswoman Noriko Urai said of the bar whose name plays on the Japanese word for "Buddhist monk". The cocktails come in all spiritual flavours, from a "Perfect Bliss" to an "Infinite Hell". You can also fall for an "Enslavery to Love and Lust" special for around 800 yen ($8.5 dollars) a glass. The sermons and homilies with the young shaven-headed bartenders come free of charge. "It seems like there are some young women who come here regularly to see the handsome manager, but obviously I'm not one of those; I come here to seek buddhist knowledge from Fujioka, a Buddhist expert, and enjoy conversations over drinks," said 45-year-old Midori Yamamoto, a French literature graduate student. Instead of karaoke, the bar frequently erupts into Buddhist scripture readings, with patrons chanting along to Japanese lyric sheets. Fujioka, who's run Vowz Bar for 13 years, says his bar is just a return to ancient traditions though modernised to make it relevant to people's everyday lives. "Drinking in a temple was a common thing in the ancient Muromachi era (1357-1573 AD) when people would gather in a Buddhist temple and drink together. We've just updated the tradition to fit our times. It is just a matter of course for us to see our Buddhist belief and enlightenment in the everyday life of people," Fujioka said referring to the Japanese period from the early 14th to late 16th century. Fujioka, who also has a day job at a Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Tokyo, says the bar brings him closer to his congregation than when at the temple. "They become totally different believers here. The distance between them and myself gets much closer, and they are more connected with each others as human beings," he said. Buddhism, which came to the nation in the 6th century AD, is one of the two mainstream religions in Japan along with the indigenous Shinto religion. Government statistics in 2006 shows about 196 million people consider themselves both Shintoist and Buddhists in Japan though leaders of both religions decry a marked fall in interest amongst the younger generation. (Video Source: REUTERS)