TOYKO (majirox news) — Akari Miura is using her unique position as head priest of a temple and a professional singer-songwriter to try and draw people back to Buddhism.
The 28-year-old diva of the dharma is the head priest at the Komyoji Temple in Nara. She released her debut single, Arigato, two months ago as part of her growing activity in promoting Buddhism through music and the media in Japan. Dharma in brief terms means the truth or the teaching of Buddha, Miura noted.
Miura is hoping her music will draw people back to Buddhism in Japan, where the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology’s statistics show that the religion lost 6 million followers between 2005 and 2009.
With the March 11 disasters having ravaged the Tohoku Region and their effects smashing Japanese self-esteem, growing uncertainty makes spirituality more important than ever, according to the singing priest.
“I would like the people to change their sense of values and focus more on the invisible things that warmly embrace us with a sense of gratitude,” Miura said, adding that it is a traditional Japanese trait to be able to show gratitude to the unseen.
Miura is an only child born into a temple family. It was her destiny, therefore, to take over the family temple from her parents. Miura’s eclectic mixture of Buddha and bopping began when she was studying at Kyoto’s Ryukoku University, where she focused on researching the possibility of using a mixture of Buddhism and music to help create a better society.
Miura’s songs focus strongly on her appreciation for Buddhist teachings. She performs live, punctuating songs with narration of Buddhist Dharma stories. She often performs wearing religious robes and regularly plays at temple and public events. She has no sense of contradiction between traditional Buddhism and her more modern approach.
“There is no difference between being a Buddhist nun and a singer-songwriter because this is my Buddhist way of life,” she said.
Miura said traditional Japanese Buddhist chanting was once the most popular music in the country. She added that Buddhism once had a sensitive antenna for social needs and used populism to spread Buddhism among the populace. She insisted that Japanese Buddhism now needs a similar attitude to attract people living for the moment.
Miura has her supporters, notably Kenji Kijima, a 69-year-old Buddhist priest who admits to having been conservative.
“I poured so much of my energy into protecting the teaching of Buddha and my Buddhist way of life from intrusion by temporary cultures such as anime and pop songs, but I may have had too much of an attachment to [traditional Buddhism],” he said. “I would like younger Buddhist priests to challenge various things to find their own Buddhist ways of life to promote Buddhism by innovating from traditions.”
Miura, meanwhile, seeks to redefine Buddhist tradition from unchanging protection of past practices to innovative new approaches to social realities.
And by giving Buddhism a new form of promotion, Miura may well be able to open new doors to Japan’s traditional religion for modern Japanese society and its inhabitants.
Miura singing on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iu8-vOkBTt0
Naoyuki Ogi is Majirox New’s Religious Staff Writer.