TOKYO (majirox news) — Attractive Buddhist monk Yoshinobu Fujioka knows more about women’s secrets than their spouses, boyfriends or best friends do. He manages a monk’s bar called Vowzin Tokyo. From the time of its opening in 2005, Buddhism has gained in popularity throughout the country, especially among young Japanese, according to the 34-year-old monk-bartender.
The bar’s customers are mostly women – students, housewives and career women – looking for a place where they can drink, relax, and contemplate their lives. Many of them talk to Fujioka and the four other monks who work the bar, often about their relationships with married men, and seek advice.
“For example, one woman who was having an affair with a married man wondered what to do and how to control her desires,” Fujioka says. “Since Buddhism teaches that love can actually be the cause of suffering, my aim was to help her realize the effect that the affair would have on her life. Love brings various desires: some of which make people have affairs with married people, or in the worst case, they may make them kill a lover.”
Fujioka adds that love can sometimes drive us crazy, but we should not misunderstand the attitude of Buddhism toward love: love is not to be rejected outright; however, too much attachment to love increases our suffering.
The woman who was having the affair, he notes, will eventually learn that she must take a lot of the responsibility for her actions; “She is resented by her lover’s family,” he says. “Many people who learn about her affair will dislike her, this will be her fault, and she has brought these problems on herself.” Bad deeds bring bad results, and good deeds bring good results. This is karma. This is the truth of Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha), he points out.
Women are More Flexible Than Men
“Men are usually more stubborn than women and don’t try to bring new ideas or a new ways of thinking to their lives,” the monk says. “In fact, Japan’s recent Buddhist boom was begun by women.” He adds that, in general, women have a broader outlook and are more open-minded than men.
One problem is that some of these women also proposition the (married) monk when he’s counseling them. “Women open up to me, because they respect Buddhist monks and see them as the ideal type of man,” he says. “Most of the women have had bad experiences with men and no longer trust them.”
Tamako Takamatsu, however, a Tokyo-based translator and interpreter, sees monks as the ideal neutral confidant, rather than the ideal type of man.
“In Japan, it is difficult to avoid being aware of hierarchies,” she says. “When you just want to vent or analyze a problem objectively, it is sometimes exhausting to have to worry about and be conscious of the other person’s status. Other people are either higher or lower than you on various social scales, such as age, wealth, success, position in companies, communities or education.” Since monks are outside of these social hierarchies, she adds, it is easier to speak with them more freely.
According to Takamatsu, conversation is especially exhausting among younger women. They must be careful, she claims, not to hurt each other thoughtlessly or inadvertently spark competitive instincts; with men, they have to balance the fine line between building up male egos and not giving men the wrong idea.
Buddhism in Japan
The Buddhist religion in Japan is laid-back, Takamatsu notes. There is no proselytizing involved: people are not lectured; they are not urged to make life-changing choices; they are not even required to attend services or pray on a regular basis. Buddhist monks in Japan basically hope that when people or their family make funeral decisions, purchase a grave, and hold the required ceremonies every couple of years (and make the appropriate monetary contributions at each step of the way), they will choose their temple.
“In a sense, monks are a bit like traditional Swiss banks. They hope for your continued patronage over the long term, ever so elegantly and politely, but are not crass enough to become salesmen,” Takamatsu said. “In fact, many of these career monks (most have simply inherited family businesses, though I think they are sincere in their efforts to study Buddhism and learn from its tenets) might actually feel uncomfortable with intensely devout believers.”
She adds that some are not so peaceful but have inner conflicts. An example she gives is a worker in the Kyoto municipal government who was the son of an elderly priest. Apparently, he wished to continue his office work; yet, when the father passed away, he eventually relented and agreed to take over his father’s priestly position.
“My family attended his very elaborate investiture ceremony; bringing the appropriate celebratory offering (money, of course),” she says. “He is still a conflicted man, and his lack of real inner peace makes him seem less reliable than his father, but perhaps over time that internal suffering will make him wiser.”
In Fujioka’s case, he made the choice to become a monk, not having been born into a temple family, and is registered as a priest at Shofukuji Temple.
Men Have Secrets, Too
A few men also come to the monk’s bar to talk about their inner conflicts, but more often their “confessions” revolve around their relationships with married women.
Others are deeply troubled and talk to the monks behind the bar about committing suicide.
“In these cases, I give them my cell phone number and wait for their calls, at any time of the day,” the monk says. “This is my responsibility as a Buddhist priest. I want to open up their minds through counseling, and to help them realize that the world is much bigger than they think. I want them to find their own freedom and lifestyle through counseling.”
As long as Buddhism is seen as an answer to suffering, Vowz will remain open. Fujioka says, “The bar is always open to anyone. Anyone is free to come here and relax and share their problems with me.”
Monks: The law of the Meiji period (1868 to 1912) stated that Buddhist monks would be allowed to eat meat and marry. The government wanted Buddhist monks to return to secular life to emphasize Shinto since they wanted to make a new national system based on Shinto. This also made the continuity of Buddhist temples stable so the oldest son or daughter could take over the temple. However, there existed Buddhist monks who married before Meiji period such as Shinran, the founder of Jodo Shinshu. But it was not allowed for other monks by law before the Meiji period.