gold buddha

A gold statue of Buddha in Tokyo, 26 Nov 2009/Yuriko Nakao

He raps. He chants. And this month, Japan’s famed hip-hop loving monk, better known as MC Happiness, will tap dance on stage, in the name of Buddhism.

Kansho Tagai heads the 400-year-old Kyoouji Temple in central Tokyo, offering softly chanted prayers throughout the day amid traditional bell chimes and wafts of incense.

But once in a while, he raises the volume, and the tempo, of these prayers, going before an audience to rap Buddhist sutra, or teachings, to hip hop beats and in modern Japanese.

“When I listened to rap music for the first time, it was in English so I couldn’t understand a word,” Tagai told Reuters.

“I realised that the same can be said for Buddhist sutras because most people can’t understand a word. And the thing is, listening to rap music makes you feel good even though it may be incomprehensible.”