A Monk in Nara

Well, it’s been a few days since my last post. Sorry about that! My job, which involves about four solid hours of walking a day, really tired me out my first week. But I’m a little more used to it now, so the blogging can recommence! And what better way than with a Japan photo?

A Monk in Nara

A monk begging in Nara, near Todai-ji.

Buddhism (仏教/Bukkyou) is one of Japan’s two primary religions (the other is Shinto). It was introduced from China in the sixth century and, though it’s been in decline since the end of WWII, roughly 70% of the population still identifies as Buddhist. I could devote a very long post just to discussing Japanese Buddhism, but I’m not going to because I doubt most people would be very interested in the details. The short version is that there are still multiple schools – including Amidist, Shingon, and Zen – and Buddhism and Shinto in Japan are syncretic, meaning that they overlap and are not mutually exclusive.

But the real point here is to explain the picture! It’s very common in Japan to see a Buddhist monk begging. They stand or sit with a begging bowl in public places, chanting mantras. It’s a safe guess that the above monk is a practitioner of Shingon Buddhism because that’s the school Todai-ji is associated with. It’s interesting from a western perspective because we associate begging with people who are out of work, or attempting to scam you, whereas in Japan it’s typically a religious practice.

I’ve always liked seeing monks because, after a while, places normalize and you stop looking at them actively. But whenever I came across a sight like this, it was like a reminder that, oh yeah, I’m still in Japan. Always very cool.

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