February 8, 2010 / 4:20 PM / 8 years ago

Japanese monk gets down with the beat for Buddhism

TOKYO (Reuters) - 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 realized 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."

Tagai, whose community has dubbed him "Mr Happiness" for his positive outlook, has been rapping since 2006.

The 49-year-old monk hosts a variety of youth events at his temple, often inviting children and artists to take part in untraditional, open sessions which blend modern words and phrases with Buddhist teachings, to make the faith more relevant today.

"With our new approach to the younger generation, I really hope that they'll see the fun side of Buddhism and actually be interested in the religion," he said.

Tagai's philosophy has won him many fans, and later this month he hopes to keep them interested by breaking into a new genre -- mixing Buddhist chants with tap-dancing.

The temple's first tap-dancing show will feature a professional dancer moving to Tagai's chants. The monk also plans to take to the stage, and said he was considering dancing the samba at another performance.

Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the 6th century and has become a mainstream religion.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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