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Japanese monks serve up alcohol and hip hop music to lure in followers

By Kyung Lah, CNN
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Hip hop monks in Japan
  • Buddhist monks in Japan are concerned their religion is struggling to survive
  • Monks hope mixing modern music and traditional teachings will lure in young people
  • Hundreds of temples have closed down in Japan over the last few years
  • Buddhism
  • Religion
  • East Asia

Tokyo, Japan (CNN) -- The Buddhist religion has largely remained the same over the past few centuries, but a group of monks in Japan are spicing things up by turning to alcohol and rap music to lure in followers.

The monks are calling it Buddhism 2010.

Kansho Tagai, who is a Buddhist monk, believes it's time to change for the future and doesn't mind if it means dropping the chants and bringing on the rap music.

Tagai also prefers to go by his street name -- Mr. Happiness.

Will religion soon be a thing of the past?

Many argue that the Buddhist mantra is hard to understand, but if it's interpreted in a modern way sung as a rap, then more young people might accept the Buddhist faith, according to Tagai.

"Getting the young people back to religion is key to Buddhism's survival," Tagai told CNN.

"In Japan, it's a religion in crisis."

Each year, hundreds of temples close in Japan and it's a similar struggle seen by other religions around the world.

The number of Christians in the U.S. fell by 11 percent in the course of one generation.

Another idea that monks hope will help get more young people involved is mixing faith with fun at something called the Monk Bar.

This modern day bar serves up alcoholic drinks while teaching the Buddhist mantra, according to Zenshin Fujioka.

"This is closer to what Buddhism was intended to be," Zenshin said.

"Today's temples are disconnected from the ordinary person."

Like most monks, Zenshin is trained in an ancient language most Japanese don't quite understand, but in a modern bar setting, the monks say the faithful talk at ease about their problems.

While many traditionalists may criticize both the Monk Bar and hip hop rapping styles, it seems their ideas are paying off.

"Twice as many people, especially the young, are now visiting the temple," Tagai said.

"Other monks are even calling me up for advice."