Japan Makeup

Monk, Makeup Artist, and LGBTQ+ Activist Nishimura Kōdō Talks About Sexuality and Buddhism in London

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Monk on the Global Stage

It’s a wierd feeling to lastly meet an creator after translating his e book. Reading, rereading, and translating Nishimura Kōdō’s memoir, I’d come to know his Japanese voice properly. It is eloquent, real, bubbly, and humorous. What would his voice in English be like? It was a shock, but in some way not sudden, to immediately acknowledge that voice in English too. Nishimura was giving a chat on “Sexuality and Buddhism” to a fascinated viewers in a packed room on the Pantechnicon cultural heart in London.


Nishimura speaks on the Pantechnicon in London on March 20, 2022. (© Tony McNicol)

A elementary educating of Buddhism is that “Everybody and anybody can be liberated,” Nishimura instructed the viewers. So why is it that LGBTQ+ individuals in Japan nonetheless expertise difficulties, and even discrimination, of their encounters with Buddhism?

For instance, posthumous Buddhist names in Japan are gendered, however do these names match the gender that the deceased most well-liked to establish as in life? Even these coaching as monks uncover that the rituals and guidelines of Buddhism fail to bear in mind totally different sexual and gender identities.

As a high-profile Buddhist monk, an creator and activist, and somebody who can talk with ease in Japanese, English, and Spanish, Nishimura is working to make Buddhism—and faith usually—extra welcoming to the LGBTQ+ group.

In 2020 he printed his Japanese memoir, titled Seisei dōdō, a reference to the “unapologetic” or “bold” life he recommends individuals dwell for themselves. Then, in 2021 he was chosen as a Time Magazine Next Generation Leader. His many media appearances embrace an episode of Netflix’s Queer Eye: We’re in Japan! He has spoken on the headquarters of the United Nations Population Fund, Yale University, and Facebook, in addition to many different locations. On Instagram he has over 70,000 followers.

But as a baby, Nishimura noticed Buddhism in a very totally different method. As he tells in his memoir, he suffered homophobia in school and was ostracized by his friends. Aware that he was homosexual, however figuring out neither as male nor feminine, he doubted he may very well be accepted in Buddhism. Making issues extra difficult was that each his dad and mom had been clergymen and their household lived in a Tokyo temple of the Pure Land faculty.

At highschool, his life revolved round studying English, the one topic aside from artwork he felt an affinity with, and homosexual chatrooms on the web, the place he first realized concerning the experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals all over the world.

Despite preliminary opposition from his dad and mom, he determined to depart Japan and examine within the United States. From his English-language program he went on to artwork faculty, and from that to changing into an expert make-up artist, finally working on the Miss Universe competitors. At the identical time, he found a world of numerous LGBTQ+ identities and got here out as homosexual.

A Fateful Decision

But on the age of 24 he made an enormous, and maybe stunning, determination – to return to Japan and practice as a monk. Nishimura defined his causes to the London viewers with a quote from Michelle Obama.

“It is hard to hate up close.”

He wished to find out about Buddhism and handle his “hatred” of the faith face on.

But it was a removed from straightforward possibility. During a spartan coaching, novices needed to chant till they actually spat blood. If the angle of their bow was barely incorrect, they’d be screamed at. And it was virtually unattainable to ask questions. The function of trainees was to endure and do as they had been instructed.

Yet Nishimura wasn’t able to put apart his many questions.

He had been taught that Buddhist liberation was accessible to completely everybody. But in ceremonies the place males had been anticipated to carry out actions a technique and ladies one other, which was applicable for somebody who identifies as neither male nor feminine (Nishimura identifies as nonbinary however makes use of he/him pronouns)?

Or, as somebody who works with make-up and vogue and who loves garments and equipment, should he undertake the standard austere gown of a Buddhist monk?


(Courtesy of Nishimura Kōdō)

Kōdō felt strongly that he may by no means settle for a educating that denied his identification. So he determined to ask for himself, in addition to for the sake of others.

With some trepidation, he requested and was granted an interview with a senior trainer and posed his questions. But the solutions had been sudden. The trainer identified that in Japanese Buddhism clerics usually produce other jobs too—lecturers, medical doctors, even businesspeople.

“What’s the difference between wearing doctor’s scrubs and beautiful clothes?” the trainer requested.

“Your sexuality does not matter. You becoming a monk will be celebrated by the Buddha and the founder of our school,” he stated. “Buddhism is something alive and constantly changing. The most important role of a Buddhist monk is to tell people that anybody and everybody can be liberated.”

That is precisely what Nishimura has been doing since ending his coaching. And he’s utilizing his platform to alter attitudes towards LGBTQ+ inside Buddhism itself. This consists of designing a sticker for temples to show and welcome these with numerous sexual and gender identities. The sticker combines a rainbow flag with praying fingers.


One of Nishimura’s stickers on show on the customer’s window at a Buddhist temple. (Courtesy of Nishimura Kōdō)

Although Buddhism isn’t as hostile to LGBTQ+ individuals as another main world religions, some elements of the educating can nonetheless learn very uncomfortably in 2022.

During his speak, Nishimura shared a textual content from the Pali canon, among the earliest Buddhist teachings. It lists “women and eunuchs” amongst those that are “not to be welcomed” by the Buddhist group. He identified that this must be taken within the context of the time it was written, not actually right now.

On the opposite hand, Nishimura additionally finds help for range within the Buddhist scriptures. For instance, there may be the passage within the Amida Sutra that describes a pond of colourful lotus flowers, every shining with their very own distinctive colour. Nishimura interprets this as a celebration and validation of range.

During the speak he additionally shared photos of Kannon Bodhisattva (Avalokiteśvara in Sanskrit), a preferred Buddhist deity in Japan who’s depicted at occasions as male, at occasions feminine, and sometimes adorned with beautiful garments and equipment.

Nishimura says that he takes the “gender ambiguous” Kannon as his “role model.”

“I used to think that Buddhists were against anything lavish,” he notes, “but there are teachings that encourage people to look marvelous.”

He quotes the Flower Garland Sutra, which says: “sublime virtue requires sublime appearance.”

Be Who You Are

The English translation of Nishimura’s e book is subtitled “Be Who You Are.” But through the Q&A that adopted his speak, somebody requested whether or not Nishimura had ever had doubts about his personal identification. Nishimura replied that, regardless of the ache and struggles when he was youthful, “I always knew who I was.”


Speaking to the London crowd on March 20, 2022. (© Tony McNicol)

“I think my talent is going against the wind,” he stated. “And I can help other people go in the direction they want.”

But as a extremely unconventional individual in Japan’s homogenous society, and really removed from the standard picture of a Buddhist monk, he nonetheless experiences hate and discrimination.

During the speak he shared how a good friend’s mom as soon as instructed him to his face that homosexuality was brought on by “hormonal imbalances.” It was a formative expertise that spurred him on in his activism.

He instructed the viewers how simply that day he had acquired one more message telling him that “he was not a real monk.”

Nishimura quoted from the Dhammapada, “Conquer meanness with generosity / Conquer dishonesty with truth.”

He instructed the London viewers how he needs to make use of his platform as religious chief to advertise tolerance all over the world.

“Religion is not there to limit people. It is to help them go beyond their limits,” he stated.


Nishimura poses with Tony McNicol, who translated his e book into English. (Photo courtesy of Tony McNicol)

(Originally written in English. Banner photograph © Satō Masaki.)

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