Japan "nuns for a day" mix religion and role-play

By Linda Sieg, Reuters, Jul 1, 2007

KYOTO, Japan -- No one seems to mind that I'm more familiar with Methodist hymns than Buddhist sutras when I arrive at Ryugenji temple in Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto to sample their "Buddhist Nun for a Day" experience.

<< Ayako Yasui is seen reflected in a mirror as she adjusts her Buddhist nun outfit during a "One-day nun experience" workshop at Ryugenji temple in Kyoto, western Japan, June 17, 2007. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

Ushered into a small room with tatami straw mat flooring, I pay about $65 for the six-hour course, write a prayer in Chinese characters on a wooden stick, and don a light-weight white kimono and tabi socks split at the toes to ease wearing sandals.

Joined by six other women in a larger hall adorned with an altar to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, we get a crash course in how to fold our hands in prayer and read a sutra, then line up to walk to the main temple, a priest leading the way.

That's when I realise that despite the many years I have lived in Japan, I still do not quite fit in.

A glimpse of the tiny sandals lined up in the entryway throws me into a brief panic before I manage to squeeze a pair onto my outsized foreigner feet.

Echoing the priest's chant of "Om san maya sato ban", we step over burning incense to purify body and soul, have our heads symbolically shaved, and receive rosaries and habits: a white wimple, black "jikitotsu" robe and grey surplice.

Eyes closed, I join the others in "anza" -- meditation sitting cross-legged in traditional Zen style -- and try to empty my mind while a breeze ruffles the wimple that is fastened, a bit inelegantly, with a safety pin.

Briefly shedding my obsession with journalistic observation, I embrace the calm, away from the stress of life back in Tokyo.

Though raised by Methodist parents, I attended a Quaker school and find the experience reminiscent of the "meetings for worship" of my youth, where we gathered in silent prayer.


But the peace is disturbed by a sense that we are playing a bizarre form of dress-up.

For some of the women, that is precisely the point.

"I came for the 'cos-play' experience," says Kumie Nishimura, 28, referring to the popular hobby of dressing up, often as characters from manga comics, anime movies and video games.

"We've already tried ninja, maiko (novice geisha) and samurai," says Nishimura as she chats with two friends and checks her pink cell phone for messages.

Koyo Watanabe, the slightly pudgy priest who mentors us for the course, has few illusions about participants' motives.

"Many Japanese don't think deeply about religion," he says, noting the eclecticism that allows many to combine Christian weddings -- though few are Christians -- Buddhist funerals, and periodic visits to indigenous Shinto shrines.

"Some women come to wear the clothes. Others have some worry, about work or an illness," he says as we sip green tea.


No one in our group is contemplating taking the veil. It was once a common path for girls seeking higher education or for those whose families had too many mouths to feed, but is now an unattractive option for most modern Japanese women.

The Soto-shu sect of Buddhism, said to have the most nuns, once had thousands but now has only about 400, most elderly.

Still, not all of my companions this day are frivolous.

"My husband is Christian, but I really don't understand what religion means, so I wanted to find out about Buddhism," says Chihara Kaminaga, 32, who has lived much of her life abroad.

Twenty-six year-old Ayako Yasui wants to learn more so she can pray for her grandfather's soul, but was embarrassed when she first put on the habit.

"Then I realised one could enter into Buddhist teachings by taking on a different appearance from everyday life," she says.

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv