Funky monk getting grannies in a spin

Japanese monk Akinobu Tatsumi spinning records for music fans at a venue in the forest near Nishihara village, Kumamoto prefecture, on Jan 15. The Buddhist monk gives record-spinning tips to ageing woshippers at the remote Syousanji temple in Kyushu.
Japanese monk Akinobu Tatsumi spinning records for music fans at a venue in the forest near Nishihara village, Kumamoto prefecture, on Jan 15. The Buddhist monk gives record-spinning tips to ageing woshippers at the remote Syousanji temple in Kyushu.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

KAGAMIMACHI (Japan) • At a remote temple in Japan cradled by a croissant-shaped mountain range, Mr Akinobu Tatsumi leads a rare double life - as a Buddhist monk who preaches about DJ-ing.

The amateur enthusiast has been dabbling in hip hop since he was a teenager and makes clandestine recordings of his own ambient music while his temple, located in deepest Kyushu, western Japan, sleeps.

After keeping his nocturnal hobby a secret from fellow priests for years, the 38-year-old Mr Tatsumi now gives record-spinning tips to his ageing temple-goers.

"It's true a monk does usually deliver a regular sermon," Mr Tatsumi said at Syousanji temple.

"When I first began playing the grannies music and showing them how to scratch, they did look a little bemused.

"Around here people call me the funky monk," the wannabe DJ added in an interview after chanting a sutra.

Mr Tatsumi isn't your typical Buddhist monk. He has long hair, tied in a ponytail, and fancies himself as a human beatbox - a genre also steeped in hip hop culture.

"I was influenced by hip hop - I started listening to Run-DMC and Public Enemy," said Mr Tatsumi, nimbly sidestepping the issue of rap music's explicit lyrics.

"I got into beatboxing in that way. I used to practise on the edge of a cliff, where there was a lovely echo."

Mr Tatsumi's digression from Buddhist writings to scratch sermons was fraught with risk - he also says he kept his monastic life hidden from night-time venues he played at.

"I didn't tell other priests about my music but also hid the fact that I was a priest from bars and clubs," he said.

Even when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis four years ago, Mr Tatsumi persisted with his hobby, making music from his hospital bed.

The one-time skateboarding monk believes his illness has brought him closer to his fellow devotees.

"I suddenly felt a connection with the aged and temple-goers who were suffering from illness or injury," he said.

"These days I get on famously with the old folks!"

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2018, with the headline 'Funky monk getting grannies in a spin'. Print Edition | Subscribe