‘Becoming Like the Sky’: an Encounter with a Street Monk in Ginza

Amélie Geeraert
Kokoro Media
Published in
16 min readDec 28, 2023

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In Tokyo, Buddhist priests chanting sutras in the streets, with their traditional robes and straw hats, have become an exotic sight not only to foreign tourists but to Tokyoites too. Mr. Mochizuki has been practicing takuhatsu (religious mendicancy and sutra chanting) in the streets of Ginza for nine years.
I had the opportunity to interview him about his path in life and the reasons that have led him to chant sutras in the middle of one of Tokyo’s busiest districts.

Buddhism in Japan Today

It is often said that Japanese people are born Shinto and die Buddhists. As a matter of fact, most Japanese people are not observant of one religion specifically, but will make an occasional visit to the local shrine or temple, or take part in celebrations of Japan’s two main religions independently. In the community, Buddhist priests used to be people you could talk to in order to seek advice. However, with time, Buddhism in Japan has been more and more associated with funerals, leading people to forget that Buddhism is actually a religion of life. Some priests and temples are actually struggling.

In this context, Buddhist priests engaging in meditation or chanting sutras in the streets have become a rare sight in the big cities.

Please note that real Buddhist monks in the streets of Japan carry an offering bowl but will never ask people to put anything in it; if during your travels you encounter someone in the street pretending to be a monk and verbally asking you for donations or trying to sell you amulets, he is most likely a scam artist.

This practice of meditating in the streets remained an enigma to me for years. But when a friend told me she knew a Buddhist monk who chants sutras in the middle of the bustling district of Ginza, I decided it was time to solve this mystery.

A Presence in the Streets Giving Birth to Questions

“It doesn’t matter if people are from Europe, or America or Japan — they all have the same questions. I…

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Amélie Geeraert
Kokoro Media

Living in Japan since 2011. I love interviewing inspiring people.