How This Monk Puts ‘Modern’ Faith in the Limelight Through Beatboxing
Silence is the ultimate sign of reverence in most religions, but sometimes, noise can be just as profound and impactful. Yogetsu Akasaka, a Japanese Zen Buddhist monk, combines his religious profession and duties with his penchant for music and beatboxing.
To do this, he uses a loop machine, a device that lets one record an instrument or voice in real-time and allows instant playback. It can be used both in professional studios or live performances.
Akasaka records sacred chants and melodies using this machine — which he had mastered since his first purchase of it in 2011 — and combines them with his unique beatboxing skills.
The Tokyo-based monk made waves in 2020 when he went viral in a YouTube video playing a ‘Heart Sutra’ chant remix. The video had garnered almost 3 and a half million views since its release.
“I was kind of afraid because this was something no one had done before — it was out of the tradition,” Akasaka told the South China Morning Post (SCMP). “But I just tried it and it sounded really good to me, so I thought maybe I should do it for other people. And when I played in front of other people, they liked it.”
The Road to Musicianship and Priesthood
Akasaka had been an experienced musician far before he committed himself to his religious profession. He spent his early 20s traveling around the world — including Australia and the United States — as a busker and, occasionally, a theater actor.
He discovered his penchant for music in his teens when he was given a CD of Afra, a Japanese beatboxer. “I was absolutely shocked that people could do such things, and so I was interested in trying it. And then I realized I was pretty good at it,” he told VICE.
But he wanted to heed a particular spiritual calling, too. His father had been an abbott in one of the temples in the Iwate Prefecture — a factor that was significantly impactful for young Akasaka.
“Usually in Japan, people become monks because their family lives in a temple,” he said in the same VICE article. “But for my father, he was just a normal person who decided to become a monk.”
Inspired, Akasaka decided that he wanted to pursue the same religious path. He was ordained as a Buddhist monk in 2015 in the same temple his father served in.
But his love for music remained just as powerful, and Akasaka did not want to let it go. Thankfully, he didn’t have to choose — he realized that he could use music as a powerful tool to express the tenets of his faith.
“As a Buddhist, I believe people need to do meditation and experience something more than the material. What I’m actually trying to do is to make people experience something spiritual or maybe a certain state of consciousness,” he said.
Buddhism Through a Newer, Fresher Sound
As uncanny as his work is, Akasaka is not the only one rocking the boat of religious practices. In recent years, other faith leaders in the country had also been trying to cast a light on more unconventional approaches of worship.
Gyōsen Asakura, for instance, turns his services into techno “raves” — mixing blinding lights, playing electronic music fused with Buddhist chants, and so on. “Priests are publicity agents for Buddha. I want to reach out to people in my own way,” the DJ-turned-priest told The Jakarta Post.
The same could be said for Akasaka, who is also drawing in more people — especially younger ones — into the Buddhist ways of life. The lively and electronic ambiance certainly contributes to a newer portrayal of the religion.
“I think in Japan, people often associate Buddhism with funerals, and the sutra has a little bit of a negative and sad image,” he said. Like many others — including Asakura — Akasaka wanted to break the notion of religious affairs being purely solemn.
And it’s working in many ways: people from all over the world — religious and non-religious — are drawn to the music he presents, if the comments on his YouTube channel are any indication.
“I’m happy that [the] church can move together with [the] new generation and allow Yogetsu to pray [through] the music he plays,” one commented, which Akasaka acknowledged himself through a ‘like’. Another one said: “How cool would it be if there [were] temples that taught the art of making dope mixes like this?”
Akasaka’s story proves that there should be no limit to religious intent. If his talent — no matter how “unorthodox” it may seem in the face of traditional worship — allows him to express his faith deeper, why not share it with the rest of the world?
He now has around 128,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel, where he still regularly posts his musical work, sometimes accompanied by psychedelic ceremonies and visuals.
“It’s not that I wanted to gain attention for my ‘uniqueness,’ I just wanted to continue my passion for music,” said Akasaka. “In the same way someone plays the guitar or the drums, I am just a normal performer.”