FUKUI, Japan - A case in which a Buddhist monk was given a traffic ticket for driving in a ritual robe that allegedly interfered with his safe driving has caused a stir, as the monk and his sect oppose such regulations, saying the rules would stop their daily activities, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.
The incident turns on prefectural traffic regulations, which prohibit driving in clothing that could affect safe driving. However, many monks drive in their robes on a daily basis.
The monk who was given the ticket has refused to pay the penalty, saying such regulations would stop him from carrying out his memorial services.
According to the Fukui prefectural police and the monk, who is in his 40s, he was stopped by a police officer while he was driving a light vehicle on a prefectural road in Fukui shortly after 10 a.m. on Sept. 16. The officer reportedly told him, “You can’t drive in that kimono” and gave him a traffic violation ticket.
The violation written on the ticket was “driving in kimono that could affect safe driving.” The monk was ordered to pay a fine of ¥6,000.
The monk was on his way to a Buddhist memorial service, and was clad in a monastic robe that falls below the knees. He said he had driven in such attire for 20 years, but he had never been given a traffic ticket.
The prefectural government’s detailed enforcement regulations of the Road Traffic Law prohibit driving a vehicle in clothes that may affect safe driving.
The police officer is believed to have judged that the sleeves and length of what the monk was wearing would affect his driving.
However, an official of the prefectural police’s traffic enforcement division said, “Not all Buddhist monk robes are subject to the violation,” leaving the criteria vague.
The monk wears a simple robe when he drives. After arriving at a house where a service is being held, he puts on a big robe with long sleeves for the ceremony over the simple one.
He often visits a number of parishioners during a single day. However, in the local area where he is based, public transport is scarce, so he needs a car to get around.
He has consulted with the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha sect based at Nishi Hongwanji temple, to which he belongs, regarding the matter, as well as a lawyer. He has not paid the fine or responded to a subsequent demand.
If he does not pay the penalty, police will send papers on him to public prosecutors for allegedly violating the Road Traffic Law, and it could possibly unfold as a formal trial.
“I’d like to clearly state at a trial that I can drive safely in a monastic robe,” the man said.
The sect also said the regulation is a challenge to monks’ activities, and thus it is unacceptable.