• Tatami maker Hatsuko Inazumi listens to Tatsumi performing a prayer before an altar at her house in Kagamimachi, Kumamoto prefecture. /AFP
  • Japanese monk Akinobu Tatsumi DJs for music fans at a venue in the forest near Nishihara village, Kumamoto prefecture. AFP

Meet Japan’s hip-hop monk

lifestyle June 24, 2018 01:00

By Agence France-Presse
Kagamimachi, Japan

3,916 Viewed

Akinobu Tatsumi mixes electro and dubstep with Buddhist chanting

AT A REMOTE temple in Japan cradled by a croissant-shaped mountain range, Akinobu Tatsumi leads a rare double life – as a Buddhist monk who preaches about DJing.

The amateur music 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 Tatsumi now gives record-spinning tips to his ageing temple-goers.

Japanese monk Akinobu Tatsumi speaks with local residents after praying in their house in Kagamimachi, Kumamoto prefecture. /AFP

“It’s true a monk does usually deliver a regular sermon,” Tatsumi says 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 saus after chanting a sutra.

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.

Tatsumi, centre, does some beatboxing with his DJ friends./AFP

“I was influenced by hip-hop – I started listening to Run-DMC and Public Enemy,” says Tatsumi, nimbly side-stepping 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.”

Tatsumi’s digression from Buddhist writings to scratch sermons was fraught with risk –he kept his monastic life hidden from nighttime venues where he performed.

“I didn’t tell other priests about my music, and I also hid the fact I was a priest from the bars and clubs.”

While the likes of Calvin Harris or the Chemical Brothers have little to fear from his recreational activities, Tatsumi’s love affair with music began very early – before he was even born, he claims.

“My mother used to hold a speaker to her tummy and play me classical music or ’70s disco. Later, when I discovered those records and played them, I felt I had heard them before, which was weird.”

Tatami maker Hatsuko Inazumi listens to Tatsumi performing a prayer before an altar at her house in Kagamimachi, Kumamoto prefecture./AFP 

Tatsumi takes care not to anger his fellow priests, using headphones when he mixes his music – which combines electro and dubstep with Buddhist chanting – to avoid getting into trouble.

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

“I used to use the beep-beep of the heart monitors to make club music,” says Tatsumi, who now walks with a cane.

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. These days I get on famously with the old folks!”