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This beatboxing Buddhist monk from Japan is making music to ‘reduce suffering’

Categories: East Asia, Japan, Media & Journalism, Music, Religion, Youth
Japan's Beatboxing Monk

Yogetsu Akasaka. Screencap his official YouTube channel [1].

A Japanese monk who “makes music for anxiety and less suffering” is being rewarded with millions of listeners. Yogetsu Akasaka [2], a 37-year-old Zen Buddhist monk, uses a loop station [3] to combine and overlay beatboxing [4] with Buddhist chanting, and then uploads the videos to YouTube. His most popular video, “Heart Sutra Live Looping Remix [5],” has two million views so far.

Akasaka's modern rendition of the Heart Sutra [6] (般若心経), historically [7] one of the best-known and more popular sutras, went viral [8] on YouTube in May 2020. The Buddhist monk combines beatboxing loops and beats while chanting a variety of traditional Buddhist sutras [9], or scripture, on his YouTube channel [2]. The goal, Akasaka says, is to help reduce suffering [10].

Prior to becoming a monk [17], Akasaka lived overseas and performed as a busker. In 2009, Akasaka started combining beatboxing with vocal layers and has since added Buddhist chanting to his repertoire.

Akasaka, who now lives in Tokyo, became a Zen Buddhist monk in 2015, following in the footsteps of his father, who now heads a temple in rural Iwate Prefecture.

As Akasaka tells [18] Vice:

Usually in Japan, people become monks because their family lives in a temple. But for my father, he was just a normal person who decided to become a monk. […] I was inspired, and decided I wanted to succeed in my father’s current role as an abbot in a temple in the Iwate Prefecture.

Even before going viral with his version of the Heart Sutra, Akasaka's music was catching attention in Japan. It appeared [19] at the 2019 Techno Hosho [20], a concert held as part of the larger annual Chokaigi [21] event, that combines Buddhist rituals, techno music, and projection.

Akasaka is not the only performer who blends Buddhism with contemporary music. Here, at the Techno Hosho event in 2018, a performer who goes by the name Gya [22] blends techno and trance music with Buddhist chanting:

User uploaded video of projection mapping at Techno Hosho (in April 2018).

Projection mapping by #Gya. Song: “Sanbutsu” (“praise honoring the Buddha [32]”)

Yogetsu Akasaka's viral “Heart Sutra Live Looping Remix [5]” and other songs can be watched on YouTube.

Yogetsu Akasaka hosts an active Twitter account [33], and his music can be on YouTube [2]Spotify [34], and other online services [35].