Kodo Nishimura, a 33-year-old Buddhist monk from Japan, has written a new book: This Monk Wears Heels: Be Who You Are. The book was published in English last month by Watkins Publishing. In the book, Nishimura, who describes himself as “gender gifted,” teaches Buddhist doctrines while documenting his own life coming to terms with his gender in a religion and society that can hold conservative views toward the LGBTQ+ community.
Nishimura says his goal in telling his story in the context of Buddhism is to offer a unique take on Buddhism and modern life. As he put it, he wishes to say “things only I can tell because I’m a homosexual monk.” (The Asahi Shimbun)
Having traveled widely, Nishimura knows the diversity of approaches to the LGBTQ+ community around the world. “In Japan, it is not common for people to be torn apart over coming out as an LGBTQ+ because it would go against religious teachings, is it? But things are different outside Japan,” he said. “I hear that there are about 70-plus countries where LGBTQ+ people are criminalized because of religious reasons. That’s why I want to deliver my message to all kinds of sexual minorities outside Japan through the book.” (The Asahi Shimbun)
Nishimura was raised as a Buddhist in Japan. His father was a Buddhist philosopher and temple priest in the Jodo tradition of Buddhism. After high school, he traveled to the US where he earned a degree from the Parsons School of Design in New York in 2013. All the while, he kept his sexuality a secret to those close to him in Japan.
“I left Japan to seek a place where I could be myself,” he recalled. (The Asahi Shimbun)
In the US, he encountered more LGBTQ+ people who were open about their sexuality. He visited local LGBTQ+ communities, took part in the New York City Pride March, and had LGBTQ+ teachers in his design school. Through these experiences, he grew to see that there is nothing wrong with his sexuality or self-expression.
After graduating from design school, Nishimura came out to his parents. He related that his father was at first concerned that he might not be accepted in society and by the Buddhist community. But over time, his father’s co-workers and followers at his temple convinced him that this was not the case.
Nishimura noted that while many media in Japan portray LGBTQ+ characters, few ordinary people feel comfortable coming out.
After his time in America, where he trained as a makeup artist after graduation, Nishimura decided to become a Buddhist monk. He did not intend to take over his father’s temple, but he wanted to know more about the religion of his upbringing.
Recounting the rigorous training, Nishimura said: “The moment the doors shut, the trainers started screaming,” he said. “I was like ‘oh my God, what did I sign up for?’” (NDTV)
Nonetheless, he stayed with the training. When Nishimura raised his concern that other monastics might not accept him due to his sexuality or work as a makeup artist, a senior monk brushed aside his worries, noting that monks in Japan often wear non-monastic clothing and hold second jobs.
“That was like a liberation for me,” Nishimura said. “That’s when I felt: ‘now I can be myself and be a monk as well.’” (NDTV)
Early in his training as a Buddhist monk, Nishimura found a teaching in the Amida Sutra that described the light of lotus flowers each corresponding to their own color, indicating that each person could shine in their own distinctive way.
“Buddha teaches that everyone will be liberated equally, and it is my mission as a monk to deliver this message to the world,” Nishimura said. (The Asahi Shimbun)
Today, his message as a Buddhist priest is that Buddhism offers teaching on liberation to all people equally and with no exceptions.
Monk’s book supports LGBT people through a Buddhist’s eyes (The Asahi Shimbun)
Buddha And Bronzer: The Japanese Monk Who Loves Make-Up (NDTV)
This Monk Wears Heels (Watkins Publishing)
This Monk Wears Heels (Metropolis Japan)
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