Shuei Mochizuki, a Buddhist monk who became a fixture as a solitary, begging mendicant in Tokyo’s luxurious Ginza District, passed away on 18 January after being infected with COVID-19. Mochizuki was a member of Japan’s Shingon school of Buddhism. In addition to his time in the capital, Mochizuki was known to have paid several visits to areas in northeast Japan that were struck by the massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
In Tokyo, Mochizuki could regularly be seen standing or walking in a slow and deliberate meditative practice on the sidewalks as shoppers and visitors passed by. After beginning his practice in 2010, Mochizuki became known for his willingness to listen to the troubles of those who came to him and for his chanting of the Heart Sutra.
“I pray for world peace and good health and equality for everybody. I just pray without being particular about or attached to anything,” he was once quoted as saying in a quiet voice. (Nippon)
Mochizuki trained at Jimyo-in Temple on Mount Koya south of Osaka, and wore a copy of his training certification around his neck to reassure passers-by that he was not a fake monk.
In an interview in June 2020, Mochizuki spoke of the practice of takuhatsu (traditional alms-seeking) in the busy shopping and entertainment neighborhood of Tokyo:
I think we are three or four monks practicing takuhatsu in Ginza. One of them has been there for quite a long time and I think he’s become famous. Other people have put pictures of him online. It seems some people have put pictures of me online too. Sometimes people try to take pictures of me discreetly without asking, thinking I don’t notice, but I do! [He laughs.] However, most people are being very polite and ask me if it’s okay to take my picture. I don’t mind at all. Sometimes people from South America, who are very relaxed, suddenly come to take selfies with me, putting their hand on my shoulder! [He laughs again.]
It doesn’t matter if people are from Europe, or America or Japan—they all have the same questions. I used to have them too. (Kokoro Media)
In 1976, Mochizuki left his university studies in Japan and traveled to New York City. He remained in the United States, with brief returns to Japan, for around 20 years. Upon returning to Japan, he decided to take up environmental studies with the British naturalist C.W. Nicol (1940–2020).
“Nowadays, we are facing huge environmental problems, but in Japan, there are very few people who work actively to protect the environment, especially when compared with other countries,” Mochizuki said in 2020. (Kokoro Media)
He then met the man who would become his Buddhist master, a Shingon monk. The experience, Mochizuki said, changed his life. After two years of regular visits to his master, he moved to Mount Koya to practice and study as a novice monk. It was after becoming fully ordained that, by chance, he passed through Ginza and felt that it represented something true about Japan and he decided to stay.
Mochizuki said the street culture there reminded him of his time in New York City and, as he recalled from his childhood, one of the most reassuring things in his young life was that of an adult standing in the street, “be it a teacher, a policeman or a monk . . .” (Kokoro Media)
For most of the last 10 years, Mochizuki was able to offer that reassurance back to the world, along with the Buddha’s teachings: “The most important concept that the historical Buddha has left us is that everything is impermanent. All things change or will change. We can’t deny it. So, if you’re too attached to an idea, you’re doing something that is not natural.” (Kokoro Media)
After Mochizuki’s death, a makeshift memorial was created at the site where he was most often found chanting or speaking with strangers.
Mendicant Monk in Central Tokyo Falls Victim to Coronavirus (Nippon)
‘Becoming Like the Sky’: an Encounter with a Street Monk in Ginza (Kokoro Media)