A contest for inner beauty. (Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)
THE AWARD GOES TO

The woman who won Japan’s “handsome monk” contest

By Selina Cheng

Buddhist philosophy calls for inner peace and distance from worldly desires, not so much vanity and self-promotion. But in Tokyo yesterday (Aug. 22) three Buddhist monks took the stage in a competition to be crowned fairest of them allon the inside. 

Koyu Osawa, a nun from Tokyo, won the hearts and votes of the audience by demonstrating her inner beauty with a peaceful group meditation. Another monk showed off his karate skills by breaking ten layers of cement tiles, and a third played a snippet of his radio show. The contest also included runway walks for each.

Buddhist monk Koyu Osawa, winner of the Handsomest Monk Contest. (Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

Organized by a Buddhist funeral services company, the “handsome monk” contest was part of the entertainment at this year’s Life Ending Industry Expo in Tokyo, where funeral industry professionals gathered to demonstrate end-of-life services and products, from cremation technologies to special funeral attire and meals.

Contest organizer Kazuma Hayashi told Reuters that the point was to show Buddhist monks outside the context of religious death rites:

The distance between Buddhism and people has widened. For example, they would only meet monks during funerals or a memorial service. If  chasm were to remain, the purpose of Buddhism, which is something that should affect our daily lives, will become something more and more distant.

Japan’s Life Ending Industry Expo opened for the first time in 2015. The country’s death industry has found new opportunities and challenges in its rapidly aging population: In 1980, Japan’s death rate was estimated at 5.9 deaths per 1,000 people annually, according to statistics compiled by the World Bank. By 2014, that rate had nearly doubled to 10 deaths per 1,000 people.

Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Rising from the dead. (Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)
Staff member lies in a casket demonstrating Okuribito funeral’s funeral service at the Life Ending Industry Expo in Tokyo. (Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon )