Music

This Beatboxing Buddhist Monk Is Out to Change Perceptions of Spiritual Music

Before becoming a monk, he was busking around the world.
02 July 2020, 6:24am
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Photo: Courtesy of Yogetsu Akasaka 

Yogetsu Akasaka is a Japanese Zen Buddhist monk who creates music for meditations. But not the kind most people are familiar with. In videos uploaded on YouTube, he stands in the middle of a white background, grabs a mic, and beatboxes to a loop machine.

The 37-year-old went viral in May, after posting his “Heart Sutra Live Looping Remix,” a video that’s relaxing like ASMR, and engrossing like a DJ set. With the loop machine, he layers sounds and chants all coming from one instrument — his voice. The video now has over 100,000 views, with comments from people around the world.

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Image: Yogetsu Akasaka YouTube channel

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Image: Yogetsu Akasaka YouTube channel

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Image: Yogetsu Akasaka YouTube channel

Akasaka realises the irony of seeing a monk, robe and all, beatboxing, but told VICE that he didn’t do it for the shock factor.

“It’s not that I wanted to gain attention for my ‘uniqueness,’ I just wanted to continue my passion for music,” he said. “In the same way someone plays the guitar or the drums, I myself am just a normal performer.”

Akasaka was beatboxing even before becoming a monk.

“My friend had given me a CD of a Japanese beatboxer named Afra and said that he was performing using his mouth. I was absolutely shocked that people could do such things, and so I was interested in trying it. And then I realised, I was pretty good at it,” he said.

This happened 15 years ago, when Akasaka was in his early 20s. He became a monk in 2015 because he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Before that, beatboxing was his life, busking in Japan, Australia, and the United States. He was also a theatre actor.

“I always had a love for music and wanted to continue my passion even after becoming a monk. Which is why I had decided to take on beatboxing again.”

He figured out a way to merge his old life with his new one: “to chant in my music.” Not only to rediscover his passion but also to shatter misconceptions about Buddhism. Apart from posting videos, he also livestreams performances daily on YouTube.

“I think in Japan, people often associate Buddhism with funerals, and the sutra has a little bit of a negative and sad image,” Akasaka said.

To him, Buddhism is actually a religion about living peacefully and without pain and sutra, or canonical scriptures, can help heal people’s hearts.

“I have had fans tell me that they were able to sleep well and relax due to my beatboxing videos, which is absolutely amazing,” he said.

“I am honoured to be able to combine my passion with my religious beliefs, and that this has impacted people around the world."

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