A Buddhist priest is set to represent Japan at the Rio Olympics, compering in the canoe slalom event.
The Guardian reports that Kazuki Yazawa, 27, balances his training with daily prayer, chanting and meditation. As a novice priest at the Zenkoji Daikanjin Temple – an ancient pilgrimage site in Nagano prefecture – his duties begin at dawn and end by mid-afternoon, at which point he swaps his black priest's robe for sportswear and drives to the nearby Saigawa River to practise.
Yazawa has canoed all his life, but became a priest after competing at London 2012, where he placed ninth in the men's K-1 kayak slalom. Difficulties in finding a sponsor led him to pledge himself to the priesthood full time in 2013, and to retire from foreign competition in order to focus on his new profession.
However, Yazawa then won the Japanese canoe slalom national tournament in 2015, putting him in contention to compete in Rio. Despite the fact that he can only practice for roughly an hour and a half each day, owing to his commitments as a priest, he still aspires to winning a medal in Brazil.
Speaking about the difficulty of juggling Olympic sport and Buddhist priesthood, Yazawa said: "I never had the intention of balancing the two. When I started as a Buddhist priest, I had decided that my main job would be as a priest and that my life as a canoeist would be done in my spare time."
However, he still thinks he can do Japan proud. "I hope to give my best performance that I can on the grand stage of the Olympics, and come back to Japan with a good feeling," he said. Those mentoring him are similarly optimistic, with Kansho Kayaki, the deputy chief priest at the temple, telling Yazawa: "If you can win, nothing would surpass that. Regardless of the results, we hope you will stay healthy, avoid injuries, and complete the Games."