A Japanese former busker turned Zen Buddhist monk has been getting a lot of attention because of his unique music which combines beatboxing, sampling and a wide range of chants.
Before being ordained as a monk in 2015, 37-year-old Yogetsu Akasaka traveled the world as a full-time busker, making a living on his beatboxing skills. A friend had introduced him to the oral art of sound and instrument imitation in his early 20’s, and he was so impressed that he decided to give it a go himself. It turned out that he was pretty good at it, so good in fact that he was able to make a living as a busker in several countries, including the United States and Australia. After following his father’s example and becoming a monk, he realized he missed his music, so he came up with a way to blend his calling and his beatboxing talent in a unique way.
Photo: Yogetsu Akasaka/YouTube
“After I came back from my training at the temple, I was thinking that I wanted to do music again, but I wanted to do something as a Buddhist monk as well as a musician,” Tokyo-based Akasaka told SCMP. “I thought: maybe I can try chanting on my music. I was kind of afraid because this was something no one had done before – it was out of the tradition. But I just tried it, and it sounded really good to me, so I thought maybe I should do it for other people. And when I played in front of other people, they liked it.”
Yogetsu Akasaka uses a loop machine and his beatboxing skills to combine droning Buddhist chants with various instruments and create relaxing sounds that, it turns out, appeal to a large audience, from religious folk to young people who say the eclectic sound relaxes them and helps them sleep.
“I have had fans tell me that they were able to sleep well and relax due to my beatboxing videos, which is absolutely amazing,” the Buddhist monk told VICE Magazine. “I am honored to be able to combine my passion with my religious beliefs, and that this has impacted people around the world.”
Five years ago, the former busker was inspired to become a monk by his own father, who had become an abbot in a temple in the Iwate Prefecture after previously leading a normal life and starting a family. Today he is committed to helping people get in touch with their spiritual side, and his music is helping him do just that.
“As a Buddhist, I believe people need to do meditation and experience something more than the material. What I’m actually trying to do is to make people experience something spiritual or maybe a certain state of consciousness. Live looping has the potential for that: to support the meditative state of mind and allow people get a spiritual feeling,” Akasaka said.
The Zen Buddhist monk rose to fame a couple of months ago, when his unique performance of the Heart Sutra went viral online. He went from having a Japanese audience, to an international one overnight. Today, only around 20% of his viewers are Japanese, which has prompted him to start live-streaming in English to better engage his fans. Yogetsu Akasaka says that his new-found success has inspired him to continue with his unique style of music.
Akasaka’s story is reminiscent of that Gyōsen Asakura, another Japanese Buddhist monk who made international news headlines for his unique musical performances. A former DJ, he would hold “techno memorial services” at his temple in Fukui City, Japan