Japan: Monk sings of rural life to reggae rhythm

Eishin Watanabe is a deputy chief priest at Shoanji temple, part of the Soto sect of Buddhism, in Mitane in the prefecture. This autumn, Eishin & The Meditationalies released its first album in three years. (The Japan News/ANN)

MITANE, Japan (The Japan News/ANN) – With the spirit of Zen and a reggae beat, a Buddhist monk sings songs about life in rural Akita Prefecture in his band Eishin & The Meditationalies. With the spirit of Zen and a reggae beat, a Buddhist monk sings songs about life in rural Akita Prefecture in his band Eishin & The Meditationalies.

Eishin Watanabe is a deputy chief priest at Shoanji temple, part of the Soto sect of Buddhism, in Mitane in the prefecture. This autumn, Eishin & The Meditationalies released its first album in three years. Its songs talk about the attractions of rural life, as well as growing concerns over the low birthrate and aging population that the region is facing.

“I hope listeners become aware of their happiness in everyday life by listening to our songs,” said Watanabe, 33.

The new album is titled “Kasochi no Dekigoto” (Events in an underpopulated area) and has 10 tracks with a light, buoyant rhythm. One song is about a laid-back lifestyle surrounded by rich nature, such as picking edible wild plants on a mountain, while another is based on an actual event at a Buddhist memorial service in which an elderly woman with dementia became so confused that she didn’t know where her husband of many years was.

Watanabe’s messages based on his love for the local area where he is based and his enlightened perspective on the world have attracted growing appreciation from listeners since the album’s release on Sept. 12, making the top daily seller in a CD shop in Akita.

Watanabe was fascinated by reggae music when he was a university student in Tokyo. After graduating, he went to Sao Paulo to receive Buddhist training, but also encountered samba music in the Brazilian city. He began exploring how to spread messages with music as a way of expressing and conveying the spirit of Zen.

After returning home in 2014, he formed a band with local musicians.

While keeping himself busy with his work and training as Shoanji temple’s deputy chief priest, Watanabe continues to play music to send his message as a monk musician immersed in South American rhythm and music.

He appears at music events in and outside the prefecture together with the five members of the band. Eishin & The Meditationalies blends a Buddhist perspective on the world with the light sounds of reggae and Latin music, lifting their music to a higher dimension.

Sad things happen in life. Someone we know may become unable to recognize a family member due to dementia. But even such sad things can be accepted depending on how we look at things, the band sings.

“There are inconveniences in rural life, but how we overcome them depends on how we see and accept things,” Watanabe said.

“There are many serious issues to tackle here, but I want to express through music that Buddhist teaching can be a source of salvation,” he added.

The album is available for ¥2,160 including tax.

by News Desk