Late last December, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported on a monk in Fukui Prefecture who was contesting a traffic ticket. He had been driving while wearing his robes and the policeman who stopped him believed that they obstructed his movement enough to be dangerous.
On hearing the news, other monks on Twitter began to argue that, despite what the police might say, their robes pose no obstruction to driving — or indeed anything else for that matter. Their form of protest? Filming themselves performing various feats of athleticism with the hashtag #僧衣でできるもん, meaning “I can do it in robes.”
And so began a good old-fashioned Twitter takedown. Let the games begin!
Catching the wave
The first in the series is from Kojun Asada, who took the opportunity to show off his skills on this writer’s favorite mid-00’s transportation device, the Waveboard.
— 麻田弘潤 (@gokurakusan) December 30, 2018
“It’s completely possible to do something like this while wearing robes, so there’s no way they could get in the way of driving,” he tweeted.
Not to be outdone, Zuiho Yokoyama posted a video of his not-inconsiderable skipping skills. There are even a couple of double-unders, which is not something one could do with their legs trapped in the supposed vice-like grip of holy vestments.
— 横山瑞法(Zuiho Yokoyama) (@zuiho_yokoyama) December 30, 2018
“Not confident about the number but yeah, I can skip in a monk’s robe,” said Yokoyama.
Fast behind him were brothers Tosshan and Henmo, who took the opportunity to show off how easy it is to juggle and skip while fully besuited.
— とっしゃん@お坊さん大道芸人 (@tossyan753) December 31, 2018
— へんも（三原貴嗣）@ブロガー&足技で日本一の住職 (@henmority) December 31, 2018
“If I can do this, driving’s gotta be a piece of cake, right?” tweeted Henmo.
Sticking with the theme, user @detteiu1109 answered the age-old question: Can a monk in traditional attire perform a 30-second dual devil stick routine? The answer? Yes. Yes he can.
— てつっていう (@detteiu1109) December 31, 2018
He tweeted: “Since people are talking about it, I can move just fine in robes, and they don’t impede my driving! Here’s a bit of juggling…”
Raising the stakes
It’s not all circus skills, however. Monk @manappuland demonstrated his boxing skills in a video saying “It’s easy to move in monk’s robes. It’s not any hindrance to driving.”
I’m not sure I’d be willing to correct him even if he does follow a path of nonviolence and compassion to all things.
— マナップ (@manappuland) January 2, 2019
Robes don’t seem to prevent monks on TV or in films from being heroes either, points out @dahanekesuike:
— 羽ぴょん (@dahanekesuike) January 2, 2019
Using scenes from NHK drama Onna Jōshu Naotora (おんな城主 直虎, Naotora: The Lady Warlord), he shows how monks:
“Can use a bow and arrow
Can offer romantic advice
Can hold someone back
Can throw someone out the door”
This musically-inclined monk proved not even enrobed rock and roll was out of reach — and blessed us with this pretty cool Queen cover at the same time.
Queen / We Will Rock You (Buddhist monk cover)
— 山田和孝 (Kossan) (@kossan1108) January 10, 2019
Being Buddhist monks, most of the users of the hashtag are not out for bloody retribution on a single police officer. The incident does raise the question of the wording of the law, however, and whether it could be made clearer.
A tweet by @pastorkanegon shows that it’s not just Buddhists who realize the problems that this lack of clarity could cause:
— 金子敏明＠牛久教会牧師 (@pastorkanegon) January 2, 2019
“I’m actually a Christian pastor, but I wear these clothes when I drive to the crematorium. If you Buddhist monks feel you should make a stand, I’m with you!” he said.
As skipping monk Henmo points out on his website, greater clarity is important, as well as greater understanding of just what monks’ robes actually are. With the power of the Internet behind them, hopefully they can debunk the stereotypes and prove that you should never judge a monk by their outfit.