By Day Buddhist Monk, By Night Makeup Artist
Numerous internet outlets acclaimed Kodo Nishimura as a "monk who happens to be a makeup artist in his spare time" when he initially came to public attention owing to a viral BuzzFeed article earlier this year. His personal Instagram page reads like a 2017 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: by day, a fresh-faced, robed Buddhist monk with precisely cut hair, and by night, a glamorous, wig-wearing, celebrity-surrounded makeup artist.
The truth turns out to be less exciting - but more uplifting - than clickbait.
How is it feasible to be a monk while working as a makeup artist? Once ordained as a monk, the prior identity is typically shed. One merely becomes a monk and does exclusively monastic tasks, living an ascetic life in accordance with the Buddha's precepts.
Being a Buddhist monk in Japan is an entirely different religious identity than being a monk in most other monastic orders worldwide. Monks are not compelled to take celibacy vows and are free to marry and have families. In Japan, being a monk is a job or vocation similar to that of an Anglican priest.
On her blog That's So Zen, Gesshin Greenwood, a 31-year-old American-born Soto Zen nun, refers to Japanese monks as priests. "You're not a particularly excellent or useful priest, but you're still a priest." Because becoming a priest can entail showing up on time in your robes with your head shaved and performing the ritual or job at hand. And then returning home."
Nishimura was raised in a temple and is the son of a Buddhist monk. However, he recalls an unusual childhood, even by Japanese standards, in which he was allowed to perform 'girly' games like pretend-cooking for his stuffed animals with origami paper veggies. His folks are brilliant and free-spirited. When he was a kid, they'd let him dress up like a mermaid or a princess, with a scarf wrapped over my head. Nishimura's parents pushed him to establish his own path and pursue his interest rather than follow in their footsteps in Buddhism.
Nishimura, who describes himself as a lover of all things artistic and creative, from painting to singing and dancing, studied ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, for eight years, beginning when he was eight years old. Nishimura traveled to New York at 18 after graduating from high school, inspired by his ikebana master's encouragement to pursue a career in the arts.
He desired to study in the United States because he believed his distinctiveness would be more acknowledged there. He identified "The Princess Diaries," a 2001 Anne Hathaway teen film, as one of the significant influences on his decision. After seeing the film, he concluded that opposing viewpoints are more valued in the United States, whereas, in Japan, people tend to hold monotonous ideas.
Life in New York was "difficult in a big way," he said. Nishimura came into his own while studying fine arts at Parsons School of Design. He could learn about himself, art and beauty, and the universality of humanity. He discovered that characteristics such as race, culture, religion, and gender have no bearing on being best friends with someone. For almost a decade, one of his closest friends has been from Spain, and they share the same beliefs — furthermore, owing to him, he can now speak Spanish. If he gets along with someone, he gets along!
It also aided in his self-discovery. After struggling with his gender and sexual identity for a long time, he realized that no standard labels adequately represented him while residing in the United States. As a result, he now refers to himself as "Kodo, a gifted gender equipped with capability and potential."
His debut into makeup was unintentional but not surprising. Apart from toying with his mother's eyeshadow pallet, he bought his first cosmetics when he moved to New York: drugstore mascara and eyeliner. Buying makeup in the United States was easy because some merchants were fierce queens.
A last-minute cancellation at a fashion shoot led to the fine arts student's first makeup job. He assisted a senior student photographer in an optional fashion photography course when her makeup artist "dumped" her. Nishimura had his makeup kit with him and stepped up to the task, which resulted in more and more requests for his services. He began working as a makeup artist at the age of 22 and has since had his work published in "Nylon" and "Life & Style" magazines, as well as several televised beauty pageants, most recently the Miss Universe competition in Manila.
He decided to become a monk when he returned to Japan after graduation. After living in the United States for seven years, he wanted to rediscover his roots and expand his understanding of Japanese Buddhism. He was inspired by my upbringing and wanted to learn about monastic life and see if it was suitable for him. He was likewise looking for answers to the 'ultimate' questions. Why do we have to be good? Why do we exist?
Nishimura spent the next two years away from the glitzy world of beauty contests, makeup, and photo shoots, immersed in training that included five three-week temple stays in remote, isolated locations without any technology, a strict vegetarian diet, and stringent lessons in Buddhist doctrines, ceremonies, and history. He called his encounter "difficult."
Nishimura, who was fully ordained in 2015, now divides his time equally between secular and clerical tasks. A typical day would include doing cosmetics for a client in the morning and then changing into monk robes to attend a funeral later that day. Even though he must continuously and carefully flip between the distinct mindsets of his vocations, he approaches both with the same approach: helping people to find happiness in harmony.
He attributes his success in all disciplines to the unwavering support of his family, peers, and fellow monks. He was at first unsure whether both professions could coexist, but he had the endorsement of Buddhist scholars and monks. Thanks to these seasoned mentors, he can accomplish his work with pride. He does not face any punishment.
Being a makeup artist may contradict some precepts, but as monks' lives have developed to adapt to changing times, so have the laws, according to Nishimura. The essential thing for me is to be happy and share that happiness with others. As long as he is doing what feels right to him, with the help of his mentors and his own understanding, he believes he is meeting the original basic teachings of Buddhism: living joyfully in harmony with others.