Asahi: "What Is Happiness? Where Is Peace To Be Found?"

vowz bar tokyo image

"People at all times," Shuken Kiyoshi, 56-year-old head priest of the Zuikoji Temple in Osaka, Japan says, "are plagued by desires, unable to cast off their passions. But a chance encounter can transform the nature of these desires of ours. Especially now, when values are so confused, I wanted to provide a space where everyone could come to seek his or her own light."

Mr Kiyoshi found an original way of doing that: he opened a bar. This caught the attention of, the website of one of the largest newspapers in Japan. I like how the article manages to mix details about how the economy is hurting people, with how we all are trying to deal with the major changes going on around us: "Before, I was never satisfied. I always wanted more. I changed companies over and over, until at last I began to feel that the way I was living was all wrong." Vows Bars Mix Spirits And Spirituality

Genko Shaku, 55, is a priest of one of Japan's many Buddhist sects (or shu, as they are called here - not to be confused with Western "sects" - many of these have been around for millenia).

He's from Kobe originally. He started out as a businessman, a good one--good enough to be head-hunted and offered a salary three times what he'd been earning before. Then came 1995, and the Great Hanshin Earthquake. Three of his friends died in it. Everything suddenly seemed pointless.

Genko Shaku arranged to help out in a local bar, run by Buddhists. Eventually he entered the priesthood. He went back to Tokyo, and opened a bar with the same name--the Vows Bar.

"My life has been full of things I'm ashamed of," he says. "But I think that's something young people can relate to. Finally, I got the chance to do work that suits me."

vowz bar altar photo

Alcohol and religion? All things in moderation. Or try a cup of green tea. In the Vows Bar in Tokyo, there is a giant mandala hanging on one wall, and a small shrine nestled in a corner. For patrons, it is a one-stop soul-clearing shop. Under the same roof, you get a chance to talk to both your priest and bartender, garbed in priestly attire.

We have a long way to go to make the global and individual change we are searching for. But we are never alone: lots of people have walked on this beautiful planet before, and made difficult decisions. We just have to keep finding the faith and the ideas that makes the journey worth the travelling.

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Written by Martin Frid at

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