Japan’s “Priests’ Bars”: “Bad Buddhism” or Hope for the Future?

John Nelson


For a telling example of allegedly “Bad Buddhisms” in the contemporary world, one need look no further than urban Japan and its numerous “Priests’ Bars” (Bōzu bāzu ) that allow a heady interaction of Buddhism and alcohol. While listening, lecturing, and sometimes even mixing drinks, priests of various denominations are proprietors for a new type of upāya practice (or “skillful means”) for disseminating the dharma. They have the opportunity to encourage their clientele towards solving personal problems and perhaps even awakening as they violate the fifth Buddhist precept which warns monks of the dangers of intoxication. The priests in charge of these bars are well aware of the prohibition against alcohol, and yet, given a variety of social problems facing Japanese workers and citizens, feel compelled to experiment in delivering the teachings of their traditions. Though “bad” from the perspective of Buddhist practitioners outside Japan (as well as that of traditional Buddhist studies), these bars remain a constructive means for moving Japanese Buddhisms into the twenty-first century.


Japan; alcohol; upaya; contemporary Buddhism; innovation; precepts

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4147497


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