Profession: Makeup Artist and Buddhist Monk
Location: Tokyo, Japan and New York City
You’re a makeup artist who works with celebrities and has almost ten thousand followers on Instagram; you’re also a Buddhist monk in the Pure Land tradition. These are two very different roles—how did you become interested in them? I grew up in a temple that my father runs in the heart of Tokyo, but when I was 18, I came to the United States to study and work as an artist. I had no interest in becoming a monk. I went to school at Dean College in Massachusetts. When I arrived I was overwhelmed by the diversity of the students’ physical attributes. There were blonde, slim, beautiful women and strong athletes, very muscular and wild-looking, like Hercules. I wasn’t able to find beauty in myself because I was shorter, with thin eyes that weren’t blue. I needed to find the beauty in myself. So I started to buy makeup products at department stores and play with them to accentuate my eyes. Then I started doing my best friend’s makeup too, and watched her transform and become much more sure of herself. I was very happy to see her growing into such a confident person. That’s when I realized the power of makeup.
After seven years in the United States, I graduated from my second university, Parsons School of Design in New York, where I had been assisting a makeup artist. I had been away from Japan long enough to begin to appreciate Japanese culture, and I began to admire the discipline and punctuality of its people. I felt that going back to my roots would be a great weapon for me to have. I was always competing with other art students with different backgrounds and unique identities, and by studying Buddhism and my own culture, I could find what was unique to me and become more sure of who I was and what I believed in. I also had a lot of questions—Why should we do good things for others? Why are we alive? What is the meaning of life? I wanted to learn the Buddhist answers, so I began training as a monk when I was 24. It was very intense. The teachers would yell at us if we were walking too slowly to class. It wasn’t relaxing or enlightening in the beginning! The students were shocked that training at a temple was such a hard, strict thing. I was 26 when I finished the process and started my life as a monk.
I’m sure your Buddhist training helps in the high-pressure situations you’ve worked in—doing makeup at fashion shows can’t be easy. Who have you done makeup for? I’ve done makeup for the singer Christina Milian, Andrew VanWyngarden from the band MGMT, and Daisuke Takahashi, a gold medalist in figure skating from Japan. I’ve also worked for the Miss Universe and Miss USA competitions and done charity work doing makeup for cancer survivors and people with disabilities.
The most enjoyable charity work I’ve done was a makeup seminar for LGBTQ people. I had participated in a photo shoot focused on queer people and noticed that some transgendered women might not look the way they’d like to because the makeup products you can buy in drugstores are made for biological women; trans women need professional makeup that provides a little heavier foundation. I knew where they could find this kind of makeup and introduced them to new techniques for free. I wanted to share my knowledge and skills—it was very satisfying for me to share! I really enjoy teaching makeup because I can directly feel the participants’ happiness.
When I’m teaching, I tell my students: “You don’t have to wear makeup every day. If you are happy and comfortable, you don’t need to put something on.” So even as a makeup artist, I give them the option to not wear makeup. I tell them that looking beautiful is not necessary. In the end, physical beauty is a value that has been forced on us by the media and society.
You’ve spoken about what your work as a makeup artist offers others. What about your work as a monk? As monks, we are messengers of the Buddha’s wisdom teachings. And I think that I am also breaking stereotypes about monkhood. I’ve noticed that some people in the West are not very familiar with different types of monasticism. Buddhism has developed in many different countries, and it has changed to best fit the society, the history, and the environment of that place. For example, in Japan, monks can work other jobs. I know some who are doctors, or filmmakers, or scholars. There is a diversity to Buddhist expression, though we share the same core teachings that lead to happiness and harmony.
I want people to know that being a monk isn’t just about living a strict life. It’s about being honest with yourself and doing what you think is right. Being happy is more important than rituals or rules or laws that might prevent that. By doing what I love, I want to inspire people to know that they can be themselves.